Prison and Parole

CJ 365 1 – April – 2013 Parole In Society Last year, 77% of prisoners released from incarceration were released through and in to a system of community and authoritative supervision called parole. Parole is the conditional release from confinement of a person serving an indeterminate sentence (Corrections Today, page 262) and it is an idea which has had a huge impact on the justice system and the workings of the U. S. Department of Corrections as we now know it. The concept of parole can be traced back to the works of Alexander Maconochie.
Maconochie was the superintendent of a penal colony on Norfolk Island, Australia. In his work, Maconochie utilized a system through which good behavior was encouraged through the use of ‘marks’. Prisoners served their sentence in three stages of progressively increasing responsibility. Prisoners advanced through the first two stages through labor, studies and good behavior. They would then be released into the outside world under the condition that disobeying the law would result in reincarceration.
Walter Crofton adopted Maconochie’s ideas as the basis for the ‘Irish mark system’ which made permissible the early release of prisoners with a record of good behavior. This mark system was instituted at the Elmira reformatory in the 1870s and from there went on to spread rapidly throughout the United States justice system. Today, around 77% of inmates that are released from prison do so through the parole system or some very similar form of community supervision. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at the end of 2011 there were 853,900 adults on parole and around 1. million adults that had moved on to or off of parole over the course of the year. The main goal of parole is to supervise the reintegration of inmates back into society and encourage their rehabilitation towards becoming a more productive member of society. There are three different purposes of the institution of parole: to help the parolee obtain help for problems with employment, residency, finance, and any other personal troubles that may interfere with a prisoner’s reintegration into everyday life; to make society safer by preventing situations in which prior offenders might commit new offense; and also to prevent the needless imprisonment of those not likely to commit further crime (Parole FAQ’s). Parole is often confused with probation, though they are distinctly different. Probation is used as an alternative to incarceration in which the offender receives state supervision whilst still living a mostly normal life, whereas with parole, an offender serves most of their sentence in a reformatory and pending good behavior, is then released to serve the remainder in the community (under state supervision).

There are several rules and guidelines used to determine eligibility for parole that must first be met by an inmate. Eligibility for parole depends on the type of sentence assigned by the court. Accompanying an offender’s sentencing is a ‘parole eligibility date’. This is the earliest potential date upon which an offender may be released in the instance that the parole commission finds them suitable for release. Unless the court specifies a minimum amount of time that an inmate must serve or said offender is serving an indeterminate sentence, an inmate becomes eligible for parole after completion of one third of their court-mandated sentence.
To apply for consideration, an inmate must fill out a parole application furnished by a case manager. The case manager then informs the potential parolee of his parole hearing date. This date generally occurs within a few months of placement in the respective institution, except in cases where the offender is serving more than ten years time. In this instance, ‘the initial hearing is scheduled six months prior to the completion of ten years.
At this parole hearing, the offender receives an opportunity to present their side of the story and to offer their argument as to why they should be released. The general factors considered during a parole hearing include “the details of the offense, prior criminal history, the guidelines which the Commission uses in making their determination, the offender’s accomplishments in the correctional facility, details of a release plan, and any problems the offender has had to meet in the past and is likely to encounter again in the future” (USPC FAQs).
When determining parole eligibility, there are four important factors which the parole commission must consider: can the inmate be released without being a detriment to himself and/or the community, will their release serve the best interest of the community, is the inmate willing and able to meet the conditions of both their parole assignment and of everyday life, and whether or not continued correctional treatment would further their chances of leading a normal, law-abiding life.
To make a determination of these factors, each potential parolee is interviewed by the acting parole board. A parole board is a group of people who decide whether or not an offender should be released on parole. On February 7th, 2011, Governor Rick Snyder signed State of Michigan Executive Order No. 2011-3 abolished the ‘Michigan Parole and Commutation Board’ and replaced it with the ‘Michigan Parole Board’, granting membership “… to ten full-time non-Civil Service employees who are appointed by the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections” (MDOC Parole Board).
