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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration 1 Introduction and Background On December 31, 2005, the latest date for which figures are available, the United States had a total incarceration rate of 737 per each 100,000 residents, by far the highest in the industrialized world. About two-thirds of the incarcerated population (491 persons per 100,000 population) were in federal and state prisons; the remainder were in local jails (Harrison and Beck, 2006). This rate reflects 30 years of steady growth in the use of imprisonment as punishment for both violent and nonviolent crimes. Because of the upsurge in imprisonment rates—a more than four-fold increase since 1980—the number of released prisoners has grown sharply during the past decade. Unprecedented numbers of individuals now live in U.S. communities under the supervision of parole, along with other former prisoners who are not under formal supervision. Many parolees subsequently return to custody, creating a constant supply of offenders to feed ever-growing incarceration rates. These parolees and other former prisoners are the subject of this report. Appropriate strategies to interrupt this cycle and to manage parolees and other former prisoners are needed both to improve their chances for desistance from crime and reintegration in communities, and to protect public safety. These strategies must be based on the recognition that resources to help these populations are limited.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration CONTEXT The Population of Parolees Roughly 600,000 people are released each year from state and federal prisons in the United States, about 1,600 a day.1 Of the total, about 20 percent leave prison without any post-prison supervision requirement, usually because they have served their full sentence (“maxed out”). Of the 80 percent of offenders who leave prison before the end of their sentence, about 50 percent were released by mandate, and about 30 percent were released after review by a discretionary parole board. However, whether an inmate is released as a result of a mandatory or discretionary process, parole release is “conditional”: parolees are to serve out the remainder of their sentences in the community under the supervision of state parole authorities. All states except Maine and Virginia have mandatory or discretionary parole supervision (for releasees who have not maxed out), although some states have changed its name to distance themselves from negative associations with the term. The states’ parolee population grew 247 percent from 1980 to 2004, from 220,400 to 765,350.2 In 2004, 466,000 released prisoners entered state parole systems across the country. About 88 percent of the parolees were males; for both males and females, 40 percent were white, 41 percent were black, 18 percent were Hispanic, and the remaining 1 percent were non-Hispanics of other races. The average parolee in 2004 was in his or her mid-30s. About 38 percent had been convicted and imprisoned for a drug offense, 26 percent for a property offense, and 24 percent for a violent offense. The remaining 12 percent had been imprisoned for other crimes, primarily public order offenses. The average time served in prison in 2002, the latest date for which statistics are available, was 29 months (median time served was 17 months) (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002). Eventually, 93 percent of all U.S. prisoners will be released (Petersilia, 2003). The Parole and Reentry Systems As long as there have been prisons, societies have struggled with how best to help prisoners reintegrate in society when they are released.3 In the 1 Unless indicated otherwise, the statistics cited in this section are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs [September 2006]. 2 An additional 86,567 parolees were under federal jurisdiction in 2004. Parole under the federal system has been periodically abolished, altered, and reinstated over the years; for the history of the U. S. Parole Commission, see http://www.usdoj.gov/uspc/history.htm [October 2006]. 3 This section is drawn from Petersilia (2003).
