Are Michigan’s improved parole numbers an illusion?

Per The Detroit News, some critics allege Michigan’s improved parole system may simply be the result of creative statistics.

Michigan’s Prisoner Re-entry Initiative has won national acclaim for helping ex-convicts stay out of trouble, but critics say the state is undercounting lapsed parolees to make the program appear more successful than it is.

The criticism comes amid an audit of the 6-year-old Department of Corrections program that found other shortcomings, including overcharging vendors for services and allowing conflicts of interest between contractors and subcontractors.

Jim Chihak, a former parole and probation officer who was part of a panel that evaluated the program this spring, said the program’s intent — to keep prisoners from returning to prison — is admirable, but “the way it’s being handled is a disaster.”

“If you worked in a bank that was wasting money and not monitoring where it was going, why would you keep putting money into it?” said Chihak, a Marquette County commissioner.

According to the story, statistics show a marked improvement in parollee recidivism, but parole officers say many parollees are in fact being hidden from the statistics by being herded into alternative programs, house arrest and in county jails rather than being returned to prison.

Michigan has created a “straddle cell” category in which repeat offenders might get GPS tethers and treatment or counseling to help them get their lives on track rather than be put back behind bars. About 43 percent of offenders in Michigan fall into that classification.

Critics are so flustered they’re hurling such well known legal terminology as “malarkey.”

They were not considered repeat offenders, even though they had committed a crime,” Hankey said.Corrections Department spokesman Russell Marlan calls the idea that the state is misrepresenting the numbers “malarkey.” “People who violate the law go back to prison,” he said.

Marlan confirmed parolees who do not go back to prison are not counted as recidivists, but added “judges have discretion in Michigan and may consider alternative sentences (to prison).”

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