The Montana Gods Who Are Above The Law
Testimony to be given before The Law and Justice Committee – 4-2012
Muriel Michele “Micki” Clugston
Chairman Shockley, Senate and House members of the Law and Justice Committee I appreciate your time and the opportunity to speak to you today.
Have any of you had someone you loved incarcerated? It is said one must experience what one wants to understand… I will speak from that perspective today….
Our oldest son was incarcerated on Dec 16th 2009 a year later on Dec 30th 2010 he went before the Parole Board…Our son is incarcerated for a DUI, second offense/criminal endangerment, there were no passengers, no accident and no wreck.
There had been many letters written to the Parole Board in support of Chuck and he had completed all of the recommended treatment in his first 6 months at MSP. He also had all positive classifications since being at MSP. The parole board did not mention any of these positives during our son’s hearing. Mike McKee only mentioned the Flathead County Attorney, Ed Corrigan’s letter he had received that morning.
Before our son’s appearance, we witnessed an inmate, Michael being paroled and were alarmed by the verbal abuse which Mike McKee was releasing on him. He was being paroled, yet the gestures, tone of voice and use of words showed only distain and disgust with an extremely biased and negative attitude towards him. There was no mention or consideration for the apparent work Michael accomplished while at MSP to earn being paroled that day…
Chuck was asked what he had learned. Chuck started to say he understood he could never drink …Mike abruptly cut his words off … waved Ed Corrigan’s letter at him… in escalation he verbally went off on a tangent… Your problem is not drinking… I have a letter from the Flathead County Prosecutor Office… you are an untreated sex offender… you have to take all available classes at MSP before you are considered for parole.
Margret Bowman appeared uninterested and was busy on her computer, John Ward sat and occasionally had a nod of agreement with few words until at the end… He stated, I never want to have someone like you as a neighbor… Mike McKee continued engaged in derogatory and degrading verbal releasing towards Chuck… There was no opportunity for Chuck to respond or make any comments.
At the end Mike stated, Do not ask to come before the parole board unless you have completed SOP II.. Chuck is not convicted of or incarcerated for any sexual crime…
Questions: Why does the Parole Board have the power to keep our son in prison until he takes the SOPII class?
Does the Parole board have the right to legally expand/add to the sentencing requirements of the court?
Why can we not appeal that decision?
Why does our son not have the right to have a Parole Hearing each year?
How does the parole board have the power, the control to treat the inmates in such a manner as to take away any dignity they might have?
When Chuck’s attorney asked for the minutes of the Parole Board meeting, it did not surprise us that he was told they do not keep minutes. If you kept minutes you would have to be accountable for what you said and how you treat the inmates…
The Parole Board states to the inmate it is a privilege to be paroled… Isn’t it a privilege to serve on the parole board? The parole board members are given a position of empowerment over an individual’s life. Therefore, the members have a responsibility to be professional and unbiased with a high level of integrity. These traits were not observed nor present in the parole board’s interaction with inmates on Dec 30, 2010…
Many of you were sent “Out of the Shame and into the Light” that our son wrote in prison. It was sent to Governor Brian Schweitzer, he responded with a letter. As I read the letter from the Governor and contemplated on his written words…and I quote:
“As a member of the executive branch of government, I am precluded from interfering with personal legal issues before the judicial branch. Further, the Board of Pardons and Parole is designated as a “quasi-judicial” board and my only statutory involvement with the Board and its decisions occurs during capital cases and when I appoint its members.
I appreciate your frustration with what can be a difficult and complex process, but hope you will understand the limits on my ability to act.”
The Governor’s words imply a hands-off approach when difficult/unpleasant factual information is presented to him. I wonder who steps up to the plate to provide the check and balance… the monitoring of the prosecutors, the parole process, and the prison system?
Senators, Legislators, Parole Board members and Prosecutors have codes of conduct and have taken an oath to perform their duties in a morally and ethical manner. It was with great shock and sorrow our family witnessed and experienced the exact opposite… We have come to understand our situation is not the exception but merely what occurs at these parole board hearings and apparently condoned by the Montana Court system, Senators, Legislators and the Governor..
