As you'll read below, parole in the U.S. today is nearly non-existent. The GOP through ALEC and model legislation helped accomplish the repeal of parole as part of their "Tough on Crime" agenda. With private prison companies on their Pvt. Enterprise Board, this made them money via longer sentences. Today the same bunch led by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan have the "answer" to reducing prison populations - privatized parole. They're suggesting this as their "Right on Crime" initiative and ALEC & the American Bail Coalition (ABC) lend full support, having proposed model legislation titled "Conditional Early Release Bond Act". Profit, profit, profit and ALEC's members...Below is a 2 part video of the ABC Gen. Counsel on this Model legislation:
State issued and supervised paroles work and don't require a parolee to "buy" their way out of prison, don't have such strict requirements - and do not allow a "bonding company" to simply pick up the parolee and place them back in prison on a "hunch".
I’ve watched many documentaries and programs and read several articles and reports on issues of Parole. In most instances attention is paid to events involving a parolee in one state or another that commits a serious crime and is returned to prison.
In each case emphasis is placed upon trauma experienced by the latest victim - victim’s family in the case of death – and increased fear within the community from the crime committed and potential for the release of more violent prisoners through parole.
While I acknowledge there have been horrendous and heinous acts committed by parolees, these crimes represent a minority. While media attention can always be focused upon men or women who exit prison and recommit criminal acts – and pointed to as proof positive prisoners should not be paroled – such attention is lacking for those who successfully complete parole. This would seem strange, considering successful reentries far outweigh failed ones.
Parole has been all but eliminated at the state level in the U.S. Proponents of eliminating parole use media reported failures as a tool when arguing for stiffer penalties and more stringent guidelines for parole consideration. No mention or opposing view is given in those articles or programs in support of the successes of parole. For each stupid act committed and reported upon by our media, there are thousands who finished parole or probation without incident and are now living as normal a life as can be lived by an ex-con.
Parole programs serve a necessary and vital part in judicial systems everywhere. The possibility of reducing one’s prison sentence so that it may be completed sooner and let them go home, is a huge incentive to all prisoners. Fights, violent acts and petty crimes inside prison walls and fences were kept in check by the mere possibility of losing a parole recommendation or set parole date. Staff requirements were reduced when parole was available.
As actual parole opportunities became few and far between, more and more prisoners acted out. With long sentences and no possibility of parole, many gave up any pretense of behaving. Most came to realize they were “home” for the rest of their lives or for years to come and, simply gave in to making the best they could out of their permanent environment. This in turn led to increased staff and a new form of “incentive” – compliance through isolation techniques such as: “close management”, “solitary confinement” and “population segregation.”
With these new incentives implemented, inmates were placed in small single cells where they spent 23-24 hours daily - and are all but forgotten by staff and classification teams. Some got out of their cells for an hour or two a week, others 1 hour per day for recreation, exercise and showering. Men and women who are released from these facilities have not had the benefit of reentry education, work release or other community programs prior to release. All of these pre-release programs help to ease an ex-offender back into his/her community and provide informative counseling on topics such as getting an I.D., driver’s license, Social Security card, how to prepare a resume and apply for jobs and government assistance for housing and food once released.
Without parole to supervise those released under these circumstances, inmates are released with one set of clothing and $100.00 or less and given a bus ticket back to the jurisdiction who sentenced him/her to prison - if they're lucky. They arrive without a home, job and in some instances no idea on how to go about securing either. Their families have another mouth to feed without any income from that person, as they seek a job. If they have no family most gravitate back toward those places, habits and “friends” they had before, where they can find a roof, something to eat just to live. It is then only a matter of time until they commit another crime and return to prison – possibly with a co-defendant in tow. This is part and parcel of the “revolving door” policy that keeps ex-offenders going back again and again.
In addition to the lack of parole, most states have had to cut-back on all programs involving education, vocational training, psych, anger and sexual offender counseling. In our current state of economy, funding for these same programs in our communities have also been reduced or cut altogether so an ex-offender has little chance of finding such programs available to him/her outside prison.
As crime rates have dropped over the past two decades, prison populations have increased to the point of bursting.
Crime rates are down in both violent and property crimes over the past twenty years according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (2008). See page 6 Figure #5.
In the mid 80’s states began to abolish parole while enacting new laws that imposed mandatory 25 year sentences for murder and other major crimes. Mandatory minimum sentence requirements were put in place for gun charges and drug possession, use and distribution. As the chart above demonstrates, with the increase in sentence length and loss of parole capability, inmate population increased dramatically – to where we are today. The spiraling increase in prison population following the elimination of parole,clearly indicates the need to reestablish parole for qualified inmates. Any comprehensive plan to reduce recidivism must include a sensible parole program that will encourage good behavior and the possibility of reducing one’s sentence through rehabilitation. In addition parole allows for close supervision of those released and assists in reducing recidivism. Supervision has proven to work in successful reentry and a reduction in recidivism. As stated above, there are exceptions – but they are in the minority.
