Success in the Media

Should we send offenders back to prison for technical violations?

Our little secret; Governors don’t want them back. Your opinions wanted.

Crime in America.Net

You can tell when it’s time for term papers in college; we get lots of questions from students. This one is the value of technical violations for crime control during community supervision.

To answer the question we will use the report summarizing  the Harlem Parole Reentry Court (see below). The effort provides intensive judicial oversight, supervision and services to new parolees during the first six months following release from state prison (the time of highest percentage for infractions and new crimes).

Summary:

Participants were less likely to be rearrested, were less likely to be reconvicted but were more likely to be revoked and returned to prison.

Revocations for technical violations were significantly higher at one, two, and three years (15 percent versus 8 percent at three years). Revocations (for any reason) were significantly higher after two and three years (56 percent versus 36 percent at three years).

What are technical violations?

Examples include positive drug tests, missing appointments with parole and probation staff, not completing drug treatment, not holding a job, etc.

Sending them back for technical violations:

Part of the problem of recidivism in this and other community supervision efforts is the degree of accountability applied. Everyone wants offenders to be held accountable but few know what that means.

If parole and probation agencies choose to have lots of contact with people on supervision and if they use extensive drug testing they are going to find violations. Quite simply, they are going to find more violations than people less stringently supervised. This means that more people “could” be returned to prison than the less watched group.

For many of you, this causes no problem; offenders not meeting the terms of their supervision “should” go back to prison.

But states are insistent that they cannot afford the degree or rates of incarceration as in past years due to the budget crisis. “If you are going to send someone back,” they say, “it better be someone who is a proven threat to public safety.”

But there is no consensus as to what constitutes a threat to public safety as to technical violations.

Does a non-violent offender with a mid-range criminal history constitute a threat to public safety when he turns in drug positives?  Should a violent offender who is doing well under supervision with no drug positives be sent back to prison because he’s not working?

It becomes a central question as to crime control and how much states can afford to incarcerate while dealing with a budget crisis. In essence, they (states) don’t want them back for anything less than multiple-multiple violations or an arrest for a very serious crime.

For states, recidivism becomes part public safety and part budget consideration.

Many criminologists would suggest that we over-incarcerate in the United States and part of the reason is sending people back to prison for technical violations.

It seems that many governors would agree.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Harlem Parole Reentry Court was established in June of 2001 in response to the high concentration of parolees returning to the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. Created by The Center for Court Innovation in cooperation with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Division of Parole, the Reentry Court provides intensive judicial oversight, supervision and services to new parolees during the first six months following release from state prison.

The goal of the program is to stabilize returning parolees in the initial phase of their reintegration by helping them to find jobs, secure housing, remain drug-free and assume familial and personal responsibilities. Following graduation, participants are transferred to traditional parole supervision, where they may continue to receive case management services voluntarily through the Reentry Court.

There are presently at least two dozen specialized reentry courts operating nationwide, but little is known about their operations and effects. The current report assesses the impact of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court following program modifications that were implemented after an initial formative evaluation.

A quasi-experimental design was utilized, comparing Reentry Court participants with otherwise similar parolees placed in traditional supervision. From a pool of 20,750 parolees released in Manhattan from November 2002 through February 2008, 317 Reentry Court participants were matched to 637 comparison parolees utilizing a 2 to 1 propensity score matching procedure. Sample parolees were then tracked over three years from their release.

Impact findings include:

Rearrests: Reentry Court parolees (including both graduates and failures) were less likely to be rearrested, although only some effects approached statistical significance (misdemeanor rearrests over the first year and drug-related rearrests over the first two years).

Reconvictions: Reentry Court parolees were less likely to be reconvicted, and the effects were significant at one, two, and three years (43 percent versus 53 percent at three years).

Revocations: Reentry Court parolees were more likely to be revoked and returned to prison.

Revocations for technical violations were significantly higher at one, two, and three years (15 percent versus 8 percent at three years).

Revocations (for any reason) were significantly higher after two and three years (56 percent versus 36 percent at three years)

Role of Program Completion: Additional analyses indicated that Reentry Court parolees who completed the program experienced lower odds of rearrest and revocation.

Preintervention characteristics that were associated with a greater likelihood of program completion included prior parole term, marriage/cohabitation, high school diploma or GED, and prior drug treatment.

The Reentry Court seems to have had a positive effect with regard to preventing new crimes as measured by rearrests and reconvictions. However, participants were found to have higher rates of revocations. In particular, program participants were more likely to be revoked for technical violations of parole conditions. Given the lower caseload and greater intensity of the program, it is assumed that “supervision effects” are partially responsible for the higher rate of technical violations.

In other words, the Harlem Parole Reentry Court may be detecting violations that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. This suggests that reentry courts may want to explore enhancing the use of alternative sanctions in lieu of revocation. Furthermore, reentry courts should explore the possibility of providing greater feedback to parole officers and case managers, making them aware of potential unintended consequences when supervision is increased.

Source: http://www.courtinnovation.org/_uploads/documents/Reentry_Evaluation.pdf.

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Comments

  1. My son been back in prison for 7 years on a dirty urine he have 1 felony. He caught when he was 14 burglaries a houze

  2. Sharon Martin says:

    In my opinion the Reentry Court is a good idea.If everyone involved takes responsibility for their part after releasing a parolee. Maybe they could have a three strikes and go back to prison. In other words if someone is released and breaks three of the rules, such as failing drug test, not looking for work, missing appointments. But if someone is released and fails a drug test, they should have to go through another program for that offense. Instead of sending them back to prison give them a chance to be responsible for themselves. But if someone who has been released who is a in and outer, been through the system many times,and who is a violent offender ,those people should be put back in prison. Especially if this arrest is going to put them away for a long time. There are just some offenders who do not deserve to see the light of day, and most police agencies who know who they are. Lastly if the parole officers and others do their jobs(to stop offenders from falling through the cracks) we may end up with less offenders walking the streets who should not be! Sharon Martin

    • Hi Sharon: Thanks for writing. Great comments. Insightful writing. Just note that virtually all on community supervision have repeat criminal histories and virtually all will screw up several times. If we put all with repeat histories and multiple violations in prison, we would shut down every prison in the country in a couple months. Thoughts? Thanks, Adam.

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