U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Putting Parolees Back in Prison: Discretion and the Parole Revocation Process

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 38 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2013 Pages: 70-93
Sara Steen; Tara Opsal; Peter Lovegrove; Shelby McKinzey
Date Published
March 2013
24 pages
This study investigates research and knowledge on the parole revocation process.
As the prison population in the United States has ballooned over the past 30 years, people entering prison for parole revocation have come to constitute an increasingly large percentage of all prison admissions (35 percent in 2006). As a result, researchers have begun to turn their attention toward this criminal justice decisionmaking point to examine the factors that relate to why an individual is returned to prison. Notably, this developing body of research focuses almost entirely on one decisionmaker: the parole board who ultimately determines whether or not an individual on parole stays in the community, receives alternative sanctions, or returns to prison. Notably, this ignores the fact that parole revocation is a process beginning with the parolee who commits a violation behavior, turning next to the parole officer who uses his or her discretionary power to determine whether or not to file a complaint, and ending with the decision of the parole board. In this article, the authors examine each stage of this revocation process using structured qualitative interviews with 35 parole officers as well as quantitative data on 300 individuals on parole in Colorado between 2006 and 2007, who the authors followed for an 18-month period. The authors found that parolees with mental health needs commit significantly more technical violations; that race, gender, age, and measures of parolee effort affect whether a parole officer files a complaint; and that the decision made by the parole board is either largely random or driven by variables unspecified in the models. Abstract published by arrangement with Sage Journals.