Michigan’s current board members come from a variety of backgrounds including law enforcement, law, corrections, ministry, social work and public service. These ten people are split up into three groups of three, with the remaining person acting as the chairperson and also the deciding vote in ties. The MPB (Michigan Parole Board) is the sole parole authority for prisoners under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections. It should be noted that parole board structure and decisions differ from one jurisdiction to the next. According to statute MCL 791. 33, a prisoner may be granted parole only after the board has reasonable assurance, after consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, including the prisoner’s mental and social attitude, that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or to the public safety” (Parole – Learning More). Most prisoners are interviewed by one member of the board. This interview is used to explore the offender’s criminal, social and substance abuse history, their behavior in prison, their plans for parole, and any other matters pertinent to the specific case.
The prisoner is allowed to have one other ‘representative’ present at the interview with them (this representative cannot be a lawyer or fellow prisoner). On October 30th, 2004, the ‘Crime Rights Victims Act’ was enacted. This act is intended for the preservation of the rights of crime victims. A crime victim is defined as “an individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial or emotional harm as a result of the commission of a crime is considered a victim” (Crime Victim’s Rights Act). This act entitles the crime victim notification and consultation throughout each step of the justice process.
According to the act, at the written request of the victim, the MDOC must provide notifications at every stage of the prisoner’s incarceration process. This act also grants the victim the right to submit a written, telephone or oral impact statement to the parole board for hearing prior to the approval of a parole request consisting of any relevant statements regarding the effects of the crime upon the victim, the circumstances surrounding the crime and any other details relevant to the crime, and also the victim’s personal opinion as to whether or not the offender should be released on parole.
The parole board utilizes a numerical scoring system called the parole guidelines. This process applies objective criteria and is generally a significant factor in the parole approval decision process: in some situations, parole can be approved or denied before an interview even takes place. The score is important enough that in instances where the Parole Board makes a decision contradictory to that suggested guideline score, they “…must provide, in writing, substantial and compelling reasons in support of the decision. ” The guidelines used in parole guidelines are outlined in Administrative Rule 791. 716 (Parole Consideration Process). After the hearing has been completed and the case file examined, the parole decision is made by three-member panels of the board. If their request is denied, the inmate is returned to the institution where they then have the option of filing an appeal of the parole decision with the National Appeals Board (so long as they do so within thirty days of the date listen on the Notice of Action). The National Appeals Board then has the option of affirming, reversing or modifying the decision made by the regional commissioner, or they may order a new hearing.
Decisions made by the National Appeals Board are final, and offenders will not have the option of appealing the Appeals Board’s decision. If the inmate declines to submit an appeal, he is legally entitled to reconsideration after a certain amount of time. If the inmate is sentenced to less than seven years, they will receive another hearing 18 months from the date of their last. If their sentence exceeds seven years, their next parole hearing will be scheduled 24 months from the date of the last.
If the panel approves the parole request, the inmate’s case file is then assigned to a parole officer based upon the county in which the subject will be fulfilling their parole requirements over a specified amount of time. The offender should have a release plan denoting a suitable residence and ideally a verified offer of employment. This is not mandatory though and there are exceptions to this law which are decided on a person to person basis. If everything goes accordingly, the detainee will be released from incarceration on the date listed on their release certificate.
They then return to their approved housing and must then report to the United States Probation Office listed on their certificate. Their assigned officer will establish a plan for regular reporting in person, along with mandatory monthly reports for the remainder of the sentence. Also listed on the release certificate are the rules and conditions by which the parolee agrees to live. So long as the parolee fulfills the requirements established by the parole board and finishes his parole period without any violations of the predetermined parole conditions, the parolee will be released from government supervision.
These rules vary from one person to the next and are tailored by the Parole Board to better equip each individual offender for success in the integration process. Common conditions of parole often require abstaining from any and all drugs and alcohol, confinement to a defined area/perimeter, steady employment/residency, counseling or, if deemed necessary, enrollment into in-patient treatment facilities. In the event of a violation of parole conditions, the offender isn’t always returned to prison.