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration United States, prisoners who have not maxed out are released to parole supervision. Whether they are released through a discretionary or mandatory process, the majority of released prisoners will be subject to some sort of post-prison or parole supervision.4 Parole is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. In most states, it is administered by a board or commission appointed by the governor. Parole, common in the United States for at least a century, can legally be defined as releasing offenders from a correctional institution, after they have served a portion of their sentence, under the continued custody of the state and under conditions that permit their reincarceration in the event of a violation of the terms of parole (which may otherwise not be a criminal offense). Parole, unlike probation, always occurs after some part of a court-imposed prison term has been completed. No prisoner has a legal right to parole. Rather, it is a privilege a state grants, through a contractual arrangement with a prisoner, who signs a parole release contract in exchange for the promise to abide by specified conditions. A state authority retains legal control of parolees until they are formally dismissed from parole, which usually lasts between 1 to 3 years.5 Parole agents (or officers) are responsible for ensuring that parolees fulfill the terms of their contracts. Most agents have the legal authority to carry and use firearms and to search places, persons, and property without a warrant and without probable cause (otherwise required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). The search power applies to the household where a parolee is living and the business place where a parolee is working. The ability to arrest, confine, and, in some cases re-imprison a parolee for violating the conditions of the parole agreement gives parole agents a great deal of discretionary authority. Parole conditions can be roughly classified as general, applicable to all parolees, and tailored, applicable to particular offenders. Standard parole conditions are similar throughout most jurisdictions and usually include not committing crimes, not carrying a weapon, seeking and maintaining employment, reporting changes of address, reporting to one’s parole agent, and paying required victim and court restitution costs. Tailored conditions are reserved for certain kinds of offenders or crimes. 4 In indeterminate sentencing systems, a parole board releases inmates to parole supervision on the basis of statutory or administrative determinations of eligibility. Inmates usually must serve some fraction of the minimum or maximum sentence before becoming eligible for parole. In determinate sentencing systems, inmates are conditionally released from prison when they have served their original sentence minus time off for good behavior. 5 Parole supervision can last much longer in some states: for example, Texas parole supervision is often for 10 to 20 years. A number of recently enacted laws require life-time supervision and registration of sex offenders.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration Tailored conditions for sex offenders may require parolees to participate in sex offender therapy, register as sex offenders, and refrain from entering child safety zones. People convicted of domestic assaults may be required not to contact their spouses, domestic partners, or other injured or threatened family members. A growing number of parolees are now required to register with the police when released from prison. Originally begun for sex offenders, registration is now required of parolees convicted of arson, crimes against children, domestic violence, stalking, and other offenses. The most common special condition for parolees is drug testing. Some criminal justice experts argue that few parolees can meet all of the more stringent conditions and that imposing and enforcing them almost guarantees failure. But many state legislatures have become more “anticrime” in recent years, which has translated into both stricter requirements for granting parole and stricter supervision and easier revocation procedures for parolees. If a parolee commits a new crime or fails to meet the conditions of the parole contract, parole can be revoked and the parolee can be returned to prison. Violations of parole conditions are often termed “technical violations,” but this characterization can be misleading because the conditions encompass important obligations, such as refraining from contacting a previous victim or from using alcohol, as well as purely procedural requirements, such as checking in with the parole officer. Because parolees are still in the formal legal custody of prison authorities, their constitutional rights are severely limited. When parole agents identify a violation by a parolee, they notify their supervisors, who can initiate procedures to return a parolee to prison. High parole revocation rates are one of the major factors linked to the growing U.S. prison population. Each year, about 300,000 parolees are sent back to prison. About 70 percent of returned prisoners self-report that their parole was revoked because of an arrest or conviction for a new offense; 22 percent said they had absconded or otherwise failed to report to a parole officer; 16 percent said they had a drug-related violation; and 18 percent reported other reasons, such as failure to maintain employment or to meet financial obligations (Hughes et al., 2001). Some prisoners are returned for two or more reasons. The number of offenders who are reincarcerated due to parole revocation increased more than sevenfold between 1980 and 1999; 42 percent of the growth in total admissions to state prisons during that period was the result of revocations for violations of specified parole conditions (Blumstein and Beck, 2005). Parolees are required to report to their designated parole field office within a few days of release. In most states, parolees are legally required to return to the county of their last residence. The vast majority of parolees—80 percent—are supervised on “regular” caseloads, averaging 67 cases
