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December 1, 2006

Is the future parole with GPS and other techno-reentry devices?

This week I received a copy of this fascinating new policy report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Effective Justice.  The report is entitled "The Role of Parole in Solving the Texas Prison Crowding Crisis," and here is a portion of its introduction:

Although the parole system is designed to promote order in prison by providing inmates an incentive for good behavior, it also furthers many other important goals.  Through parole, the state manages the prison population, determining the most appropriate time to release inmates before sentencing completion and the level of supervision needed to prevent recidivism and promote community reintegration.  Parole is also the primary means by which the state controls the costs of incarceration at the back-end of the system that would otherwise be set at the front-end by locally elected judges and district attorneys.

With parole, rather than truth-in-sentencing which would incarcerate offenders for every day of their sentence, local prosecutors can take public credit for obtaining long prison sentences while the state effectively reduces the sentence years later through a highly confidential process. Moreover, parole recognizes that inmates may change while in prison, a factor which prosecutors and judges cannot predict and take into account at sentencing. 

Parole can also be seen as the state's response to the problematic incentive created by a dual system of locally elected prosecutors and judges and state-funded incarceration. The incentive is for locally elected officials to seek public support and attempt to eliminate any risk of crime in their jurisdictions through the longest sentences possible for every offender at the state's expense — as opposed to managing risks by balancing incarceration costs with other priorities, including better policing programs that may prevent more crime for every dollar spent.

I have long thought that the complete elimination of parole release in the federal system and in many states was too crude a response to the problems of indeterminate sentencing systems.  This Texas report effectively highlights potential virtues of a parole system, especially if parole decision-making uses guidelines that consider individualized risk assessments and the severity of offenses.

This Texas report has me thinking that the economics (and the growing inhumanity) of modern mass incarceration (details here and here) will eventually turn many jurisdictions back to some form of parole coupled with modern monitoring systems and other kinds of what might be called "techno-reentry" devices.  As noted in this post, GPS tracking of certain offenders seems to have great potential, and this post spotlights the rapid development of various technocorrections.  Looking into a sentencing crystal ball, I think parole with GPS and other techno-reentry devices may greatly occupy our sentencing and corrections future.

December 1, 2006 at 05:12 PM | Permalink


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Is it really reasonable to believe that the parole board would rather release "dangerous child predators" (let's assume that encompases all criminal for purposes of this argument as that's what the media will make all criminals out to be anyway) to "cut costs" rather than ask for more money next year due to higher sentences and overcrowding? The very essence of a bureaucracy is to never reduce its own costs because that would mean it would get less next year. Spend every dollar and say you need more.

Posted by: Bruce | Dec 1, 2006 6:11:32 PM

Yes, parole systems can and do just that. Keep in mind that the average sentence for murder, not manslaugher but murder, was seven years in California in the 70s. It was not until determinate sentencing reform in 1978 was this insanity corrected. Plus give a parole system an inadequate amount of resources to do an impossible job and you would be amazed at how much money the state can save.

Posted by: David | Dec 1, 2006 10:41:43 PM

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