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Beyond the Prison Gates: The State of Parole in America

NCJ Number
Jeremy Travis; Sarah Lawrence
Date Published
33 pages
This report examines the State parole systems in the United States, specifically the releasing of a prisoner, supervising a parolee in the community, and returning a prisoner who has failed to live up to the conditions of their release and the variation in parole policy and practice on the State level.
National trends show that in the year 2002, more than 600,000 individuals will leave State and Federal prisons. Underlying these national trends, a significant amount of variation in policy and practice, specific to the institution of parole among the 50 States is identified. States have embarked on a wide variety of change and experimentation in their parole policies and practices where some States have abolished parole boards and others have either cut back on parole supervision or have aggressively enforced the conditions of parole. This report explores the State parole systems in America today by first documenting the extent to which parole boards make decisions to release inmates from prison. It then analyzes the dimensions to release inmates from prison. The report then examines the issue of parole revocation or the decision to send a parolee back to prison due to a parole violation. Three themes emerged from this analysis: (1) the role of parole boards in deciding when prisoners get out of prison has declined significantly with parole boards releasing 65 percent of the individuals who got out of prison to 24 percent in 1999; (2) reliance on parole supervision has increased significantly with over 80 percent of those leaving prison placed on parole; and (3) an explosive growth in parole violations. Underneath these three national themes, there has been an array of State experiments, such as some States abolishing parole board release but keeping parole supervision. There has been an enormous variation in policy and practice at the State level that creates difficulty in defining a common American approach to parole today. This fragmentation of sentencing philosophy presents the opportunity for research and experimentation, which could lead to the design and acceptance of a new model for supervision for the 600,000 individuals, released each year from prison. References