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration to one parole officer, in which they are seen (face to face) less than twice a month (Petersilia, 1999). Officers also may contact family members or employers to inquire about the parolee’s progress. Parole agents, in addition to monitoring contract compliance, also provide counseling and broker community resources. In fact, parole agents historically have played an important role in providing job assistance, family counseling, and chemical dependency testing and treatment programs, mixing authority with help. This mixture is now sometimes seen as a conflict—service versus surveillance. In a way, parole officers can be thought of as gun-carrying social workers. Today, parole agents seldom provide direct counseling services, but many do still orchestrate referrals to community agencies. Of course, the help parolees receive differs vastly, depending on the state and jurisdiction in which they are being supervised. In addition to regular caseloads, most parole agencies also have specialized caseloads designed to provide group counseling for such conditions as drug use and unemployment or for the special concerns raised by the supervision of mentally ill people, people with developmental disabilities, and sex offenders. However, this is a very small part of most parole systems: overall, less than 4 percent of all parolees are supervised on specialized caseloads (Petersilia, 2003). Virtually every state uses a classification system for assigning parolees to different levels of supervision and specialized caseloads. Many parole officers are frustrated because they lack the time and resources to do the kind of job they believe is maximally helpful to their clients. Parole officers often complain that paperwork has increased, their clients have more serious problems, and that their caseloads are much higher than the 35-50 cases that have been considered the ideal caseload for a parole officer. As Michael Jacobson (2005, p. 155) recently wrote: Parole officers are doing exactly what parole systems ask them to do; they work with few resources and experience constant pressure, including anxieties about whether someone on their caseload will be the next murderer of a Polly Klass. Indeed, a combination of high caseloads, few internal resources, and frequently, political condemnation makes their job one of the most difficult and stressful in the criminal justice system. One naturally wonders whether simply reducing an officer’s caseload would result in more compliance with parole contracts and fewer new criminal offenses. A national demonstration project that evaluated the effects of reduced caseloads actually showed higher rates of violations of parole agreements for parolees who were supervised on small caseloads, because officers were able to watch them more closely to uncover more of their misdeeds (Petersilia and Turner, 1993). But this study also found that when probationers and parolees were subject to both surveillance and
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration appropriate treatment, their arrest rates were 10 to 20 percent lower than other probationers and parolees. Program evaluations in Texas, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Colorado have shown similarly encouraging results. High-quality parole supervision costs more than regular supervision, and the program costs are driven by the risks and needs of participants and the surveillance and services provided. Currently, about $2,000-$4,000 per year per parolee is spent for regular parole supervision. The average yearly cost of supervising the 117,000 parolees in California (18 percent of all U.S. state parolees are in California) is now $4,067 per parolee, while parole failures cost the state $10,000 per parolee (California Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2004). In contrast, other intermediate sanctions—such as electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, or effective substance abuse programs—are estimated to cost between $5,000 and $20,000 per client per year. Public Policy Issues Parolees pose multiple challenges for the communities to which they are released. Many leave prison with unresolved substance abuse and mental health problems, lack of skills for employment, and have housing needs. A majority (53%) of state inmates used illicit drugs in the month before their offense, while a third (32%) committed their current offense under the influence of drugs. Nearly one-half of the violent offenders in state prisons (47%) met the criteria for recent drug dependence or abuse, and 10 percent said the need to get money for drugs was a motive in their crimes (Mumola and Karberg, 2006). Participation in drug abuse programs has increased among state and federal inmates with recent drug use histories, but it is still surprisingly low. Among state inmates who used drugs in the month before the offense, only 39 percent reported taking part in drug treatment or other drug programs since admission (Mumola and Karberg, 2006). The deinstitutionalization policy that started in the 1960s shifted the focus of care of people with mental illness from psychiatric hospitals to local communities. As a result, states closed many of their mental hospitals and people with mental illnesses were increasingly arrested and jailed; most of them are eventually released on parole. In a BJS study of mental illness, using prisoners’ self-reports, Ditton (1999) reported that 16.2 percent of state prison inmates were estimated to be mentally ill, reporting either a mental or emotional condition or an overnight stay in a mental hospital or program. Among parolees, 12 percent were homeless at the time of their arrest, and they face significant housing barriers at release (see Petersilia, 2003). If parolees commit a new criminal offense or violate the specified conditions of parole supervision (e.g., fail a drug test), they can be returned
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration to prison to serve out the remainder of the sentence for which they were originally convicted and incarcerated or to serve a new sentence. Regardless of how it is measured, the “failure” rate is very high among released prisoners. A BJS study of state prisoners released in 15 states in 1994 found that fully two-thirds were rearrested and just over one-half were returned to prison within 3 years (Langan and Levin, 2002). The probability of rearrest was higher among males, younger people, property offenders, and those with longer arrest records. Rearrest prevalence also was significantly higher among parolees who had previously been incarcerated and released than among first-time parolees, even with age, offense type, prior arrests, and other predictors controlled (Rosenfeld et al., 2005). This population of “repeat parolees” poses especially difficult challenges to parole agencies, if only because they have failed at community reentry at least once before. In the BJS study, rearrest rates among parolees released in 1994 were sharply higher during the next 3 years than arrest rates in the general