Analyzing the Parole System and Effects on Recidivism

by Elizabeth Hall
US incarceration timeline
US incarceration timeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In today’s world, the criminal justice system operates on a perpetual backlog of cases, crimes, and criminals of all types.  The way that they deal with punishment has had to change to accommodate changes in the prison population, and part of the changes included the use of the parole system.  Through the parole system offenders could receive indeterminate sentences, which mean they may serve all, a portion of their sentence, or no time at all incarcerated (Seiter, 2008).  This system of indeterminate sentences gave rise to the rehabilitation era of sentencing, where the emphasis is on programs to return inmates to society as productive members. Today the criminal justice system has gone back to more determinate sentences but parole systems still exist in some states. 
DECATUR, IL - FEBRUARY 18:  Brandi Ceci cares ...
DECATUR, IL - FEBRUARY 18: Brandi Ceci cares for her three-month-old daughter Alexis in the common area of her ward at the Decatur Correctional Center February 18, 2011 in Decatur, Illinois. Alexis, who was born while Ceci was serving a 54-month sentence for burglary, lives with her mother at the prison, part of the Moms with Babies program at the minimum security facility. The program allows incarcerated women to keep their newborn babies with them for up to two years while serving their sentence. The program boasts a zero percent recidivism rate compared to the statewide rate of 51.3 percent. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2012), recidivism can be defined as “a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior”.  In the legal system it is viewed as an offender previously incarcerated as a felon who has been released on parole and reoffends within a three-year time-period, as defined by the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  The use of technology like the electronic sensor system that is placed on an offender’s ankle, or breathalyzer systems attached to drunk drivers’ cars make it easier to monitor those who are on parole.  The use of the parole system allows for budgeting for programs aimed at rehabilitation of inmates, such as halfway houses, and for effective punishment, with partial or no incarceration for some offenders (Seiter, 2008).
Parole Revocation
Parole can be defined as early conditional release from incarceration before the sentence is served and is done by appearing in front if a parole board (Seiter, 2008).  This can be mandatory supervised or unconditional depending on the parole findings and the recommendations of the parole board.  When an offender is released on parole, they have guidelines that they are required to follow, such as keeping a job, not using alcohol or narcotics, and not being in places where these things are available (Seiter, 2008).  They may also be confined to their houses, have regular visits with their parole officers, and be subject to home visits where the parole officer is allowed to search. 
English: USA. Reasons for revocation among par...
English: USA. Reasons for revocation among parole violators in State prison, for all States, California, New York, and Texas, 1997 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They must not re-offend and as such within these parameters, it is common that the offender chooses not to follow the conditions, and must have their parole revoked.  In order to revoke parole, there must be a determination as to whether a violation happened, or if there is an agreement with stipulations.  When this happens, an arrest warrant is issued, and the offender is returned to incarceration until their hearing date, which is usually required to happen within thirty days of the offense according to Seiter, (2008).  During this time, the offender has limited due process rights, but does have a right to the preliminary parole hearing, while waiting on the full revocation hearing.  After the hearing the parolee either is, returned to incarceration for the remainder of their original sentence, or is released depending on the outcome of the hearing (Seiter, 2008)
Current Systems
According to Seiter (2008), the current system is moving away from determinant sentences, and back into determinate sentencing, three strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and sentencing guidelines.  The focus is more on punishment, and a tough on crime attitude for our criminal justice system, which is not helping with overcrowding issues, as we find more special needs prisoners, and longer sentencing filling up or facilities faster than we can process criminals in and out of the system.  This practice may lower recidivism rates simply because they are not being released to reoffend.  The problem is that with this current model, rehabilitation is pushed to the back burner, and often programs are cut as funding is used to maintain the larger numbers of prisons (Seiter, 2008). 
Rehabilitation Policy
Rehabilitation Policy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Since the current model is just making a larger backlog for the prison system, it does not seem to be working very effectively.  It would seem that stiffer sentences do not reduce recidivism for those offenders who do get out.  One possible solution would be to bring back the rehabilitation model, but make sure that the right programs are available to those who need them.  Maybe we need to  make the sentences fit the crime better, particularly the drug offenders who end up in prison longer than the murderers which does not seem right in a system which purports to be fair. 

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), (2010).  2010 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report.  Retrieved From: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/ARB_FY0506_Outcome_Evaluation_Report.pdf
Merriam-Webster, (2012).  Recidivism.  Retrieved From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/recidivism
Seiter, R.P., (2008).  Corrections: An Introduction.  Second Edition.  Prentice Hall United States

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