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


Unless indicated otherwise, the statistics cited in this section are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): [September 2006].


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 [October 2006].


This section is drawn from Petersilia (2003).

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