population. Parolees accounted for an estimated 10-15 percent of all violent, property, and drug arrests between 1994 and 1997, and the share of total arrests attributable to released prisoners grew as general crime rates declined during the 1990s (Rosenfeld et al., 2005). Most released prisoners who are arrested for new crimes will be returned to prison—and most of them will be released again. The strain on communities to deal with released prisoners has increased in recent years as a result of several factors. More people are being sentenced to terms of incarceration and, consequently, the number being released on parole at any given time has grown. In addition, many prisoners are transferred from one institution to another for disciplinary purposes or to relieve crowding, leaving less time for longer term programs that might help offenders prepare for release and reintegration in society. There has also been less money (on a per person basis) for such programs in recent years. Prerelease programs are not flexible enough to set priorities for services on the basis of the distribution of time served in the population needing programs. The increase in mandatory supervised parole also has led to larger caseloads for parole agents. Here, too, in most states, there have not been increases in funds for parole supervision commensurate with the increase in the number of parolees. TERMINOLOGY Many terms are used to characterize both people currently in jail or prison and those who have spent time in those institutions. For clarity and to frame the discussion, we have adopted the terminology laid out in this section. We note first that although the focus of this report is almost exclu-
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration sively on people who have been released from prisons, some of the terms and some of the discussion also include people released from jails.6 The terms “inmate” and “incarcerated” refer to people in prison (or jail). People who have been released from a prison or jail after serving a sentence are “releasees.” This term covers everyone who has spent time in a prison (or jail): people who served their full terms; people who served less than their full terms because of time off for good behavior, prison crowding, or any other reason; people with a formal parole agreement; and people under any other kind of post-incarceration supervision. The term excludes people who left jails without being charged or were exonerated at trial. It also excludes people on probation—those who have been found guilty but not sent to jail or prison—and those whose final sentencing will depend on their behavior while on probation. The term “parolee” is used to refer to persons who are currently on parole, under the supervision of parole authorities, whether released by a parole board or some other mechanism. Where the term releasee is used interchangeably with parolee it should be understood to mean releasee’s minus those who have served their full term. “Reentry” is the process of leaving prison and returning to a community. “Reintegration” is the most recently used term to define the transition from incarceration to life outside an institution, in a community. However, in this report, reentry is used interchangeably with reintegration. Reentry is a more neutral term: reentry can be successful or not, and there is a continuum. One can think of completely successful reentry as a person’s having a place to live, a job, not committing crimes, and otherwise being a fully integrated member of a community. At the other end of the continuum, one can think of homelessness, unemployment, and the violation of the terms of parole or the commission of new crimes as characteristic of failed reentry. Successful reentry may facilitate the maintenance of desistance from crime. Desistance is a term that shifts the focus of policy from the negative to the positive: instead of focusing on the releasees who return to prison, it focuses on those who refrain from or lessen their criminal behavior as well as other negative behaviors, such as substance abuse, that may lead to crime or violations of specified conditions of release. Although “recidivism” is a common term in criminal justice, we try to use it as little possible in this report, for four reasons. First, it covers people returned to prison both for violating the terms of parole and for committing new criminal offenses, yet for public policy purposes it may be useful 6 Generally speaking, prisons are run by states or the federal government and house people sentenced to terms of more than 1 year; jails are run by counties or other local jurisdictions and house people who have been arrested but not yet charged, who have been charged but not yet tried, or who are serving sentences of less than 1 year.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration to consider these two populations separately. Second, the term focuses on the negative outcome for releasees: again, for public policy purposes, it may be more useful to focus on what programs or interventions can contribute to a positive outcome. Third, the term implies a simple 0 or 1 outcome: either a person is returned to prison or not; yet desistance from criminal behavior, like cessation of smoking or drug use or even dieting, may involve several attempts over time. If some people desist from committing offenses for longer and longer periods of time or otherwise moderate their criminal behavior, it is useful information for policy makers. Finally, our charge (see below) does not use the term. However, given that much of the research in criminal justice uses the term and attempts to measure recidivism, we cannot completely eliminate the word from our analyses or our report. An underlying public policy issue that is related to terminology is the goal of parole as a crime control method: Is the goal to send noncompliant parolees back to prison as quickly as possible or to facilitate desistance from criminal behavior? This basic question affects how policy makers, as well as police, parole agents, and others in the criminal justice system, view their jobs and the parolees. COMMITTEE CHARGE AND APPROACH The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of the U.S. Department of Justice asked the National Research Council to establish an ad hoc committee to conduct a workshop-based study on the role of parole and other forms of postrelease supervision in promoting the rehabilitation and successful reentry of former prisoners, including their desistance from criminal activity and their reintegration into families, neighborhoods, the workforce, and the civic life of the community. In accordance with the terms of the charge, the workshop focused on the empirical underpinnings and evaluations of new or emerging models of community supervision and the likelihood that these kinds of models can promote various distinct outcomes, such as desistance from crime and adherence to conditions of parole, as well as institutional support for the service needs of ex-prisoners and their families. The workshop provided a basis for the development of a research agenda that is addressed in the report. The presentations and discussions at the workshop were designed to consider the following topics: Data and research on traditional and current parole practices in order to understand the current state of practice in parole and other forms of post release supervision.