In search of a solution, I respectfully request the Law and Justice Committee to review the State statutes/laws and Board of Pardons and Parole policies. They are too broad and undefined. It is recommended that the committee make a special study of these statutes and find ways to provide more control of and accountability for the board’s decisions.
My objection again is that too many of the policies are overly broad… they provide too much discretion and not enough oversight; they do not provide an adequate grievance or appeal process. The empowerment of the Parole Board which I witnessed/experienced was an example of what occurs with these vague polices.
Mike McKee’s interpretation of his responsibility as chair of the Parole Board opened the door for manipulation of policies when he was making decisions to add program requirements for an inmate beyond what the sentencing Judge had prescribed. Then not paroling the inmate based on his own proclaimed need to fill this newly imposed program requirement. It is strongly requested that the committee examine implementation of legislative input revising these policies.
A few examples of laws which are being manipulated to the detriment of the inmates are:
46-23-201 – Prisoners eligible for nonmedical parole. Subsection (6) allows the board to deny reappearance in front of the board for up to 6 years. This statute should be updated and provide for an annual review… and a defined process in statute by the type of crime and length of sentence for earlier reviews.
46-23-202 – Conduct of the initial parole hearing. This statute describes what the parole board SHALL consider. I would like to suggest to the committee that this wording is too broad, especially with respect to subsection (5). With respect to our son’s situation, a statement needs to be added to this statute that the board may NOT consider statements which are not directly relevant to the crime for which the offender was convicted. Our son was not convicted of any sexual offense. Mike McKee’s remarks were blatant misrepresentation and used with manipulation to deny parole on the grounds our son had to take SOP II before parole would be granted. The board should be prohibited from considering any statements from a criminal justice authority or victim that are outside the scope of the crime the offender was actually convicted of. Flathead County Attorney, Ed Corrigan’s letter was an example of such abuse.
46-23-218 – authority of the board to adopt rules. This statute gives the board broad authority to adopt any rules it considers proper or necessary. WOW… The board is actually exempt from the traditional rulemaking process, which requires a public hearing and an opportunity for public comment or comment by the legislature prior to the rule being adopted. I ask the committee to examine this and be required to provide a form of check and balance of the board’s rulemaking.
Where are the check and balance for the Prosecutors, MSP, and Parole Board? The Law and Justice Committee members are elected by the people for the people…The voters put individuals in office they trust to have all the attributes of leadership…to be good stewards of our policies and laws… to make the laws and/or amend laws to protect the rights of individuals… The laws are to give empowerment and authority to our leaders. They are not to be used to abuse or create loop holes used to manipulate within their empowered position to impose harm to others..
Is the role of our elected officials by the people to wash their hands of these issues when things get dirty and sticky? When the people have appointed these individuals to positions of empowerment and control over others…Then the elected simply look the other way?
Is MSP a correctional institution or is it warehousing of inmates… is the role of the parole board to keep the inmate count up to secure continued employment?
In my work as a school psychologist/counselor/teacher, I seek to understand an individual and monitor closely my interactions to assure that I do not harm…In closing I will say the prosecutors, parole board and other systems have harmed so many. So very many…
Who is the victim …I say all of society is the victim with what is being allowed… The spouse… the children…the taxpayers…There is so much harm being done… to so many under the umbrella of our laws… there are people in power… officials who turn away as if nothing is going on….
The number of citizens is growing that expect our leaders to hold the dignity of others high… To have the pendulum of law and justice work for all not just the empowered… We live in a diverse population of individuals… each having value and goodness in them … Unconditional respect for human dignity must be maintained at all levels. We expect that for all humans…even those that have made mistakes….
Note: There are eleven states that have Criminal Justice Reform Commissions. I have attached information on them and strongly believe every state would benefit from such a reform commission.
Request that was given before the Law and Justice Committee Meeting-2-2012
Good morning Mr.Chairman and members of the Committee. My name is Melise Jordan and I have worked with DOC for over 30 years in the state of Florida. As well I have been involved in the courtroom and have testified for both state prosecuting attorneys and public defenders. I am not soft about the law. I believe in accountability and the reap what you sow law, but I also believe that there are inmates that are capable of change and those that do change. I have seen it.
