Parole is defined as a provisional release of an offender from imprisonment, prior to the expiration of that person's term of imprisonment. This is subject to both the supervision of the correctional authorities during the remainder of the term and a resumption of the imprisonment upon violation of the conditions imposed. This duty is entirely bestowed upon the parole board or agency. It enables them, under the supervision and assistance of a parole officer, to become helpful members of society, provided they abide by all the conditions of their release. The current essay highlights the institutions involved in the parole programs, their structure, the process of parole itself, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
The Boards of Paroles
The Boards of Paroles are autonomous agencies or bodies established within the Departments of Corrections (depending on the statutes of each state) and operating within state jurisdictions. They conduct the risk assessment on the inmates to determine whether they can be safely released into the community with the reasonable probability of living in liberty without violating the law and ensuring that the release is compatible with the welfare of this community. Therefore, the boards are generally responsible for making decisions that are concerned with parole as well as proposing its terms and conditions. Furthermore, the revocation of paroles based on a violation of the set conditions falls under their responsibility too.
Various states have different qualifications for the Parole board members, and consequently, are characterized by diverse compositions and structures. As noted, the boards can be established independently or as institutions within the Departments of Correction for each state. However, the most basic requirements for the members of the respective Parole boards are sound judgment and good moral fiber.
The Roles of Parole Officers
To ensure efficient supervision of the released prisoners, each parolee has Parole officers assigned to them. Generally, they share typically the same roles with Probation officers, yet there is a slight difference between them since the Probation officers oversee correctional programs for those sentenced to serve probation rather than incarceration, whereas Parole officers oversee correctional community programs for prisoners released prior to completion of their sentences. Apart from that, the latter makes certain that offenders register with local police agencies and undergo drug testing. With this respect, the time and place for the offender to report to the officer are determined. In addition, Parole officers ensure the parolee does not leave a specified geographic area without their permission. They do thorough background verification of the offender by interviewing family members, former colleagues, and employers, as well as other community members. Monitoring their personal history and reporting all findings to the court is also among the duties of Parole officers. Besides, they give recommendations that may modify or revoke the terms of the offender’s probation. Probation officers assist in procedures of the court as required and also maintain case records and files. They are charged with inspecting and maintaining payment orders as required by the court such as support orders, fines, and restitution.
Officers plan and visit the homes and workplaces of the offenders, work closely with religious groups and associations in the neighborhood in order to monitor the offenders, as well as ensure the offenders enroll in rehabilitation centers and job training centers as per court orders. The Parole and Probation officers’ fundamental role is to guarantee that offenders do not repeat past misdemeanors which may result in their imprisonment again. In case parolees violate the conditions of parole, the officers are charged with the responsibility of arresting and transporting them for hearings.
The Parole Process
The parole process is initiated in a sentencing court. Its eligibility is defined after the determination of the nature of the offense and the establishment of the minimum and maximum sentences. The court selects the time after which an offender becomes eligible for parole, taking into consideration those conditions that deprive imprisoners of such right, including inmates sentenced to life without parole, serving sentences for violent felonies, and those convicted of a fourth felony. After serving one-third of their prison sentences most parole-eligible inmates are statutorily recognized as suitable for parole.
Before considering an inmate for parole, the board conducts pre-parole investigations on the person. The information obtained is then used to determine whether to grant or deny parole. First of all, the investigator reviews the court records of the offenders and study their arrest. After that, he may have conversations with victims, witnesses, and court officials in order to write a legal investigation report. Finally, the investigator may inquire about the inmates about their family members and their residences, previous workplaces or plans regarding future employment, habitation after the release, and their own accounts of the committed crime. All the above mentioned enables him to complete a personal history statement questionnaire.
On the completion of pre-parole investigations, a hearing examiner ensures that all information has been gathered and included in the inmate’s personal file as required by law. He then composes a short summary of the file contents which will be used by the Parole Board to make a final decision. After that, the parole file is sent to each board member’s office, who reviews it and makes an independent decision either to grant or deny the parole. To approve a parole decision, the majority of members must vote in favor of it. As for consideration the person eligible for parole, the Board must determine several matters, including the establishment of tentative parole month, selection of reconsideration date, or, contrariwise, they may choose not to set any of such conditions. Thus, it can be inferred that the parole decision is a complex activity.
A tentative parole month means the board is considering the possibility of granting provisional release to the inmate on the date specified if they are no longer considered to be potentially dangerous for the public. Such date is set exceptionally to those deemed to be successful on parole. A reconsideration date, also called a set-off date may be established in case the Parole Board denies the release. This means that, at the moment, the board is denying parole but agrees to reconsider it after reviewing the inmate’s file. If the board does not set a tentative parole month or a reconsideration date it implies that the prisoner has been denied parole for the rest of the prison term unless important information useful for the parole case is found.
After the decision regarding granting parole is issued by the board, a letter informing the prisoner on the conclusion is sent which is termed as a notice of tentative action. It also provides the time frames of the tentative parole month or the reconsideration date depending on the board’s decision. However, the decision of the board may be changed at any time.
