Wyoming to consider zoning limits on where parolees may live

Dec 12, 2011

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is considering changes that would limit where people paroled from jail or prison could live.

Most parolees go home when they’re released from jail. Those who don’t have a safe place to reintegrate into society are housed through reentry programs. People are usually on parole for two years or less(depending on violations).

Police Chief James Carmody said he supports efforts to house and rehabilitate parolees from Wyoming. But he’s concerned too many state and federal parolees are being concentrated in a couple of motels in his city.

“We’re just saying the concentration is really beyond our ability to control and maintain,” Carmody said. “We can only handle so many and so much. Maybe it’s time to look at spreading that out a little bit and letting the rest of the community engage in (the discussion) as well.”

Carmody said there are at least 200 active parolees in the city. He said Wyoming is getting more parolees proportionally compared to neighboring communities. He said more parolees “would place an additional burden on our already strained resources.” Wyoming has cut close to 20 fulltime positions in the police department over the past five years.

The proposed zoning change would limit the number of parolees who could live in a house or motel to two people. There is a wide-ranging exemption in these residential and commercial districts for family members. Facilities for housing parolees in the future would only be allowed in an industrial area. The two inns would be grandfathered in.

“We want and certainly encourage families to get back together and involved in society again. We want to do that for our residents. We just don’t want the influx from other areas,” Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll said.

Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said that in 2007, the state began providing housing for some parolees without a safe place to stay when they got out of prison through the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative. He points to reports that show recidivism rates are down among parolees with stable housing. “We know it works,” Marlan said. He said in the majority of cases, state parolees are housed in the county where they were sentenced.

Yvonne Jackson is the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative Community Coordinator for Kent and Allegan Counties. At the city council work session Monday she said the Michigan Department of Corrections already housed parolees at the two inns before the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative began. She said at one point there was up to 100 parolees housed at one location. But she said since Chief Carmody raised his concerns the department has lowered the number to around 50 or 60.

“It is not our intent, and we do agree, that housing any one population in a concentrated area is not a best practice. It does not work,” Jackson said. “We continue to work on equitable distribution, if you will, of those populations in other areas.”

Wyoming City Council is expected to consider the proposed changes in a couple months.