This article reports on a California study that examined why so many parolees return to prison (6 out of 10 admissions to California prisons) and the consequences for the State's criminal justice system.
Regarding the personal characteristics of parolees, the study found that the strongest predictor of a parole violation was the number of times the parolee had been in prison as an adult; the risk for all types of violations was highest during the first 6 months after release from prison. The intensity of parole supervision apparently did not deter violations; in fact, more intensive supervision increased the likelihood of detecting all types of violations. Regarding the link between parole agents' characteristics and parole violations, only the parole agent's gender was a factor. Female agents were apparently more forgiving of low-level offenses such as drug use, whereas male agents were more forgiving of absconding. The study also found that the neighborhood to which a parolee returned promoted or discouraged behavior that leads to violation. Parolees who lived in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods were more likely to abscond, but were not a greater risk for other violations. Where substance abuse and mental health treatment were available, low-level criminal violations were less likely. The study found that 77 percent of all criminal violation cases resulted in a return to prison, as decided by a court or a ruling of the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). Once a court referred a case to the BPH, a greater percentage of cases resulted in parole revocation. Whereas a court sent 25 percent of parolees back to jail, the BPH incarcerated 73 percent of parolees who committed criminal violations. Based on these findings, recommendations for policy changes are offered.