As localized societies continue to funnel more and more neighbors through state or private prison gates, they are just as busy reducing educational and vocational programs to allow offenders to successfully rehabilitate and return home. This dilemma is nothing more than a politically forced constipation: if you stuff more and more humanity into prison, without providing a means for the ones sent before to become rehabilitated prior to release, what you get is our situation today – a nationwide prison system bursting at the seams.
It doesn't matter what the finite sentence imposed upon an individual was, all felony convictions really carry an “infinite sentence” that follows an individual for the rest of his/her life. Education, jobs and trust are not available to released offenders in today’s environment because of the criminal record attached to them. Once tainted with the label of "ex-con" or "former offender" that blemish remains for life - and today society considers that label as toxic.
Ex-offenders are measured against the headlines splashed before all of us as a result of the acts of a few ex-prisoners who continue lives of crime when eventually released. In the absence of proven reentry programs or any kind of rehabilitation it is a given that a certain percentage of the overall class are going to reoffend. Given the lack of parole, education or other rehabilitative programs it’s a wonder the failure percentage isn’t higher than it is.
If/when a prisoner is in a situation of having committed a crime and sentenced to prison, the possibility of shortening that sentence by perfect behavior and true rehabilitation is the ultimate incentive. By using the threat of a “write-up” that will impact upon parole consideration(s), a correctional officer – or work supervisor - wields more control over prisoners in that situation than they do under the present system where threats of physical force or close management are primary tools of control.
As we continue to fill prisons with non-violent drug offenders and those who have committed property crimes, they are exposed to violent and hardened prisoners for an ever-increasing amount of time. “Lifers,” “long timers” and “career criminals” have more time to “teach” the ropes to younger inmates. We put men/women of few or lesser crimes in overcrowded cells with older more experienced convicts and with reduced recreation activities, no parole, no vocational training or education, and warehoused with several men/women stuffed into the space meant for one, then wonder why they come home and sometimes commit worse crimes than before, are anti-social and seem to have less respect or regard for themselves and those they interact with.
This is carried as a constant and crippling sign around their necks. This is due in part to the fact that as a society we accept that everything beneficial has been cut from prison operations immediately before budgets are cut for education in the communities. Thus there is a greater chance that a former offender learned nothing from serving a prison sentence – and if they were a threat to us before prison, there’s a better than even chance that threat is greater, rather than lesser upon release. From the huge cuts taken out of education programs of our children, we can easily judge the larger cuts that have been made to corrections. We know and that is part of our fear of anyone who spent time in prison.
I argue for a reversal of the current course of action regarding parole. Offering parole again would have a serious and positive response – on the inside and outside – for all concerned. In addition we must provide opportunities to those inmates wanting to change their lives around. This is why:
1. Incentive of parole changes behavior of the majority of all inmates currently serving a sentence in prison. Parole possibilities create better behavior, reduced acts of a violent or sexual nature.
2. Coupled with parole is a need for education beyond the basics. We don’t expect our children to receive minimal education and go on to college and a successful career. Expecting a prisoner to exceed under similar conditions is similarly unrealistic.
3. Reduced need for building more correctional facilities and closure of some existing facilities will free up funding for education, counseling and reentry programs. This also reduces prison staffing needs and thereby salaries paid with tax dollars.
4. The need for privatizing prisons will no longer exist. States will be able to handle their own reduced prison populations and thus there will no longer be a need for allowing others to profit from incarceration.
5. Supervised release of offenders through parole allows for oversight of those released. Parole requires monthly check-ins, home visits, job visits and family contact by the parole officer assigned to an individual.
Increases in sentencing laws, three strike, minimum mandatory laws and elimination of parole, all contribute to the present prison environment of over 2.3 million citizens serving harsher and more punitive sentences for lesser crimes. Legislation from the mid 80’s has changed the sentencing parameters available to Judges. Mandatory sentencing has taken discretion away from both jurors and judges, forcing a given sentence imposed for certain acts – especially crimes involving guns and drugs. Under these draconian laws, all offenders receive the same sentence regardless of the amount of drugs, or whether a carried weapon was used or not. A judge has little leeway under today’s laws. Instead of reviewing and passing sentence in every case on an individual basis with mitigating or aggravating factors, each case results in the same outcome irrespective of past record, or if the crime committed was due to a one-time lack of poor decision making. Of course if the offender has multiple previous arrests or convictions, the state seeks to “enhance” the punishment by increasing the term imposed. Once again, the judge is bound by the controlling “enhancement guidelines” and must sentence accordingly – without considering mitigating or aggravating factors and adjusting the sentence appropriately. Now, inmates serve a minimum 85% of their sentence in most jurisdictions.