Depending on the nature of the violation, various programs and sanctions can be used as an alternative to re-incarceration. The Michigan Department of Corrections cites “…an added emphasis on offender success in the community and tries to keep parolees out in the community when they believe that they can continue to be safely managed there” (Parole – Learning More). Though it is, like nearly every other government approach to social issues, plagued with disadvantages, parole serves as an efficient and mostly effective tool for managing some of the flaws and issues within the justice system.
Parole allows the freeing up of space in already rapidly overcrowding prisons nationwide by releasing non-violent drug offenders and other reformed prisoners ready for reintegration into society, opening up space for inmates who pose a more serious threat to society. After spending months, years or even decades in prison, the average inmate has lost at least some sense of what life is like outside of their institution. Parole is a gentle easing back in to community life; allowing the prisoner supervision and some restrictions to help keep them from the activities which got them into trouble into the first place.
Parole’s accompanying threat of a return to prison is often enough to deter those who might otherwise fall back into their old ways. Many inmates report feeling lost and alone following their release; some don’t know what to do in the absence of the basic structure and routine that they’d grown accustomed to during their period of incarceration. Parole is not a unanimously accepted issue and some think it to be little more than an extension of mercy towards the prisoner in the form of a reduced sentence. These people feel that early release on parole drastically reduces the effectiveness of the prison sentence.
What most do not realize is that even if a person doesn’t receive approval for parole, this does not disqualify them from or affect their chances of an early release on account of good behavior and/or other contributing factors. Citing information from ‘White Paper’, a report compiled by a firm called “Prisoners’ Legal Services” which covers nearly all aspects of the current state of parole in Massachusetts; lower rates of parole negatively affect the prisoner, the community to which he returns, the crime victim, and also the justice system of which he is a part.
The report states that the number of state and county prisoners released on parole decreased from 4,508 in 2010 to 2,043 in 2011. By the end of 2011, there were only 1,649 offenders out on parole; nearly half the number of the previous year’s end. In 2010, 38% percent of released offenders were put on parole, compared to 2012’s meager 15% release rate. Instead of having a parole officer to guide them through the reintegration process, prisoners are released back into the world with no form of supervision, services or support.
Reduced parole approval rates also mean that prisoners serving time in medium and maximum security institutions return directly to the community with no transitioning steps. Failure to provide assistance to released inmates and the state’s ignorance of the rehabilitation process can be directly correlated with higher rates of recidivism. Recidivism is defined as “the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have experienced negative consequences for that ehavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior” (Recidivism, Wikipedia). Recidivism is one of the most important subjects of consideration within the criminal justice process as the purpose of a release from incarceration is rendered useless if the perpetrator will simply return to the life that lead him into the justice system in the first place. This is an issue of the highest priority as over 95% of prisoners serving time in state and federal prisons will eventually be released back into the community.
While the United States continues to take increasing measures aimed towards the arrest and incarceration of its criminals (resulting in drastically higher arrest rates and increasing issues with overpopulation and crowding in the nation’s institutions), it has failed to respond to increasing rates of recidivism among its prisoners. A survey conducted in 2003 by the Urban Institute of the Justice Policy Center reported that 53% of arrested males and 39% of arrested females would be re-incarcerated.
This same study states that within three years of release, nearly seven out of every ten males will be rearrested and half of that number will end up back in prison. The report says recidivism happens due to both personal and situational conditions. It also claims that one of the main reasons for recidivism “…is because it is difficult for the individual to fit back in with normal life……” It says many prisoners report anxiety regarding their release and excitement about how their life will be ‘different this time’ and this often proves a matter of utter disappointment and frustration in the instances where this doesn’t end up being the case.
Nearly every study and report on the issue reports the same thing: the more efforts taken to work towards rehabilitation of released prisoners, the lower their chances of recidivism. The success rates of rehabilitation efforts depend largely on the nature of the original offense, but in almost every single instance, an inmate has a notably higher chance of success in the outside world with the assistance and support of the state. In 2010, 51% of United States federal inmates were doing time as a result of a drug-related charge.