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration New and emerging models of community supervision, especially the empirical or theoretical underpinnings or evaluations of these models and their effect on desistance as well as on successful reentry. The infrastructures necessary for successful reentry and the role of community supervision in those infrastructures. A research agenda on the effects of community supervision on different outcomes, such as desistance from further criminal activity; adherence to conditions of parole and successful reentry into the community. The request from NIJ reflects both public concern and congressional attention. In 2005, legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress calling for both new grants and the continuation of existing programs to encourage successful prisoner reentry. The proposed legislation also called for studies of the effects on children of having an incarcerated parent; the characteristics and circumstances of former prisoners who do not return to prison; and returning prisoners who present special challenges, such as having severe mental illness, and those who represent the greatest threat to public safety. Although this legislative proposal was not enacted, it is clear that the subject of the reentry of former prisoners to society is a major public policy issue. In looking at releasees, it is important to recognize that prisoners reentering society are a small proportion—less than 10 percent—of the approximately 7 million people who are under supervision of the criminal justice system at any given time. The total includes people awaiting trial, people on probation and parole, and people in jails and prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006b). By far the largest group is people on probation, who in 2004 accounted for almost 60 percent of the total (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006a). Although parolees make up a relatively small percentage of people under supervision of the criminal justice system, the total, as noted above, is now more than 600,000 annually. Moreover, most of the people released from prisons go to a small number of cities—about 20—and to neighborhoods in those cities that have some of the highest crime rates in the nation (Travis, 2005). Because parolees who have been released more than once before have very high reoffending rates their effect on these communities can be significant, and what can be done to support their successful reentry to society is therefore critical to neighborhood stability. Although this report focuses only on people released from prisons and under parole supervision in the community, some of the issues may well be the same for other people who reside in these high-crime communities, particularly probationers.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration The Committee on Community Supervision and Desistance from Crime held its workshop on January 18, 2006, in Irvine, California. Papers were presented by four distinguished researchers, and there were two discussants for each paper, one researcher, and one practitioner (see Appendix A for the workshop agenda). The four topics of the presentations and discussion had been selected by the committee as possibly important issues in carrying out its charge: (1) Is treatment the road to rehabilitation? Promoting offender change through accountability; (2) a behavioral management approach to supervision; (3) searching for a judicial model of reentry and community supervision; and (4) triage: resource allocation for probation and parole. After the workshop, the committee commissioned a fifth paper on faith-based programs for ex-offenders. The committee met twice in the months following the workshop, to consider the topics discussed at the workshop, the issue of faith-based programs, and what turned out to be significant new research on important aspects of desistance and community supervision. The committee did not complete its work as quickly as it had anticipated, in large part because of the new work we identified and the need to integrate those findings with older work. While there is still a great deal that is not known about the processes of desistance and community supervision of former prisoners, the committee is encouraged that research is identifying some effective policies and practices, as well as key questions for future research. SCOPE OF THE REPORT After its workshop, the committee held two meetings to consider revised versions of the papers and develop this report, based on the papers and the broader literature in the field. Because of the limits on our resources, we have had to be highly selective with respect to the specific populations, issues, and topics covered in this report. As indicated above, our focus is on parolees—people released from prison and supervised in the community. We do not address the distinctive issues associated with the supervision and desistance from crime of the much larger population of probationers: people who are sentenced to community supervision in lieu of imprisonment. Nor do we address the problems and needs of people who are awaiting trial or are serving sentences of 1 year or less in local jails. There are also several classes of offenders that we do not consider explicitly, in part because of the lack of research. We do not explicitly consider the special legal, supervision, and treatment issues connected with sex offenders, a topic of great public concern and controversy that merits its own comprehensive assessment. We note, however, that more than 95 percent of parolees are not sex offenders. We also do not separately consider juveniles, who are generally believed to have distinct problems and needs.
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Parole, Desistance from Crime, and Community Integration 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.