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Strengthening Parole/Probation

Overview
Conservative Solutions
Resources

Overview

“The prison system is made up mostly of people that have failed at probation [...] We have a very overcrowded prison system and the only way you’re going to bring that down is reforming the probation and parole systems.” - Judge Steven Alm, Founder of H.O.P.E. Program

For those sentenced to correctional supervision after a period of incarceration, any little slip up may prove extremely costly. Many technical violations of probation and parole often result in a return to prison for people who have not committed a new crime and may even be handling the transition from prison well. Although it is important to ensure that people follow the rules, it’s unnecessary to send someone to prison for something as trivial as incorrectly filling out his paperwork. Simply sending ex-offenders back to prison without having committed a new crime counters any progress that they have made reentering society.

We need a system of graduated sanctions that hold offenders accountable without forfeiting the progress they have made. These sanctions do not need to be lengthy prison sentences that place the offender back at square one, but rather swift, certain, and appropriate sanctions for minor setbacks. Judges do not have many options when determining an appropriate response: As one judge stated, “Please give me more options. Right now I can send them to prison or let them go to the beach.”

According to the American Probation and Parole Association, “low risk offenders are more likely to recidivate with too much correctional intervention rather than no intervention. In most cases, the shorter time a low risk offender is on probation, the better.” While there is a need for sanctions on those who break the rules, there is also a need to incentivize individuals to follow the rules so that they can finish the program quickly, free of reintegration barriers that come with unnecessary correctional supervision. Programs like HOPE keep ex-offenders accountable as well as allow for them to reenter society more easily so that they can become law-abiding citizens. Our justice system should aspire to expand the outreach of this program and implement similar programs across the nation.

Probation

Probation refers to what happens when a jury decides to allow individuals to serve their time without being incarcerated, instead of sending them to prison. These people have to follow specific rules in order to complete probation, and they are supervised by a probation officer who ensures they follow those rules. There are many advantages to probation, one of the biggest being cost avoidance. Probation is muchcheaper than locking someone up and should be used when possible. In most cases, probation is also better for low-level offenders because probation allows them to serve their punishment while avoiding pausing their entire life over a minor offense. This reduces the risk of recidivism, allowing ex-offenders to continue to be with family and friends while maintaining a job.

In 2004, First Circuit of Hawaii (comma deleted) Judge Steven Alm launched a probation reform pilot program called Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) to reduce recidivism and probation violations. It established clear guidelines and consequences and enforced “swift, predictable, and immediate sanctions” on probation violators. By doing so, HOPE took an educational approach to punishment, keeping individuals accountable for their actions by seeing see how they handle and take responsibility for their mistakes. In just a year after its inception, it produced incredible results: offenders were 55% less likely to get arrested for a new crime, 72% less likely to use drugs, 61% less likely to skip appointments with their parole officer, and 53% less likely to have their probation revoked. In addition, it had saved Hawaii taxpayers between four and six thousand dollars per inmate, per year. These achievements demonstrate how refocusing criminal justice efforts toward the rehabilitation of offenders not only benefits those within the criminal justice system, but also lowers taxpayer costs and improves public safety. Considering HOPE’s success in Hawaii, it would be worthwhile for other states to consider implementing similar programs.

Parole

Parole is a system for inmates after their release from prison designed to help with the transition from prison to civilian life. It is a period of court-ordered supervision under which a person must regularly report to a parole officer, report for frequent drug tests, stay within designated parameters, and find and maintain a job, among other requirements. It establishes very strict guidelines by which parolees must follow, but provides an efficient alternative to prison. Many times, parole is granted as a condition of reduced prison sentences. This practice promotes the rehabilitation of substance abuse offenders and helps ease inmates’ reentry into society. In addition, it helps lessen the problem of overcrowding by encouraging the release of non-violent prisoners, which in turn reduces prison costs

Conservative Solutions

  • Shorten the probation time for low risk offenders
  • Eliminate harsh punishment for technical violations of parole/probation
  • Implement programs such as HOPE (swift, certain punishments for substance-related relapses and other serious probation violations, offer substance abuse treatment program, etc.)    
  • Offer cognitive behavioral therapy to increase parole/probation opportunities for offenders struggling with addiction
We need a grassroots army to fix it.