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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Amicus Curiae: Our Links To Things Of Interest

[At least once a week, I will post things that may be of interest from other publications. Some will be news stories from other states that are interesting. Others may be columns or viewpoints on issues that may be of use to a practitioner.]

Parole Evidence Former Court of Appeals judge Bill Schuette is running for attorney general as a Republican. The Detroit Free Press published an editorial column he wrote in which he proposes “broad-based public safety reform” in the face of the state paroling convicted felons from Michigan prisons to save costs.

A report by the Council of State Governments makes clear why Michigan needs to reform its criminal justice system. In a comparison of Great Lakes states:

• Michigan has the highest rate of violent crime.

• Michigan has the highest rate of unsolved violent crime.

• Michigan has the fewest number of police officers per capita. In fact, Michigan has lost more than 1,900 law enforcement officers since 9/11.

• Michigan sends the fewest felons to prison per capita.

The Free Press had proposed that Michigan restore a good time for prisoner behavior policy. Schuette thinks its a bad idea.

Finally, the Free Press proposal to restore good time for prisoner behavior would be the death knell for truth in sentencing. Truth in sentencing means that a prisoner will serve at least his or her minimum time. Before the implementation of this practice, some prisoners were back on the streets committing crimes before their minimum sentence had even been reached (and that is still sometimes the case for those prisoners sentenced before the implementation of truth in sentencing). Families, judges and especially victims need to know that those convicted of a crime will serve their minimum time.

Winning cases: So easy even a caveman can do it The media loves reporting on stories in which Everyman eschews the help of a professional and succeeds anyway, especially when it comes to representing himself in court.

In this case, Everywoman was a middle-aged nurse who beat the IRS in tax court in a dispute over her deduction of $15,000 in tuition for online MBA classes.  [Wall Street Journal via Yahoo]

Her odyssey began in 2006, when she filed her 2005 return. It showed just over $50,000 of income, several smaller deductions, and one large one—for $14,787 of expenses for an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix, an online school. Ms. Singleton-Clarke deducted the tuition because her tax preparer told her she met the law’s narrow definitions.

When the IRS audited the return in late 2006, she conceded all the IRS’s challenges to her deductions but one. She dug in her heels on the tuition deduction because, after looking at a complex diagram in IRS Publication 970, she believed she qualified for it.

The audit process first involved several rounds of confusing IRS correspondence. "At one point I had three requests for the same records, each with a different contact name. I had to spend hours calling to figure out who needed what," says Ms. Singleton-Clarke, a steely but soft-spoken woman.

The story would have been more informative if it described which of the deductions described in Publication 970 she used and how she qualified.

How did she win? Attention to detail and do exactly what you’re told:

Ms. Singleton-Clarke had been told to bring copies of her documents in triplicate, including a time line of her career. Judge Stanley Goldberg questioned her closely and complimented her on her record-keeping during the hour-long trial. "The whole time," she says: "I was thinking, here is this god-like man who is going to make an important decision for me. But he wasn’t a bully. I had met with the bullies before."

Reached Friday by phone, Judge Goldberg said: "I remember the case well because Ms. Singleton-Clarke was so articulate and well-prepared. Too many taxpayers are not."

Elsewhere, The Lawyerist weighs the pros and cons of letting law firm employees go on Facebook. Law.com’s Legal Blog Watch reports of a Montana judge that refused to throw out a verdict that found a baseball bat manufacturer liable in a products liability case, even though it also found that the bat was not defective.