Reforming Parole: Strategies for Stemming the Flow of Technical Violators to State Prison

Michael Jacobson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

This paper will examine the extent to which technical parole violators are driving the national growth in correctional populations both in terms of admissions and costs. It will offer strategies to significantly reduce the numbers of parolees admitted to state prison for technical or condition violations through reforming the "back-end" of parole. Over the last seven years the numbers of parole violators admitted to state prisons have increased at a rate of almost eight times that for new prison commitments. In many states the numbers of parole violators who are sent back to prison for technical violations far outnumber those parolees who are convicted of new crimes. The reasons for and processes by which parole agencies and officers violate parolees is little understood even by those in the criminal justice system. In many ways the filing of technical violations by parole officers is a rational response in attempting to cope with huge caseloads and a simultaneous lack of access to any other sanction for violators other than prison. In addition parole agencies rarely have uniform standards or guidelines for violations and state legislatures have little understanding of the tremendous impact this process has on their prison systems. As a result, the technical violation process occurs with almost no extenal oversight and management. The paper will provide a series of policy recommendations including the creation of a system of intermediate sanctions at the back end of parole to divert violators from prison as well as budget strategies to reduce correctional expenditures in order to fund re-entry programs.

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Updated 05/20/2006