Estimates state that nearly three out of four prisoners returning from prison have a history of substance-abuse. Despite this, only 7%-17% of prisoners actually meet the DSM criteria for alcohol and drug dependence and actually receive treatment in prison. Effectiveness studies have reported that inmates who partake in residential treatment programs during their incarceration have 9%-18% lower recidivism rates, and possess a 15%-30% lower chance of relapse than their fellow prisoners who did not receive treatment.
One interesting statistic to note is the rate of recidivism in offenders with prior arrest history. Within three years of release, 41% of prisoners with one prior arrest were re-arrested while 82% of those with more than fifteen prior arrests were re-arrested. A study published in McNair’s Scholar Journal entitled “The Relationship Between Parole and Recidivism in the Criminal Justice System” by Jacquelin Robinson of Grand Valley State University claims a direct association between parole and recidivism.
Interestingly enough, she says that because of modestly high rates of parole violation and failure among parolees are a direct opposite of what they seemingly should be; as the rate of parole increases, so do the chances of recidivism. According to the same studies, parole supervision (regardless of how intensive) was not a direct contributor towards lower recidivism rates. This same article cites a study conducted by Jeremy Travis in May 2000 on behalf of the National Institute of Justice.
Travis’ findings indicated that rehabilitation programs actually had very little effect on reduced recidivism and actually states that parole violations are ‘now the driving force behind prison growth’, being responsible for 34% of all admissions. A study entitled ‘Does Parole Work’ compiled by Amy Solomon of the Urban Institute in Washington D. C. for the Bureau of Justice Statistics offers statistics indicating a meagerly higher chance for recidivism of unconditional releases (61%) in comparison to discretionary parolees (57%). While these studies claim that parole supervision is next to useless, other studies present very different ideas.
According to a four year study conducted by Rutgers University and presented to the New Jersey State Parole Board, intensive supervision of violent and high-risk offenders significantly reduces the chances that they will be re-arrested. According to this study, parolees subjected to intensive law-enforcement supervision and to programs designed to ease their re-entry into the community fared best, boasting a 41% recidivism rate in comparison to the 51% general parolee rate and the 73% rate of those who completed their full sentence and were under no supervision post-release.
Though as a general whole, these high rates of recidivism and the low rates of parole success might seem to support the idea that parole is not a terribly effective manner of approaching the release and treatment of the country’s lower-threat class of criminals, it is proven more effective in cases involving violent/high-risk offenders which should be of a higher priority anyways. That said, parole also makes sense from a financial perspective which is ultimately of huge important in the process.
Though it varies from one institution to the next and from state to state, it costs taxpayers $47,000 per year to keep inmates incarcerated in a California prison (less than yearly tuition at Princetown University) which stands in comparison to a probation cost of around $1200 a year and about $1500 a year to keep an offender out on parole. In the fiscal year of 2010, the Michigan Department of Corrections had $1. 2 billion in prison expenditures and more than seventy million in prison-related costs outside the department’s budget. A Michigan inmate will end up costing the state $28,117 for each year of incarceration (Price of Prisons).
Obviously withstanding the offender themselves, the most important person in the parole supervision and reform process is the parole officer. Parole and probation supervision is a social-based job, rather than one rooted in information and data and often culminates in an end-result of satisfaction and rewards when a parole officer gets the opportunity to have a positive impact on the life of one of their parolees. In a news article published in New Hampshire News, reporter Chris Jensen follows parole/probation officer John Loven through an average day in his line of work.
Loven starts the day out with a folder containing the files of all of the parolees to which he is assigned. His job is to make sure that the people in these files are living up to the conditions agreed upon that are listed upon the parolee’s assigned certificate of release, and in the cases where they are not, it is his duty to see to it that they’re either rewarded for their efforts or punished for their lack thereof. Loven says that most of his cases involve problems stemming back to alcohol and drugs, though there are the inevitable outliers to this too. Each probation or parolee,” Loven states, “is really an individual; they have individual problems and they each have individual needs. ” (Day in the Life)” Loven’s job entails a daily commute of up to (and sometimes more than) two hundred miles. Most of his visits are unexpected; intended to catch the parolee in their natural environment living out an average day. Hoping to catch them in the act, he often finds himself digging through their trash cans for evidence of recent drinking or drug use. One case special to Loven is that of a twenty year old recovering addict.
