Parolees Barred from Seeing Kids, Marrying, and Going to Church

June 15, 2012

The Michigan Parole Board sometimes imposes automatic conditions of parole on inmates leaving prison that deny them fundamental constitutional rights, even though there are no individual determinations of whether the conditions are necessary to protect the community.

In 2009, the ACLU of Michigan, working with Legal Aid of Western Michigan and the University of Michigan Clinical Law Program, filed a lawsuit on behalf of two men who were convicted for having sexual contact with young women who were just under of the age of consent.

The men, having finished their prison terms, were now barred from seeing their own children even though psychological experts have determined that the children of these men would benefit from maintaining relationships with their fathers and the fathers pose no danger to their children. The men were also barred from going to church and marrying women who have children.

In 2010 the case was successfully settled when the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) changed the parole conditions for our clients. Pending systemic changes, the MDOC also set up a system to resolve additional cases, in which some 70 parolees had participated by December 2012. The Parole Board modified conditions for 90% of the parolees who completed this individual review process.

In 2012 MDOC finally agreed to end the practice of automatically imposing complete bans on parent-child contact, and the ACLU continues to advocate for additional systemic changes to the process of assigning parole conditions that restrict parolees’ fundamental rights.

(Houle v. Sampson; ACLU Attorneys Miriam Aukerman and Michael J. Steinberg; U-M Clinical Law Professors Paul Reingold, Kimberly Thomas, Joshua Kay and Vivek Sankaran.)