“Our parole/probation staff performs critical functions that are vital to ensuring public safety,” MDOC director Daniel H. Heyns said in a written statement to the Detroit Free Press. “The overwhelming majority of these employees do excellent work and help to make our communities safer.”
The burden on those employees has increased in recent years as the MDOC overhauled its parole system to release more prisoners as a result of budget reductions. The changes resulted in a decreased prison population, saving the MDOC millions of dollars and allowing it to close several facilities. [See: PLN, June 2010, p.13; April 2009, p.1].
However, three incidents led to scrutiny as to how the MDOC is supervising parolees and probationers. The first involved the robbery and brutal murder of Nancy Dailey, 80, in her Royal Oak home on November 20, 2011. She was discovered with her hands bound and her throat slit.
Alan Wood, 49, and Tonia Watson, 40, were charged with first-degree murder for killing Dailey; both were on parole, and a condition of their parole prohibited them from associating with each other. A Free Press investigation found that MDOC employees had failed to violate their parole despite knowing they were associating with each other and were suspected of committing new crimes.
The parole agent supervising Wood was fired and the agent supervising Watson received a 30-day suspension. UAW, the union that represents Michigan state employees, blamed the parole agents’ supervisors. “It was management who cut Alan Wood free,” said UAW representative Rick Michael, a veteran probation officer. “No agent can send a probationer or parolee back to prison without management approval. This agent went to her supervisors, and they’re the ones who said ‘Set him free.’”
Wood went to trial in January 2013. He was found guilty of first-degree murder, felony murder, larceny in a building and illegal use of a financial transaction device. He received a mandatory life sentence the following month, telling the judge to “just get on with the sentencing and stop your preaching.” Tonia Watson pleaded guilty, testified against Wood and was sentenced to 23 to 80 years in prison.
The second incident involving supervision errors by MDOC officials was the January 31, 2012 murder of 12-year-old Kadejah Davis-Talton, who was shot through the door of her home as the result of an argument over a cell phone. Joshua Brown, 19, was charged with her murder.
In September 2010, Brown had been placed on probation for drug and home invasion convictions. The judge ordered him to wear an electronic monitor but his probation agent never activated the device. Four months before Davis-Talton’s murder, Brown was a suspect in an armed home invasion; his probation agent was aware of the incident and wrote a report to the judge, but it was unclear whether the report was ever sent or received.
Brown’s probation agent and the agent’s supervisor were later fired. Michael said the agent was working to get Brown a landline phone when Davis-Talton was shot. “First of all, they have to have a telephone; we can’t hook them up without one, and he was working on it,” Michael stated. “He is a very good agent, and his supervisor was aware of what was going on.”
On January 7, 2014, almost two years after fatally shooting Davis-Talton and following an initial mistrial, Brown was sentenced to 24 to 50 years for second-degree murder, 14 to 30 years for assault with intent to murder to be served concurrently, and two years for using a firearm during a felony.
The third incident involving MDOC officials occurred after Tucker Cipriano, 19, was placed on probation following his February 2012 release from jail on drug charges. Cipriano and a friend attacked his adoptive family with a baseball bat on April 16, 2012, bludgeoning his father to death and leaving his mother and brother in critical condition.
An MDOC probation agent was placed on paid leave for losing track of Cipriano after he failed to show up for an April 5 meeting with the agent. A Free Press source said MDOC officials had trouble keeping up with Cipriano, who claimed he was homeless and staying in motels.
Cipriano pleaded no contest to felony murder and was sentenced in July 2013 to life without parole for killing his adoptive father. His co-defendant, Mitchell Young, also received a sentence of life without parole.
Michael said the blame for inadequate monitoring of parolees and probationers falls upon the MDOC and its management. “I believe that the union will be able to prove that there is a double standard in MDOC and that management is not capable of policing themselves,” he stated. “There is a double standard – one for the agent and one for the manager – and when something goes wrong due to some shortcoming with MDOC, the agents are always blamed.”
The MDOC, in turn, said it was taking action to increase supervision of parolees and probationers.
“The governor has made it clear that the level of violence in southeast Michigan, Flint and Saginaw is unacceptable. The Michigan Department of Corrections has a role to play in reducing that violence,” said MDOC director Heyns. “I am putting measures in place that will improve supervision of parolees and probationers throughout Michigan. The restructuring of Ryan Correctional Facility to provide more custody beds for parole violators, aggressively going after absconders, embedding parole officers into police departments and auditing case loads are examples of some changes we are making that I believe will enhance public safety.”
Sources: Detroit Free Press, www.theoaklandpress.com, Huffington Post
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