Monday, October 04, 2010

Smarter parole approach on longest sentences would save money, reduce recidivism

I've been interested to read about a controversy in New Hampshire over a newly implemented parole statute requiring the state to release long-term prisoners at least 9 months prior to finishing their maximum sentence - even those with convictions for violent and sex offenses - so they'll spend their initial reentry period under supervision. The new law has become a hotly debated subject in their gubernatorial race.

While the move was spurred in part by the state's budget crisis, it also makes tons of practical sense and is an approach which has been discussed on a bipartisan basis here in Texas. According to the Boston Globe:
The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, mandates that inmates be paroled nine months before their maximum sentences expire. The goal of the law is to require supervision and treatment during that nine-month period, rather than let inmates leave prison answering to no one. The first inmates being paroled under the new law are being released Monday.
New Hampshire's law is not pioneering new ground. More than half of the states require community supervision for those convicted of some offenses and even more require post-release supervision for sex offenders, according to a survey by the Association of Paroling Authorities International.
As in New Hampshire, offenders here who serve their full sentences leave prison without any community supervision or transitional support during their first months of freedom, which everyone acknowledges is when the risk of recidivism is the highest. The tough on crime crowd is crowing about "early release," but from a strictly public safety perspective, in most cases it will make New Hampshire safer: Again from the Globe:
Sandra Matheson, director of the Attorney General's Office of Victim and Witness Assistance, said the law not an early release policy -- it's a mandatory supervision policy.
"The alternative is they walk out the door and we have no idea where they are or what they're doing," she said. "Studies show that nine-month period is when half of recidivism occurs."
Keep in mind, these folks are getting out anyway in 9 months; this statute merely ensures they don't immediately disappear off law enforcement's radar screen when they walk out the prison door. Most NH offenders are paroled well before they serve their complete sentence, reports the Globe, meaning they're monitored by parole officers when they get out. But for those who would otherwise serve their full time day for day, upon completing their sentence they go from total confinement to unfettered freedom literally overnight - a transition fraught with difficulty for the offender and risk for the public. Notably, the months immediately after release are when ex-inmates are most likely to re-offend; after a while the risk declines dramatically.

In the federal system, offenders are often sentenced to incarceration plus a period of community supervision after they get out. But in Texas, if the parole board forces an inmate to stay their full term, when they leave there is no supervision at all, which is what happens with more than half of offenders released each year. More than that, even the minimal support services available to parolees will be unavailable to those released after serving their sentence day for day, making recidivism much more likely. It's a crack in the system that almost certainly increases crime among long-time offenders returning to the community.

In addition to the safety benefits of such a policy are the economics: The state saves money at the margins from incarcerating them 9 months less because parole costs (even including reentry services) are much cheaper than locking someone up for the same period. As states look for budget cuts next spring, this is a way they could save money while enhancing rather than reducing public safety.

It'll be interesting to see how the public reacts to the politicized debate in New Hampshire. To me this seems like a good idea and it wouldn't be difficult to add safeguards - e.g., creating a presumption for parole that could be overruled by a bad disciplinary record, etc. - to address situations where inmates at the end of their sentences still pose an immediate danger. This type of reform could save big bucks without harming public safety, so I hope Texas legislators seriously consider some version of the idea when they meet next spring to grapple with the state's budget crisis.


Zeety said...

But then all those guvmint employees would have to find real jobs.

Anonymous said...

Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things Grits? We know that violent offenders and sex offenders are watched until they die. Sex Offenders themselves are watched after they are released, and are off parole/probation when sentenced is served.

I understand your point of wanting parole so that they are supervised and allow for a '12 step' process to re-join society; However society has been fooled too long into believing that these folks cannot be rehabilitated so therefore what is the use. My defeatist attitude might suck, but reality has to seep into the conversation from time to time.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:44 writes that: "reality has to seep into the conversation from time to time"

It's my belief that the pending budget crunch may make right now one of those times, especially where it's possible as in this case to reduce spending without harming public safety.

rodsmith said...

guess i have to be the one to ask the big question. What if the inmate simply REFUSES to leave on the legal premase that no probation/parole was in their LEGAL COURT ordered sentence?

they gonna make them leave under GUNPOINT?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rod, court-ordered sentences anticipate the existence of parole, so the "legal premase" (sic) you speak of is a baseless one.

Also, there hasn't been a big problem in the past with paroled offenders insisting on staying incarcerated at TDCJ.

rodsmith said...

maybe they do in texas but they sure don't in florida where i am. florida dumped parole years ago about the only ones who can get it now are the old timers or those getting like a 25 to life sentence.

so unless texas is giving parole to people serving little sentences like 1-2 years which is nuts. i still say how they gonna enforce if it some guy with 6months on their sentence REFUSES to leave. as apposed to leaving and havign to pay though the nose all the idiotic fees they keep adding not to mention dealing with PO's who think they are god! instead of staying where they have been for however long and know the rules and what they have to do and max out and be done?

sunray's wench said...

rodsmith ~ criminals doing State jail time in TX (up to 2 years) are not eligible for parole at all. I don't think there would be any real reason to include these inmates in any mandatory pre-completion parole programme. I think it's a good idea for everyone else though, and not just for the end 9 months either. Just fix the TX parole issue properly by changing things to assumption of release unless the inmate has not behaved while in prison, and all those Officers worried about their jobs could transfer to being parole officers instead. Well, as long as they took the job originally with the intention to help society of course, and not just for the power trip.

rodsmith said...

i'm sure it's a good ideal. Much better to have some control when they are released and make sure they get their life back on some kind of track before dropping from control. But as long as the majority of the population now considers that probation/parole is both a gotch way to sandbag people they can't convicte in a real trial but have to get 2-3 months down the road via some so-called violation of an idiotic probatin/parole requiremnt that had no rational relation to the crime charged. As well as a cash cow to create new income to the state via the dozens of new fees. Forget it! Then you add in the ILLEGAL retroactive additon of probation/parole to those who have already been's a complete wash and bound to end up costing the state millions if the right lawyer gets ahold of it.

Anonymous said...

What is all this idiotic talk about problems with adding parole requirements to the sentence. People expect to be paroled on their sentences it is not adding anything, it is just making sure they are paroled 9 months prior to the end of their sentence. I say you don't add fees for the supervision (since it is cheaper for the state than being in the prison) and provide incentives to leave.

rodsmith said...

where you been 9:28? in this country parole isn't automatic the parole board must allow it. problem is thanks to the good-goodies about 1/2 never get it and max out. Now it's finally sunk it that's not helping so they have now passed a law requiring all inmates to be released on parole 9months before their max out date. not sure where you have been but parole and probation haven't been free in forever. Now you pay for almsot everything they can dream up monthly fees, test fees, treatment fees, fail to pay ANY of it and your back in prison usualy with a little extra time added in on top of any time they can erase from what you have done while ouit.