Loven stops by her house regularly, checking up on her physical well-being, keeping track of what stage she is at in her recovery. Upon arrival, Loven finds the girl in a bad state. She appears visibly nervous, and is quite shaky and seemingly anxious and upset. At first Loven probes for any evidence of deviance from the court-ordered conditions but after a phone call informs the girl of family problems she breaks down in to tears. Loven works to console the girl, and that done, asks to look at her arms. She explains two bruising track marks as the areas from which she had her blood drawn for a recent medical procedure.
Loven makes sure that she’s taking proper hygienic standards to keep herself in optimal shape. With a history of previously missed appointments, Loven then reminds her that she’ll have another meeting with him in two weeks time. After running through her schedule with him, he wishes her well and then heads back to his car to go about his day. With 96 cases that month, and nearly 110 the month before that, Loven keeps plenty busy. His visits take him to a variety of different environments filled with a variety of different people.
Drug users, alcoholics, sex offenders, violent criminals and also everyday average American citizens; there are few limits drawn around Loven’s scope of duty. With a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and graduate’s degrees in community counseling and psychology; although he does mention a huge amount of paperwork, he says that when it comes down to it, his job is a delicate balance of counseling and investigation. He must reach a point where he’s not unapproachable to his parolees, but at the same time, doesn’t come across as a sucker that will fall for their lies and tricks.
He must count on a sense of reason and logic to guide him through the day to day. “You get to know them, you get to know their families, their lifestyles and how they’re doing. ” Though not for everyone, the role of parole officer/supervisor is a job that will prove both enriching and rewarding to the right kind of person who is ready to endure the hard work and dedication required to meet the demands of a job so important in modern-day society. All in all, parole is one of society’s stepping stones towards a brighter future.
Though not a guarantee of success and not without the occasional flaw, parole still holds much greater promise than most of the alternatives. Through the hard work of officers, parole gives criminal offenders a chance at putting together the pieces of a normal life in the wake of a lengthy prison sentence. So long as both officer and parolee are willing to put in the time and effort towards improvement on a personal and community level, parole gives a reformed and well-intentioned offender the chance for a new start and a better life.
Works Cited Alarid, Leanne Fiftal, and Carmen Rolando V. Del. “Probation. ” Community-Based Corrections. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011. 139-55. Print. “Crime Victims’ Rights Act. ” Michigan Department of Corrections. N. p. , n. d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://www. michigan. gov/corrections/0,4551,7-119-1384-5487–,00. html>. “Crime Victims’ Rights Act. ” Offices Of The United States Attorneys. United States Department of Justice, n. d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://www. justice. ov/usao/eousa/vr/crime_victims. html>. Jensen, Chris. “A Day in the Life of a North Country Parole Officer. ” New Hampshire News. NHPR, 23 May 2011. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://nhpr. org/post/day-life-north-country-parole-officer>. Marushack, Laura, and Erika Parks. “Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). ” Bureau of Justice Statistics. N. p. , 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. Http://bjs. gov/index. cfm? ty=pbdetail&iid=4538 Michigan Exec. Order No. 2011-3, 3 C. F. R. (2011).
Print. “Parole – Learning More. ” Michigan Department of Corrections. N. p. , n. d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <https://www. michigan. gov/corrections/0,4551,7-119-9741_12798-230397–,00. html>. “Parole Conditions. ” LegalMatch. Ed. Ken LeMance. N. p. , 21 Oct. 2012. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://www. legalmatch. com/law-library/article/parole-conditions. html>. “The Parole Consideration Process. ” Michigan Department of Corrections. N. p. , n. d. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. “Parole Position

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