Kathleen M. Schaefer, founder of Detroit-based Professional Probation & Parole Consulting, Inc., assists attorneys and families of prisoners in seeking reduced incarceration for juvenile offenders. After an early-release offender shot four police officers near Tacoma, Wash., in November, we asked Schaefer, a sentencing, parole and commutation consultant who spent 26 years with the Michigan Department of Corrections, why some clients deserve clemency.
What makes someone a candidate for early release?
Rehabilitation, remorse, empathy, insight, acceptance of responsibility, acknowledgment of the victim statement, assessment-risk score, meritorious acts, prison adjustment, program participation, maturity, number of years served — these are some of the factors used to assess a candidate.
Should “children” go to adult prison — ever?
My experience in cases over the years in the criminal-justice system is that the sentencing of a juvenile offender is one of the most difficult decisions for a circuit-court judge. Each case is fact-specific. It’s known [that] adolescents are different, and this can — and should — be a very relevant consideration at sentencing. … New evidence in brain imaging and studies of adolescent brain development [show] that impulse controls and decision-making are still maturing during adolescence.
How do you justify early release?
We look at the totality of the individual’s circumstances. In many cases, the statutory laws have changed, and if the individual were to be sentenced for the same offense today, they would be eligible now for release. [Sometimes] the individual was overcharged at the time in context to other [similar offenders].
How do you counter fears after the incident of the man who shot the police officers near Tacoma, Wash.? (He was imprisoned at age 17, but released early.)
There are no guarantees of anyone for future behavior. Unfortunately, some people will relapse and continue to engage in criminal behavior. Each case must be carefully assessed. [That] case was obviously very tragic. There are better risk assessment tools available now to determine risk of violence and risk of re-offense. I have assisted many prisoners who have been incarcerated. [In one case, for example], it was determined the prisoner had a psychiatric medical condition that was safely treatable. A structured plan was developed to address the prisoner’s identified needs. He was paroled and has not had any problems since. — Aleene Jinn George for Hour Detroit magazine, March 2010