Parole is defined as the conditional release of inmates from prison to serve the remainder of their sentences under community correctional supervision (Silverman 509). This concept was created to encourage good behavior and to reinforce the ultimate goal of the prison system, rehabilitation. In fact, the term parole is derived from the French phrase d honneur, meaning word of honor (Silverman 510). While this seems like an ideal arrangement, we must constantly remember that we are talking about the release of a convict, someone who was found guilty under our judicial system. If these people are capable of blatantly violating our laws, what makes us believe that their word of honor means anything at all? How can we trust a felon to return to society without putting the innocent at risk?
Studies show that approximately 62% of prisoners released on parole are rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years (Corbo 1). In fact, recidivism rates show that 1 out of 4 parolees were rearrested in the first 6 months and 2 out of 5 within the first year after their release (Beck 1). To understand better the severity of these statistics we must research what types of crimes are being committed after release and also what types of criminals are being paroled. We have found through studies that released prisoners are often rearrested for the same type of crime for which they served time in prison. If a large majority of the paroled are originally convicted of misdemeanors or less serious felonies, the risk of recidivism is then not a huge gamble of society s well being. Unfortunately, when looking at statistics this is not often the case.
According to the Bureau if Justice Reports, 59.6% of all violent offender parolees are rearrested within 3 years of their release, along with 68% of property offenses, 54.6% of public-order offenders, and 50.4% of drug offenders (Beck 2). Even more alarming than this, is that we also have to consider that the Bureau of Justice Statistics findings come only from reported crimes. We must assume then, that an even larger rate of recidivism is occurring, though we cannot statistically measure it. These figures become even more horrifying when looked at as actual crimes. An estimated 67,898 of the 108,580 prisoners who were released, were rearrested and charged with 326,746 new offenses by the year s end. More than 50,000 of the new charges were violent offenses, including 2,282 homicides, 1,451 kidnappings, 1,291 rapes, 2,626 other sexual assaults, 17,060 robberies, and 22,633 other assaults.
We employ the theory of preventable patrol in our law enforcement agencies, where a large amount of time and money is spent by having police patrol our streets in an attempt to reduce preventable crimes. Are the above crimes not preventable? Studies do indicate a trend, relating increased lengths of imprisonment with decreased rates of recidivism (Beck 9). By enforcing the strictest interpretation of their sentences, would we be able to prevent some of these crimes? After all these sentences are not simply arbitrary punishments. We have experienced and educated judges, federal sentencing guidelines, and various other sources to determine the appropriate length of imprisonment needed to prevent the offender from committing new offenses. Therefore, when we parole, we are going against the studies of prior trends, the advisement of judges and prosecutors, and in essence taking a huge risk. It is our system and the discretion of parole boards that decides whether or not an offender is rehabilitated , yet when their judgments are faulty it is society who pays. Shouldn t our dedication stands towards protecting the innocent members of our community, rather than the offenders who violated our vital laws.
To determine who shall be paroled, we have created a State Parole Board, which is composed of nine members appointed by the Governor to serve staggered six-year terms. The nine members are then divided into three panels to consider state prison, young adult, and juvenile cases. The Chairperson is therefore the ninth member of the Board and the third member of each panel. They base their decisions on a process known as presumptive parole , meaning that unless the Board finds that a substantial likelihood exists that an inmate may commit a new crime if released, there is a presumption that parole will ordinarily be granted (Keels 38). In parole consideration for inmates convicted of murder, the full nine member Board must concur on his/her release. After parole is granted to an inmate, they are released with specific conditions to be met while on parole. These conditions require certain obligations to be met and also restrict the parolee s activities. These parole conditions are supposed to be strictly monitored by the Bureau of Parole of the Department of Corrections (Keels 39). The Bureau of Parole mission is to provide the supervision and related services for parolees released from incarceration, while focusing on their main goal of providing community protection in conjunction with a successful reintegration of the parolee into society (Keels 40).
While this system sounds ideal, we know from the statistics shown above that this system is failing in far too many instances. 6.6% of paroled murderers are rearrested for homicide (Beck 2). Given this fact and given that keeping these known criminals in jail could prevent these subsequent crimes, why are we continuing to parole those who we know to be likely to contribute to the recidivism rate? Although an inmate may behave in prison and promise to abide by parole regulations, we must keep in mind that they are convicted offenders. If they were capable to murder, steal, rape, etc, why do we think that they are incapable of lying to get out of prison? Doesn t seem even more likely that someone with corrupted morals would lie to avoid punishment?
Programs such as the Intensive Surveillance/Supervision Program (ISSP) and Electronic Monitoring/Home Confinement Program were instituted to help combat the numerous problems associated with parole. In 1986, the Bureau of Parole implemented an ISSP to work with hard-to-manage parolees. The ISSP imposes strict conditions including, frequent weekly contacts with the parole officer, periodic urine monitoring and occasionally electronic surveillance, upon the offender (Keels 43). Unfortunately, after 6 months of satisfactory reports they are placed in a traditional parole caseload, often too soon for the offender to be adequately rehabilitated. Another problem encountered by this program is the lack of parole officers compared to parolees. The program has the capacity to supervise only 400 parolees at any one point in time. Another program that works to combat high recidivism rates in parolees is the Electronic Monitoring/Home Confinement Program (EM/HC). The New Jersey Department of Corrections initiated this program in 1989, where selected inmates are released from a correctional institution to their homes and are then monitored by trained staff using a state-of-the-art electronic surveillance system (Keels 43). Like ISSP, after completion of the program the parolees are transferred to a regular parole caseload. This program, which is increasing in popularity, currently serves over 500 inmates (Keels 43).
My intentions in this paper are not to bash our correctional system or the dedicated workers who give their all for the benefit of the society. I am hoping just to show that like many things in law, things do not always work as intended. The good intentions of our system just do not make up for the fact that parole effectiveness tends to show a relatively poor outcome, meaning the percentage of parolees rearrested for both technical and criminal violations is unacceptably high (Silverman 516). Although programs such as ISSP and EM/HC are now trying to combat the poor effectiveness of parole, we must keep in mind that with every mistake we make as a system, an innocent citizen is faced with tragedy. It is our duty to create a system where we can rehabilitate our offenders and aid in their reinstitution to society as easily as possible. However, when this challenge gambles with the well-being of the innocent we must consider it too great of a risk.