Releasing Inmates During Pandemic and Beyond: Does Michigan Want to Rehabilitate?

During COVID-19, an issue that many defense lawyers are facing for clients is whether a national pandemic should afford people a second chance at rehabilitation. With COVID still on the rise and many inmates at risk for their life, we have to wonder, are we genuinely concerned with improvement? To discuss this issue in greater detail, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in Michigan.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo and has built a reputation as one of the legal community’s sharpest minds. McManus, who wrote several successful, compassionate release motions provided insight when he said, “There is certainly a communication problem. On plea deals, we still see PSI’s that do not take into account COVID-19 and even disregard sentence agreements that are in place. There is no question that probation has a difficult job, but we have seen some PSI’s that are illegally written requesting violation of the “Tanner-Max” rules. It is disturbing that this would happen during COVID.  The quick answer is, let’s try every case if we cannot work towards rehabilitation.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and has built a reputation as a top family law attorney. When asked about releasing inmates during the pandemic, Kelley stated, “Each case needs to be dealt with subjectively.  Regardless of the offense, if somebody is older and in the frail condition, they need to play a role in early release. The whole point of prison is to rehabilitate, not strictly to punish. When we put the aging into the prison system, it places their lives at risk and adds to the taxpayers’ burden. Socioeconomics and morality have to play a role in these decisions.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as the top criminal defense lawyer in Washtenaw County, Michigan. When asked about rehabilitation during the pandemic, Amadeo stated, “When you see judges abuse their authority, it becomes a concern. When you send somebody to prison, we have to remember that Michigan has something called “Truth in Sentencing,” which is a fancy way of saying False Rehabilitation. Under the current legislation, no matter how well a prisoner does inside, there is no good time credit. This means that the Michigan Department of Corrections is the harshest state institution in the United States. We need change, and we need it now.”

Christian Weisenberg is the founder of “Fidelis Law Firm” in Livingston County, Michigan, and has made a name for himself with compassionate release motions. Weisenberg provided commentary when he said, “When we study the current system in place, it’s challenging to have your client take a plea. The current state of the judicial economy concerns COVID-19, but if there is no incentive to provide rehabilitation, we are in a dangerous situation. Sometimes the plea is the right thing to do, but if the plea agreement is compromised, more and more defendants will take their chances. Our system is not in a situation where we can handle an abundance of trials, but if cooler heads do not prevail, that is the direction that we are heading.”

While different legal scholars have a difference of opinions on these issues, there is one thing for sure: With no good time credit on the state level and a national pandemic still present, we need to find solutions. Under normal circumstances, if every case went to trial, the system would shut down. Under current conditions, resolutions need to take priority.

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