Sunday, February 21, 2016
10 people who spend millions of tax dollars, control thousands of lives
No one questions the decisions of the Michigan Parole Board. Someone should. They make decisions behind closed doors. Unless the Governor questions their work—and he never does—these people decide the fate of thousands of Michigan prison inmates at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers. Who are these people? This installment of Informant America tells you.
If you were to stop people on the street at random and ask them to name just one member of the Michigan Parole Board the chances are almost 100% that you won’t get a single name. Yet the 10 members of the board are directly responsible for spending over 20% of the Michigan General Fund through their decisions about which inmates should remain in prison and which inmates are released on parole. At least twenty percent of Michigan’s tax dollars go to the operation of the state’s prisons and parole/probation system.
Naming the members of the Parole Board is one of the patronage perks of being Governor. It’s the governor’s right to decide who sits on the board. These people are not subject to any nominating process, they do not have to answer any questions from the Michigan House or Senate about their philosophy and views of crime and punishment.
Let’s examine who sits on this panel vested with such tremendous power without any routine oversight.
Michael Eagen—he is the chairperson of the 10-member Parole Board. Eagen worked as a prosecuting attorney with the Eaton County Prosecutor’s Office for 25 years, serving as an assistant prosecuting attorney, senior assistant prosecuting attorney, and chief assistant prosecuting attorney.
Kevin R. Belk—he is the retired Chief of Police for Grand Rapids. He was chief from 2008 to 2014. Belk had been with the Grand Rapids Police Department since 1980.
Abigail Callejas—Ms. Callejas is a probation supervisor with the Michigan Department of Corrections, serving in Oakland County. In other words, she is a career corrections worker who was selected from within the Department of Correction. She started with the Department in 1998 as a probation officer and she was promoted to a department specialist in the Office of Community Corrections.
Anthony E. King—King has a background in social work in college academia. He's been a teacher and researcher at Michigan State University and Wayne State University. His stated interests involve social work in prisons and community-corrections settings plus community-based offender rehabilitation and treatment programs.
Nancy Martin—is another promotion-from-within Corrections staffer. Martin is a 29-year veteran of the department.
Barbara Sampson—Sampson has been on the Parole Board a long time. Sampson has served on the Parole Board since 2003. She was appointed chairperson for a term in 2007.
She has a background in "the system." She has worked with the Wayne County Department of Community Justice/Adult Services, she has been an adjunct instructor at Wayne State University, and she has been a corrections officer with the Department of Corrections.
A former member of the Parole Board says he recalls a parole panel review of Rick Wershe’s application for release in which Sampson blurted out her opinion that Wershe is personally responsible for the entire downfall of Detroit. That’s quite a singular achievement for a white school drop-out who was arrested at age 17 and sent to prison for life at age 18.
Brian Shipman— another career Corrections officer who has been recycled from within. He's been with the Michigan Department of Corrections for over a quarter of a century. Shipman started his career with MDOC in 1989 as a corrections officer, i.e., prison guard.
Sonia Amos-Warchock—yet another plucked-from-within former prison guard. She has been a corrections officer, probation agent, parole/probation supervisor, acting area manager, and parole violation specialist.
Jerome Warfield—at first glance it seems Warfield is a clergyman serving on the Parole Board. That's true but it's not all the truth. Warfield is a pastor at the Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, but he also has been the Chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
Sandra Wilson—another recycled Department of Corrections employee. She has worked for the department since 1994, beginning as probation agent. She worked her way up to a variety of supervisory positions in the Department of Corrections.
For those who haven’t been keeping score, nine of the 10 members of the Michigan Parole Board are an ex-prosecutor, an ex-police chief, an ex-chairman of the Detroit Police Commission or recycled career staffers from within the Michigan Department of Corrections. Only academic Anthony King does not appear to have a law enforcement background.
There’s not a single former criminal defense attorney or “straight” clergyman or K-12 educator on the board. As noted, Warfield is a clergyman but he has been extensively involved with the Detroit Police Department.
These are people who, by default, believe the police and prosecutors are always telling the truth, that they would never fabricate facts or evidence against a prison inmate. Some might say this group is ripe for bias based on their life experiences.
But they are not accountable to any outside review as they make parole decisions affecting thousands of lives and millions of tax dollars. That won’t change unless the voters demand it.