Parole Caseloads Longer, More Violent, More Challenging Since 2005

Supreme Court

Subtitles

The use of discretionary parole increased dramatically.

The parole population from 2005 to 2015 included the same percentage of active cases (83 percent) when they were supposed to decline.

Caseloads grew more challenging with more violent offenders.

The increased use of parole rather than mandatory release means that offenders will be on parole and probation caseloads longer.

Parole and probation agents (with very high caseload ratios) are handling longer, more violent cases with diversion of lower level offenders to inactive caseloads almost nonexistent.

Author

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Overview

This article is based on longitudinal data from 2005 to 2015 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the US Department of Justice documenting statistics on the use of parole in the United States. This data is supplemented by additional research.

I provide an overview of “parole” in the US for contextual reasons before providing a summary of research.

A similar article on probation is available at Crime in America-Probation.

What Does Parole Mean?

BJS uses the term “parole” for all those released from state and federal prisons. But “parole” includes those discretionarily released and those that prisons can no longer legally hold, referred to as a mandatory release.

Those paroled are usually involved in a parole board or staff hearings that includes testimony from the offender, victim and correctional authorities. It involves a review of the offender’s criminal history, involvement in treatment programs and infractions while in prison.

Those mandatorily released usually serve a defined percent of their sentence minus loss of time for prison infractions. For example, those serving time in federal prisons must serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentence.

Most offenders mandatorily released will be supervised by parole and probation agencies until the expiration of their sentence.

Thus for this article, “parole” refers to both categories of offenders, parolees and those mandatorily released.

Background

Most understand parole as a form of discretionary release from prison, usually based on good behavior in prison and completion of preparation or treatment efforts.

It’s been both advocated for and concurrently harshly criticized for decades.

Critics claim it’s overused and allows many offenders with violent and serious criminal backgrounds to reenter society far too early. Media accounts of “parolees” being involved in violent crime after release are endless.

Advocates point out that parolees have a significantly reduced rate of recidivism per Department of Justice data (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics) when compared to those mandatorily released.

Advocates also point out that America has the highest rate of incarceration and that discretionary release through the parole process helps reduce correctional costs and, because of less recidivism, protects public safety.

Recidivism-Most Released From Prison Go Back to Prison

The most common understanding of recidivism is based on data from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, stating that two-thirds (68 percent) of prisoners released were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.

Within 3 years of release, 49.7% of inmates either had an arrest that resulted in a conviction with a disposition of a prison sentence or were returned to prison without a new conviction because they violated a technical condition of their release; as did 55.1% of inmates within 5 years of release, see Crime in America-Recidivism.

Parole Numbers

Out of the 6,741,000 people under daily correctional supervision in 2015, 870,000 are on parole compared to 3,790,000 on probation.

National parole populations increased most years since 2005.

1,527,000 are in prison; see Correctional Populations in the US.

Use of Parole by Discretionary Release vs. Mandatory Release-2015

For adults entering parole in 2015, 195,000 had a discretionary release, 97,600 had a mandatory release, and a judge imposed term of supervision applied to 90,150, see Parole and Probation in the US.

Use of Parole by Discretionary Release vs. Mandatory Release Over Time

Beginning in 2008, there was a significant difference between those discretionarily released versus those mandatorily released, with far more offenders getting out of prison via mandatory discharge.

That has changed significantly.

Parolees entering through discretionary release now surpass those entering through mandatory release. More than a third (35%) of parolees who entered supervision during 2012 entered through mandatory release from prison, continuing the decline that began in 2008, when more than half (54%) entered through mandatory release.

This marks the fourth consecutive year of decline in mandatory releases. During 2012, parolees entering through a discretionary release (41%) surpassed those entering through a mandatory release, becoming the most common type of entry to parole, see Parole and Probation in the US.

Criminal Justice Reform

It’s tough to summarize thousands of articles on parole since 2005 but the driver of many conversations was an emphasis on fewer active cases with a diversion of cases to the inactive status based on compliance (i.e., no or few rule infractions).

Diversion could occur via the parole board or parole and parole department discretion.

In other words, we would get rid of the compliant, low-level offenders so parole and probation agents with overwhelming caseloads could concentrate on the non-compliant, higher-risk offenders.

100-200 offenders to one-agent ratios are not unusual.

We were supposed to divert more drug offenders into treatment and out of prison.

Reformers advocated for a greater use of discretionary parole, and there they have been very successful.

Report on Parole (2005-2015)

Males remain consistent at 87-88 percent of the parole population.

Females (supposedly the fastest growing demographic of the correctional population) increased from 12 percent in 2005 to 13 percent in 2015. There are articles claiming an explosion of females entering corrections. There doesn’t seem to longitudinal evidence to support this claim via this report.

Whites on parole increased from 41percent to 43 percent.

Blacks on parole decreased from 40 to 38 percent.

Hispanics on parole decreased from 18 to 16 percent.

Active cases stayed even at 83 percent (theoretically-they were supposed to decline). They were 84 percent in 2014.

Inactive cases increased from 4 percent to 5 percent.

Violent offenders grew slightly. Overall violent grew from 26 percent to 32 percent.

Drug offenders decreased from 37 to 31 percent.

Summation

The use of discretionary parole has increased dramatically.

The parole population from 2005 to 2015 included the same percentage of active cases (83 percent) when they were supposed to decline due to diversions by the parole commission or agency policy.

Caseloads grew more challenging with more violent offenders. The percent of violent offenders in US prisons increased since 2005, so this result is not surprising.

The increased use of parole rather than mandatory release means that offenders will be on parole and probation caseloads longer (i.e., paroled at 50 percent of sentence rather than mandatorily released at 85 percent of sentence).

Thus parole and probation agents (with very high caseload ratios) are handling longer, more violent cases with diversion of lower level offenders to inactive caseloads almost nonexistent.

BJS Data

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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