The Impact of Race on Parole Revocation in Four States, 1990-2000

Sara Steen, University of Colorado at Boulder
Tara Opsal, University of Colorado at Boulder

While there is an extensive research literature on the predictors of incarceration for new offenders, little is known about the circumstances under which individuals are returned to prison for violating the conditions of their parole. At the same time, parole revocations account for an increasingly large share of prison admissions (in 1980 parole violators represented 17% of prison admissions, increasing to 35% of admissions in 1999), making an understanding of this decision point crucial. In this paper we analyze parole release data from the National Corrections Reporting Program from 1990-2000 for four representative states (MI, NY, KY, and UT) to identify individual factors that affect an offender's likelihood of revocation. We look specifically at the role race plays in revocation decisions, predicting that, because this is a low visibility decision point and because offenders have fewer legal protections than at earlier decision points, race disparities will arise. Indeed, preliminary analyses suggest that, in our sample, minorities are approximately 30% more likely than whites to have their parole revoked due to a technical violation. We include in our analyses a number of demographic, criminal history, offense, incarceration experience, and parole experience variables to better understand the overrepresenation of minorities in the population of revoked parolees.

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Updated 05/20/2006