Archived Story

Law Enforcement, prosecutors, and victims call for protection of our citizens

Published 10:20am Wednesday, January 13, 2010

KALAMAZOO – Law enforcement, prosecutors, victims and citizens from Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties joined together Tuesday to call on the state to protect victims by preserving truth in sentencing and stopping the large-scale and unnecessary parole release of dangerous criminals into our communities.

A Kalamazoo press conference in which Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz participated was part of an overwhelming show of solidarity by most all of Michigan’s 83 elected prosecutors regarding these critical public safety issues.

Also in attendance at the Kalamazoo site were Kalamazoo County Sheriff Rick Fuller, St. Joseph County Sheriff Brad Balk and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf
Crime victims Bob King, Rose King, Leonard Whittaker, Sherry Whittaker, Joseph Dvorak and Alice Dvorak were also present.

Similar regional press conferences were held Jan. 12 in Lansing, Muskegon, Saginaw, Tawas City and Traverse City.

Prosecutors in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Detroit area, Cadillac and other parts of the state published press releases in support of current truth in sentencing laws and in opposition to reducing Michigan’s prison population through the wholesale release of violent and career criminals.

Kalamazoo attendees pointed out that in 1985, the Michigan Legislature recognized the rights of victims of crime, by passing the Crime Victims Rights Act.

Three years later, Michigan citizens overwhelmingly approved a referendum, memorializing these rights in the state constitution.

A decade later, the Legislature once again came to the aid of crime victims, by enacting the landmark Truth in Sentencing statute.

“Now, Truth in Sentencing is under attack,” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Fink.  “Victims, law enforcement and the public rely upon the certainty of a court’s prison sentence. But now the Department of Corrections and others are threatening to destroy this bastion of truth at the expense of victims and the public.”

“After 25 years of our state’s progress toward protecting victims, this attack on Truth in Sentencing coincides with an unprecedented increase in the state parole rate for dangerous felons,” said Calhoun County Prosecutor Susan Mladenoff.

Over the first nine months of 2009, the parole board granted an average of 267 more paroles per month than in 2008.

On an annual basis, that is 3,204 more criminals released back into our communities than the previous high of 13,317 released in 2008.

“Over the past year, scores of murderers, rapists, child molesters and other serious felons have been unnecessarily released into Michigan communities.

“How the unnecessary release of hardened and dangerous criminals onto our streets protects the public is beyond comprehension” said Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz.
In the past several months recent parolees have committed crimes including two murders in Kalamazoo and two in Muskegon.

Jurisdictions throughout Michigan have been hit with parolee-related crimes.

Proposed legislation, HB 4497-4499, if passed, would require prosecutors and judges to use calculators to, at best, estimate for crime victims how much of a sentence their assailants would serve.

The current truth in sentencing law provides that a convicted felon, when given a prison sentence, must serve at least the minimum of that sentence.

Consequently, for example, when a locally elected judge, using legislatively approved sentencing guidelines to hand down a sentence of 10 to 20 years to a habitual or violent criminal plaguing the community, he must serve no less than 10 years.

“According to a study released Jan. 4 by Gongwer News Service, a majority of the parolees released in 2009 were in for violent crimes, and were already released at or very near their earliest release date.

“It is clear that prison inmates, when released, have a high propensity to re-offend,” said Berrien County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mike Sepic  “It is disingenuous to suggest that releasing prisoners early will not dramatically reduce public safety, particularly in our metropolitan areas where most released inmates will go.”

“Some proponents argue that we simply cannot afford to house dangerous career criminals any longer.  We recognize the financial limitations which currently exist,” said several of the prosecutors.

Eight facilities have already been closed. In reality there will be a cost shift to local government, businesses and victims.

“We will experience an increase in victims of crime and costs on local communities,” said Barry County Prosecutor Tom Evans.

“The MDOC has estimated that repeal of Truth in Sentencing and the retroactive application of good time will flood our communities, primarily our already suffering urban communities, with an additional 7,550 released felons within the first four to six months. They will commit new crimes, make new victims, damage our business community, fill our jails and clog our court system on their way to a return to prison for an even longer stay.

Evans and Sheriff Leaf pointed out releasing scores of felons will have a serious effect on public safety and impact everyone’s “pocket book.”

Disguising it as a state cost-cutting measure ignores the amount of local and sState resources that will be used in policing, prosecution, incarceration and supervision.
The state needs to seek ways to cut costs in corrections, but not by releasing prisoners early.

Despite a reduction in prisoners of 11.8 percent over 20 months, the Department of Corrections budget remains virtually unchanged.

The per diem costs for prisoners in Michigan is higher than any other state in the Midwest.

“Our state should not be looking to shift these costs by retroactively reducing sentences and releasing thousands of dangerous and career criminals to local communities. Instead, it should examine why it costs almost 30 percent more to house prisoners in Michigan than in Ohio – and over 80 percent more than in Texas.

If our per-prisoner costs matched Ohio, Michigan would save $340 million. This is where the search for true ‘cost savings’ should commence,” said Fitz.

“We need to keep violent and career criminals in prison.  Prosecutors, law enforcement, crime victims and citizens who support ‘truth’ in the criminal justice system stand united against this effort to bring back confusion, uncertainty and disparity to our sentencing of dangerous criminals,” said St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough. “We also stand ready to work with the executive, the department and Michigan’s legislators to improve public safety and carefully manage our scarce resources.”

Sheriff Richard Fuller said, “Between 2000-2007 violent crimes in Michigan declined by 2 percent.  At the same time, arrests for violent crime went down 22 percent.  Again during this same time period, law enforcement in Michigan lost nearly 3,000 police officers due to budget cuts. The crossroads of these statistics is concerning for law enforcement.”

According to Sherriff Bradley Balk of St. Joseph County, “Our jail currently holds 165 inmates and today’s population is 179. This is concerning when our facility is already overcrowded and we are looking at adding inmates to the jails from the prisons.”

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