Glossary of Corrections Terminology

Many of these definitions are courtesy of the Michigan Department of Corrections or the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

Commutations and Pardons
Under the authority of the state constitution, the governor has the power to grant executive clemency through pardons and commutations. The Michigan Parole Board reviews clemency applications and makes recommendations to the governor. In some cases, the board may conduct a public hearing to gather comments from interested parties prior to deciding on a recommendation.
In a commutation, the life sentence is reduced to the number of years already served by the offender and parole is granted. State law allows any prisoner serving any length of time to apply for a commutation and requires a public hearing before the board can recommend executive clemency in all cases, including pardons. In a pardon, the prisoner’s sentence is effectively voided and the prisoner freed.
Concurrent Sentences
Sentences for more than one crime that are to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other. Normally, Michigan sentences imposed simultaneously are served concurrently.
Consecutive (Stacked) Sentences
Sentences for multiple offenses in which the minimum of one must be served before the minimum on the next one begins. Sentences for any crime committed during the parole period are consecutive to any active sentence(s) for which the prisoner was originally sentenced.
Continuance or “Flop”
A decision by the parole board to deny release. Denials can be for 12, 18 or 24 months.
Disciplinary Credits
A reduction from a prisoner’s minimum and maximum sentence for good conduct. In Michigan, the most credit any prisoner can earn is 7 days per month. Prisoners sentenced before 1978 received “good time” credit, which was given in larger quantities. Prisoners sentenced after “truth-in-sentencing” took effect cannot earn credits. (See Good Time, Truth in Sentencing)
Earliest Release Date (ERD)
The first date at which a person becomes eligible for parole.
Electronic Monitoring (tether)
Supervision of certain parolees or probationers using various electronic equipment. See PD 06.03.105 “Electronic Monitoring of Offenders” (PDF: 34K).
Felony
In Michigan, any serious crime for which the possible maximum sentence is more than one year in prison. (Probation can be an alternative to prison in most felony crimes.)
Flat Sentence
A single term of years the prisoner must serve. Michigan has flat sentences, set by statute, for committing a felony with a firearm.
Good Time
Days subtracted from certain prisoners’ sentences for good behavior, required under Michigan law unless the prisoner has violated prison rules; it escalates from 5 days a month to 15 days a month on very long sentences. An additional one-half of regular good time can also be earned for exemplary behavior. Prisoners sentenced for crimes committed after April 1, 1987, cannot earn good time.
Habitual Offender
The habitual criminal designation augments the punishment for second or subsequent felonies. In Michigan anyone convicted of more than one felony can have his or her sentence lengthened if requested by the prosecutor and agreed to by the court.
Indeterminate Sentence
A sentence with a minimum and a maximum term. The defendant must serve at least the minimum (reduced by any good time or disciplinary credit if allowed) and may be held to the maximum. The judge sets the minimum; the maximum is usually set by statute.
Life Sentence (Mandatory)
The statutorily required sentence for first-degree murder. There is no parole eligibility. Release is only by commutation, pardon or death.
Life Sentence (Parolable)
A sentence that allows the parole board to either grant parole or keep the prisoner for the rest of his or her life. “Lifers” are eligible for parole after serving 10 or 15 years, depending on the offense date. The board can only parole a lifer if the sentencing (or successor) judge does not object and after holding a public hearing.
Major Misconduct
An institutional rule infraction for which a prisoner can receive a major misconduct report or “ticket.” An accumulation of major misconducts can reduce a person’s chances for parole.
Mandatory Minimum
A minimum sentence is required by statute. The judge may impose a longer minimum than the statute requires, but usually cannot impose a shorter one.
Parole
A term of community supervision granted by the Parole Board to a prisoner who has served the minimum portion of his or her sentence, less good time or disciplinary credits, if applicable. While on parole, a parolee is supervised by an agent who is an employee of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
At the successful completion of the parole period, the offender is “discharged” from his or her sentence. If a parolee violates the parole terms, he or she can be sent back to prison. The Parole Board retains jurisdiction until the maximum-sentence is served in prison or the offender discharges from parole.
Parole Eligibility/Lifer Review Reports (PERs)
Summary of a prisoner’s prior record, adjustment and other information to be considered by the Parole Board. See MCL 791.235 and Policy Directive 06.05.103 (PDF: 30K).
Parole Guidelines
A statistical risk assessment instrument that gauges likelihood prisoner will commit an assaultive offense if released. Points are scored for such factors as offense, prior record, in-prison conduct, the prisoner’s age, length of time served, program participation and mental health. If final score is in high range, parole is supposed to be granted absent “substantial and compelling reasons” for denial. Similarly, if score is in low range, parole is supposed to be denied. Read more about the parole guidelines at CAPPS recommendations (PDF: 246K).
Plea Bargaining
Process in which the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a satisfactory disposition of the case usually before a trial.
Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI)
State law requires an investigation be completed and a report prepared for every person convicted of a felony. This investigation and resulting report is used by the judge in sentencing and, if sentenced to prison, it is used by the Department of Corrections in determining classification, risk potential and other programming.
The investigation is conducted by a state probation officer after the defendant has been convicted of a crime. The report contains a description of the crime; any prior criminal record; information on the offender’s marital status and family; any impact statement from the victim; information on employment and economic status, education, substance-abuse history, and mental and physical health. Probation officers are required by law to recommend a sentence, although the judge may choose to ignore the recommendation.
Probation
A term of supervision afforded either a convicted felon or a convicted misdemeanant by a court as an alternative to prison or jail, although some judges may sentence offenders to a combination of both probation and jail or boot camp. The Michigan Department of Corrections supervises convicted felons who are serving probation sentences under the jurisdiction of the sentencing court.
Sentencing Guidelines
Sentencing guidelines, signed into law in 1998, are numeric ranges used by sentencing judges to determine an appropriate minimum sentence. They are determined by the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal record of the offender. The judge can only depart from the guidelines range for “substantial and compelling reasons.”
Technical Violator
A probationer or parolee who has not been convicted of a new offense but who violated the conditions of supervision, e.g., by failing to report, to participate in required programs or to pass a drug test.
“Truth-in-Sentencing”
A legislative initiative, phased in for offenses committed after December 15, 1998, that:

  • eliminates disciplinary credits
  • requires the calculation of “disciplinary time” for each major misconduct to be considered by the parole board
  • prohibits any prisoner from entering a community program until after the prisoner has served the minimum sentence and become eligible for parole
Zero Tolerance Gun Policy
A policy enacted by the Michigan Department of Corrections in 2004 at the direction of the governor which requires the department to return a parolee to prison for 60 months or until the end of the maximum sentence if the person is found in possession of a gun, an object that appears to be a gun, or with someone who has a gun or a gun replica. The parole board has the discretion to make exceptions to this rule under mitigating circumstances.