Many of the needs, challenges, and treatment and supervision considerations that apply to parolees also apply to other populations of ex-offenders; in fact, most parolees at one time or another also serve probation sentences and spend time in local jails. It is best, then, to think of a parolee not as a special kind of person, but as a distinctive criminal justice status with similarities to and differences from other statuses. We identify these similarities and differences as appropriate throughout the report.
Chapter 2 of the report looks at concepts and definitions of desistance, which are critical to understanding how parole works and how it might work differently. Chapter 3 then examines how parole currently works. Chapter 4 looks at the services and programs that are available for parolees (and, in most cases, other releasees) and the evidence about their effectiveness. Chapter 5 considers community issues—what burdens do parolees place on them and what can they offer to parolees—with particular attention to courts. Chapter 6 presents the committee’s summary of what is known and what needs to be known about parole and desistance, including reintegration of former prisoners.
Our treatment of each of these topics is guided by the report’s overarching themes of the heterogeneity of the parole population and intervention effects, especially the implementation challenges of policies and programs designed to improve the supervision of parolees in communities, address their service and treatment needs, and facilitate desistance from reoffending.
Our analysis is constrained by the paucity of research that has been done and its limitations. The most prominent limitation—in terms of this report—is the lack of specificity about the population of study: parolees and other releasees are rarely distinguished in the research. Another limitation is the lack of comprehensive jurisdiction- and individual-level data on the characteristics of parolees and their prison and post-prison experiences. We address these and other research limitations in the report’s final chapter.