The board has to finally examine a parole review summary before making a decision to grant the inmate the provisional release. This review contains various aspects of an inmate’s physical status, behavior, mental condition, work performance and participation in personal development activities. The board may request for a psychiatric examination when such need arises. After the review, the board may vote tentatively for parole on condition that the inmate completes the department of corrections’ work release program first. Being informed of the recommendation of this department, the prisoner is placed into a suitable facility. During the parole consideration, the board suggests the inmate for a rehabilitative program. On successful completion, one may be released on parole, while otherwise the offender may appeal the decision and ask the Parole Board to review the inmate’s parole file again.
Pros and Cons of Parole
In the recent past, the use of parole as a corrective measure has raised a lot of controversy due to the discussions regarding its efficiency in the reformation of convicts and its implications to the society. In principle, a good corrective measure is a combination of numerous factors that must be deemed to make positive impacts on the felon as well as on the entire society. The most primes are retribution and reformation of the felon along with his integration into society. The adoption of a corrective measure must be backed by the factual evidence rather than the instinctive action based on intuition regarding its efficiency. Therefore, this raises the questions regarding parole’s ability to fulfill the basic purposes of corrective measures, its success in the areas where it has been applied, and its potential implications in the society.
Parole makes a fair combination of retribution and rehabilitation, without one supplanting the other. This comes in contrast to other corrective measures such as imprisonment and capital punishment which focus more on punishment of the felon. Parole, on the other hand, allows the felons to serve their prison terms before a conditional release into the community is granted. The release provides them with the opportunity to undergo rehabilitation. For instance, drug convicts are taken to rehabilitation to access the help they needed and could not receive, otherwise got while being imprisoned. What is more, parole gives the felons a good chance to approach a wide variety of rehabilitation programs. The fact that the felons interact with the community through jobs and other community programs allow them to integrate into society. This creates a smooth transition of status from convict to a free citizen.
In addition, parole makes a considerable contribution to the reduction of recidivism among the offenders which is achieved by the incentives to good behavior associated with the parole system, or in some cases is caused by the inmates’ fear of returning to prison. They have to maintain a good profile and the positive image of law-abiding citizens lest they are incarcerated once again. Furthermore, the programs in the parole system such as rehabilitation and job requirements help in solving the underlying problems that instigate criminal behavior including psychological and economic issues. Studies have shown that incarceration is less effective than parole in preventing re-offending since the severity of punishments does very little in reducing recidivism. Prisoners also get a good incentive to develop proper behavior as they work towards earning parole. For instance, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics study in 2010, two-thirds of probationers completed their terms of supervision and were released early.
This system of correction alleviates congestion in prisons. The main danger lays in the potential links to health hazards such as epidemics within the correctional facility, for instance, the Alabama prison's tuberculosis outbreak in 2014. Apart from that, the congestion leads to administration complications hence making it even harder to conduct reformation programs. This further causes radicalization of the inmates, arising from the inability to isolate the minor crime convicts from the major crime convicts and selectively rehabilitate them. Therefore, the basic purpose of the correction program is not achieved. By easing the population of the prisons, parole reduces these negative effects of congestions and helps unhealthy felons to access proper health care.
Moreover, parole makes a positive contribution to the economy. As one of the conditions of parole release is getting a job, the inmates must, therefore, become employed. This translates to a payment of taxes which by all means is a positive impact on the economy. Besides, if the offender was a wage-earner for the family, parole gives the felon the opportunity to continue supporting the family.
In addition to that, parole impacts the economy positively due to the fact that it is relatively cost-effective when compared to incarceration. Statistics by the Bureau of Justice Statistics demonstrate that the average amount of money spent in prisons annually has increased from $14.31 million in 1988 to $92.33 million in 2008. This suggests that the expenses on a single convict per day increased from $49.08 (1988) to $119.49 (2008) which is outrageously exorbitant in comparison to the average spending in parole which has increased from $5.02 million in 1988 to $9.04 million in 2008. This translates to an increase from $2.16 (1988) to $3.12 (2008) spent on each parolee per day.
However, some people hold reservations regarding the parole system of correction based on the argument that it is less punitive than the other forms of retribution. Ernest W. Burgess asserts that parole employs a policy of leniency that has been proven by repeated trials to fail in reforming the criminal and to endanger the public safety. This assertion is supported by the factual evidence in the statistics released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1994 estimating that within the three years 51.8% of the prisoners released during the year returned to prison either for a technical violation of their parole or due to the conviction for another crime. This implies that the recidivism for parolees is still significant, yet it is lower than the recidivism after incarceration.
The parole system does not guarantee the full integration into the community due to the patent perception of parolees as the criminals rather than the people under rehabilitation. This complicates the process of parolees’ interaction with the community members as the former is still recognized as potential criminals. Moreover, the endeavor to be employed within the community is an even greater difficulty.
The lack of adequate parole officers is another failure in the system leading to high caseloads for the parole officers and thus reducing the efficiency of the supervision of parolees, which could contribute to the violation of the conditions of parole, as well as re-offending or even committing new felonies. Apart from that, the parole officers may sometimes be assigned in unfamiliar places making it difficult to supervise the felons.
Generally, the parole system is framed as a possible alternative to capital punishment and the highly disproportionate incarceration system, is also a useful method of decreasing the overuse of imprisonment. What is more, it supports certain integral values of the society, such as family preservation and self-sufficiency by providing convicts with the chance to get jobs. Finally, parole provides people with the opportunity to improve and change their past.