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