I have been researching an issue concerning the inmate population at present and the growth rate here in Montana. I have found many causes, but we are discussing DOC, so this morning I would like to bring to your attention a document that came across my desk. Montana Code Annotated 2011. The following excerpt is of grave concern - Authority of board to adopt rules – purpose for training. (1) The board may adopt any rules that it considers proper or necessary with respect to eligibility of prisoners for parole, the conduct of parole, and parole revocation hearings, videoconference hearings, telephone conference administrative reviews, progress reviews, clemency proceedings, the conditions to be imposed upon parolees.
It is disturbing to see that a parole board has that much power where they are above the law. How do they have the power to override what a judge has ruled? To override the professional recommendations of your very own state forensic examiners? Why do we have any of these systems in place if a parole board has the right to determine if they want to extend a sentence, add on classes change the court orders and so forth? Where is the check and balance system? When a department or board believes they are above the law this invites corruption and abuse of power.
It is astounding to me that 60% that go before the board on the first time are turned down. I have been told that an inmate should never expect to get out on the first time despite the fact that he or she has served a quarter of the sentence, has complied with the judges order and has good behavior. I have talked in length to different personnel at Montana State Prison concerning an inmate that has a date of January 3rd,2013 of serving his quarter of his sentence. I received conflicting statements from different departments concerning his eligibility for parole. It was stated that the parole board won’t allow inmates out on the first try, that they can recommend more classes or treatment above what the court ordered. That is a hope killer and we wonder why the suicide rate is high. I do not understand how there are 72% that are parole eligible right now, yet they are not seen. To have a rate of 94% being returned to DOC for technical violations and not because of breaking the law suggests that there is something deeply flawed with the system.
Having discussed with many others that are concerned with DOC and other departments in the government that are trying to grow their domain to the point that it is causing hardships for many people and businesses. We feel that it is time to downsize the DOC and the tax gouging programs. We are asking that some changes be implemented. According to the US Department of Justice there are other states that have abolished the parole board. The savings from the cost of having a board and retaining that many inmates that are completely eligible for parole would be huge. We would like to see Montana adopt that same type program. If that is not something that the Law and Justice Committee would even consider then we would like to see that Montana Code Annotated 2011 be adjusted.
To take the “above the law system” and change it. The parole board has to comply with the court orders and cannot add on other conditions or sentencing of their choosing. Each parole hearing should be video taped. We would like a neutral citizen watchdog committee that holds the parole board accountable.
In 2010 the parole board claimed that 202 former inmates were returned to prison for technical violations and only 13 because of new felonies. Andrew Paige was sent back in that year because he got married without his parole officer’s approval. Josh Ellis was sent back in that year because he had a parenting class and work at the same time. The pre-release manager told him to go to work so the parole officer sent him back to prison because he missed parenting class. Jack Griffin was sent back to prison because his church going friend took him to the hospital instead of work, and there are 200 more similar cases.
Supervision by parole officers should be eliminated entirely, or if retained, should be reduced substantially in scope, with reduced sanctions for noncompliance and careful analysis of the process for effectiveness and cost. In FYE 6/30/2011 we spent $61 million from the general fund on parole officers.
Establish explicit sentencing standards that cover the duration of confinement and that are based mainly on a sentence that fits the crime. The sentencing structure should have provisions for criminal history.
Use the pre-release centers as half way housing for those getting out that do not have family or others for support. The employees in the halfway houses could help inmates find work until they get back on their feet.
From my research there is seems to be an overwhelming hopelessness for inmates, inmates families, and taxpayers. There seems to be no solution to this flawed system and they fear they will be locked away forever. Their fear is justified. The prisons are there for the system, it should be there for the inmates, to restore them to be able to successfully cross over back into society where they can be productive citizens that contribute to the economy.
Thank you for your time Mr.Chairmain and Committee Members.
**There are many that are in the Montana Department of Corrections that are listed as sex offenders where their crime had not one thing to do with any sex offense. They will not release them unless they take the SOP classes which ensures that their sentence will be much longer. Montana has created a racket on how to abuse the sex offender registry and make money.**