The manipulations of laws and sentencing have provided an unhealthy advantage to state prosecutors in many states. In Florida, for instance, a prosecutor with a weak case can offer a plea arrangement where the defendant will be sentenced to probation instead of prison – if he accepts such a pre-trial proffer. An important aspect of such a “deal” is that in case of a violation of probation the prosecutor can seek (and the court impose) a sentence in excess of the term of probation – up to and including the maximum sentence allowed under the statute. Through this type of dealing, a prosecutor with a weak case is able to get a conviction and place the offender under supervision, knowing if he manages to violate the offender during the period of probation, he can then send the convicted felon away for a long time – even in a weak case, with little or no evidence in the first place. This maneuver provides the state two bites of the apple – first a minor probationary period followed by a long incarceration upon violation. This also works in cases of suspended sentences.
Granted, the foregoing manipulations have no impact upon the issue of parole. However to understand the need and importance of parole one must look beyond the mere meaning of the term and realize the current atmosphere under which both courts and defendants participate. Both have their hands tied by laws and criminal procedure put in place by legislators. Many of today’s laws represent the will of society while others are constructed as part of election rhetoric in the form of campaign or platform promises that are carried out if a specific candidate is elected. These laws form the core of the “Tough on Crime” position adopted nationwide. After filling voters with false fear of released prisoners, it becomes easy to pass legislation to appease those fabricated fears. Unfortunately, it does not work the other way. We can’t take the fear away and propose legislation supporting parole, there is just no interest when there is no fear of what will happen if that course of action is not taken. It would be great if the public would simply understand the amount of tax dollars being spent on unnecessary incarceration and the number of victimless crimes that result in years of incarceration costs borne by them as taxpayers. Money that should be going toward education, healthcare and other important social programs, now diverted to pay for incarceration of tens of thousands of inmates per state. Parole would reverse that diversion and benefit us all. Supervision is much less expensive in tax dollars than 24/7 prison incarceration.
It’s important to advocate not just a return to issuing paroles for prisoners, but to provide parole boards with a mandate to perform their jobs. Many prisoners who qualify for parole spend years behind bars living exemplary lives in that tough environment, acquiring college degrees and the support of members of their community, and are denied parole time after time. In the years since parole was abolished in states like Florida (1983), the Parole Commission (Board) has continued to exist in place due to the number of pre-1983 prisoners that remain incarcerated. In addition the Board is responsible for overseeing those prisoners released who apply for restoration of their civil rights. For nearly 30 years the FL. Parole Board members have drawn full salaries while performing less than 15% of the duties they did prior to 1983.
Parole Commissioners or Members have become “gun shy” of late. Every time a released offender recommits in a high profile manner, the Parole Board comes under intense pressure and questioning as to why they saw fit to parole someone to kill or harm again. Subsequent parole considerations suffer accordingly. Parole Boards are reluctant to issue any paroles and face recrimination for the one or two they do parole that might reoffend. Better to not take the chance to begin with. This has to stop. Every offender’s case and circumstances are different from others and require attention to the individual, rehabilitation efforts by the offender and behavior adjustment while in prison. It is patently unfair to deny parole to a man/woman who has demonstrated they are ready for parole based upon the behavior of a parolee who reoffended after release. This action by Parole personnel protects them from ridicule but prevents them from performing the duties assigned to them.
When a single individual commits an offense – as early as primary or high school – and the entire class or group of students are punished for the actions of one, we object and complain that kind of group punishment is unfair and un-American. Yet we condone the same practice when it is done against youths and adults that we incarcerate. This is happening every day with parole consideration. Potential parolees who have worked hard at keeping their records clean, acquiring education and counseling, securing employment and family support if/when released, are denied parole because one single individual on parole violated the conditions by committing another crime and going back to prison. The potential men/women awaiting parole are denied because of the acts of others who went before and failed at parole.
What is needed is a real parole system that works - not a privatized parole system that once again is profit based, requires an offender to pay for parole and if "violated" by the bonding company returned to prison where another company makes profit off of that return of him/her. This profitization off of incarceration is bankrupting us financially and morally. All privatization involving criminal justice is just plain wrong and has to stop...and former offenders given a chance to return to society supervised by the authority that sent him or her to prison in the first place. Allowing another company to diversify in the exploitation of prisoners in the "Prison Industrial Complex" and grow rich off of incarceration is also immoral and just plain wrong.