LANSING, Mich. -- Sandra Zukowski of Kalamazoo says once your loved one is incarcerated, you may feel as powerless as they do. She believes her son is like many prisoners statewide who become eligible for parole but are unable to enroll in programs they need to complete to be released.
One year from now Zukowski's son, Daniel Maxson, 29, should be eligible for parole, but she says he's being told that at that time he still be on a waiting list to start a program he is required to complete before being released.
“If they go before the parole board and they have not completed the programming, they will not be released. But it’s a Catch 22: they’re not going to be offered the programming until their parole date passes," said Zukowski.
Zukowski calls this a civil rights issue: Michigan prisoners missing their first possible parole dates because the system is too crowded or because there's a lack of qualified staff to teach the programs prisoners need.
“When I hear that he can’t get out, that means I can’t get out either," said Zukowski.
"I can’t get out of this powerlessness to support him and help him, and that doesn’t feel good. And I know I’m not the only one.”
Maxson is serving a 19- to 90-month sentence for attempting to commit second-degree criminal sexual conduct. On parole at the time, Maxson's criminal record shows he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender and of possessing child pornography.
The Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz tells FOX 17 the MDOC prioritizes prisoners' program enrollment based on their earliest release dates. When there are backlogs, officials move prisoners to openings at facilities statewide. "We make every effort to ensure that prisoners have access to the programming that they need to complete before their earliest release date," said Gautz.
"We're constantly monitoring that and moving people around," he said.
“I hope that not only that my son gets the programming for his release but the hundreds of other prisoners who are waiting on hold to be released," said Zukowski.
"It seems like a civil rights issue to be holding people beyond their sentence. They’ve served their sentence; let them out."
Gautz asks families whose loved ones are facing similar situations to call the MDOC in Lansing at 517)-335-1426. He says you can also call the prison and ask to speak with the staff handling program scheduling at that facility.
According to the MDOC, it costs the state an average of $35,149 per prisoner annually. Zukowski says why keep anyone incarcerated any longer than necessary after they serve their time. It costs the prisoner socially as much as it costs taxpayers, she said.