Parole Reform: It’s Here, But Will It Reduce Recidivism?

Prison reform advocates have long argued that national, state and local parole and probation systems share a significant role in producing high recidivism rates. Apparently, the legislators in one state that has the most acclaimed prison overcrowding problem have finally agreed with this premise, and done something about it. According to a recent story by writer Michael B. Farrell, in the Christian Science Monitor, “California has made sweeping changes to its parole system that experts and government officials say are the key to reducing dangerously high populations in the nation’s largest correctional system.”

Farrell’s article explained that “the crux of these reforms lies in reserving active parole supervision for only the most violent offenders.” Lower-risk parolees will not be under regular supervision, and might not even be sent back to prison for technical violations, like missing a required class, failing a drug test, or not maintaining steady employment.

Probation Woe: A Case Study
Recidivism for shorter-term incarcerations, like that for jails or “detention centers,” where probation is a common alternative to partial or full sentences, is also clearly impacted by local methodology. Probation should not be confused with parole, as the latter is serving the remainder of a sentence outside of confinement, whereas probation is given instead of jail time and as such can actually place more rigid obligations upon the offender. A case in point follows: After the regular activities of a personal weekly visit with a group of inmates in a Florida county detention center, one inmate, Anthony, hung back after the others left and stated, “Well, I’m back already.”

He had apparently been released by the court a few weeks prior to that visit, but had been rearrested after a few weeks of freedom, and now had to serve an additional two months. When asked what happened, Anthony said, “Part of the terms of my release was to see my probation officer at least once each month. I made a point of seeing her the very next day after I got out. Then she wanted to see me again a few days later, and I complied. And over the course of a couple of weeks, I had to see her two more times, at her request. That’s four times, and I only was supposed to see her once a month.”

A few days later, she wanted to see me again, but circumstances made it absolutely impossible to make the appointment. That night, she knocked on my door, and two accompanying deputies arrested me for not showing up the fifth time, so here I am!” Anthony was not a violent offender, but merely a poor soul that had a drug problem. It also appears he was a “technical victim” of the practices of the local probation system, thus contributing to the recidivism rate for that jail.

Disagreement in the Ranks
Yet, not all experts agree with each other on exactly how parole or probation impacts recidivism. In fact, a 2008 study from Rutgers School of Criminal Justice states that intensive parole supervision actually reduces recidivism among violent criminals. According to a story from online by Carly Rothman, “Offenders who were subject to intensive law enforcement supervision and given access to a variety of programs to ease their reentry into the community fared best. Only 41 percent of them were rearrested, compared with 51 percent of general parolees who did not get the more intensive supervision, and 73 percent of ‘max-outs,’ who completed their sentences and were under no supervision.”

A contradictory 2005 study by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, as reported by Corrections Digest, showed “a decline in the statewide crime rate and recidivism, and a slowing in the incarceration rate in the 10 years since the state abolished parole.” And other 2005 research by the Urban Institute, as reported by Join Together, indicates that “mandatory parolees are just as likely to be rearrested as former inmates who are released into the community without supervision.” This multistate study concluded, in fact, that “in some cases, supervised parolees were more likely to be rearrested.”

And somewhere between the Rutgers study and the Virginia and Urban reports is a finding made by Washington State’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration that compared recidivism rates for offenders leaving the system over consecutive one-year periods. After a 12-month followup, the comparison showed 32.7 percent of the parole group and 30.2 percent of the no-parole group had been reconvicted for new felonies. In other words, statistically, parole or no-parole makes no difference.

Does anybody reading this article wonder if the so-called “experts,” researchers and politicians running our prison systems know what the heck they’re doing?

In conclusion, as observers from outside the systems around the country, we can only hope that sooner or later, all the “experts” will come together and get their act together, and truly find real solutions to the outrageous recidivism rates, overcrowding and prison-related budget crises. – ED.

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  • Thomas Kinney said:

    Good article.

    Speaking of Anthony you say; “It also appears he was a “technical victim” of the
    practices of the local probation system, thus contributing to the recidivism rate for that jail.” It seems that I have recently seen a comment suggesting that the system itself is the worst offender in placing roadblocks in the path of the very people that it should be trying to help. A parole or probation officer who sets unrealistic goals is just one more roadblock set in place by someone who seems to relish failure and the system condones this perpetuation of failure. The officer should be fired and the system replaced.

    You go on to say that Virginia reported; “a decline in the statewide crime rate and recidivism, and a slowing in the incarceration rate in the 10 years since the state abolished parole.” I wonder, what was the average length of sentence of those incarcerated at the beginning of the study? If the sentences were more than 10 years and no parole was available, of course the rates would drop. No one was being released to become a recidivist. Sooner or later normal end of sentence release will catch up to the study. Seems to me like they need to come up with a more logical way to deny parole.

  • LMBO said:

    This crap is crazy!! How about we try actually REHABILITATING the freaking inmates so that they don’t return and that will lower the recidivism rate!!! Instead of making them work while they there! come on, i’m talking about having a new way of thinking!! not a new vocational although it is nice while your in prison, but what about outside of prison?? They can’t even get a job!!! That is why they return because it’s much easier in prison!!! a lot of the inmates literally plan to go back to prison!! Especially because they have girlfriends that are lifers and will never get out!!


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