Is it Time to Overhaul the Parole System?
Date:  11-28-2014

You may be surprised who says “yes”
In an effort to cut the high costs associated with mass incarceration, states are releasing people from prison in increasing numbers. Most of those released will be put on parole. FiveThirtyEight Politics reports that in less than 40 years the number of parolees increased by 495 percent. In 2012 the number of people on parole was over 851,000.

Some people are questioning if parole is even necessary in many situations, and if parole regulations need an overhaul. Former commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Brian Fischer is one such person.

In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, Fisher asserted. “I don’t think everyone coming out of prison needs to be supervised.” There are those people whose risk factor of committing another crime when released from prison is negligible. For those, parole is a waste of a taxpayers’ money.

Fisher also believes that some of the rules applying to parole are too numerous, making them harder to follow. He stated “Most of us could not live under the rules of parole because there are too many of them.” Many people on parole are forbidden to drink alcohol, whether their crime was alcohol-related or not. That means not being able to toast your new spouse at your wedding with a sip of champagne, provided of course you received permission from your parole officer to get married in the first place. People on parole are not allowed to associate with convicted felons. That can be difficult. In large cities your apartment building may house several convicted felons, so hanging out with them at community events is a no-no. Certainly the halfway house one is paroled to is chock-a-block filled with felons, but that is apparently okay, just don’t talk to them on the streets. Going into a bakery that is owned and operated by a person who was charged with a felony can get you in trouble (true story).

Jessica Glazer writes in her FiveThirtyEight Politics article that things million of Americans not on parole do everyday can get someone on parole thrown back in prison. She cites speeding, or using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. (In some cases possession of a cell phone in a halfway house can lead you back to prison.) Parole officers have great discretion whether to hold you accountable for violating conditions of your parole or letting you off the hook.

One of the rules that most parole officers will most likely bend today is that a person on parole has to find steady employment within a set amount of time. Given the sad state of the job market and the fact that those with a criminal history have a very hard time getting a job, parole officers are less likely to send a person back to prison if they fail to find a job within the designated time period.

The need to ensure public safety is of paramount importance, but can public safety be accomplished without putting everyone released from prison on parole and by loosing or eliminating some of the rules associated with parole? The article Why It Might Be Time To Rethink The Rules Of Parole explains why the answer may be “yes.”