How Does the U.S. Parole System Work?

In July 2015, President Barack Obama became the first president to visit a federal prison while in office His visit was in part spurred by a desire to see major reforms in the US prison system, including shorter prison terms, and more use of parole

So what is parole? How does it currently work in America? Well, parole is the intermediary phase between a convict’s time in prison, and their release into the general public While on parole, an ex-con is allowed to live on the outside, but they must avoid any further trouble with the law, and establish regular contact with a supervising “parole officer” Parole is the same thing as probation, except probation happens BEFORE, or instead of a prison sentence, while parole is AFTER a prisoner serves time Parole serves two major functions First, for the ex-con, it’s a support system that helps them acclimate to society, and find a job or housing situation

The second function serves to reduce the cost of keeping so many prisoners locked up by releasing low-risk convicts early President Obama has been a huge proponent of cutting federal expenses this way, citing overcrowding in prisons, and the high number of inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes So when can a convict go on parole? Well, parole eligibility is determined during the original sentencing People who are convicted of murder, or other serious crimes will often be denied the possibility of parole Inmates who qualify, however, can get “credit” for good behavior in prison, and released to serve the rest of their sentence under supervision

Until the 1980s, most states had parole boards to screen convicts, and determine if they were eligible for parole This was called “discretionary parole”, because it was at the discretion of parole officers However, this method has fallen from use in many states, due to pressure from overcrowded prisons and other conflicts of interest Discretionary parole could result in unregulated and unfair early releases, or denials of parole By 2000, 16 states abolished the use of parole boards for all offenders, and instead use “mandatory parole”, which automatically qualifies prisoners for parole based on their original sentencing, and good behavior

Once freed, a parolee must stay within state bounds, and can’t possess firearms or ammunition They are regularly drug tested, and any minor infraction, even one that doesn’t result in a criminal charge, can be enough to send them back to jail But does the parole system actually work? Well, according to a 2005 study by the Urban Institute, just two years after an average prisoner’s release on parole, more than half found themselves back in jail The head researcher concluded that the parole system had “failed” to keep ex-cons from returning to crime Part of the reason was attributed to parole officers being overburdened by heavy caseloads

Each officer is tasked with as many as 70 parolees, and 15 minute meetings once or twice a month This is not enough supervision and attention for those who need significant help re-acclimating to society Although President Obama has made it clear that the prison system needs reform, releasing more prisoners on parole may not work unless their support system is strengthened Ex-cons often have significant need for work-programs, mental health care, and other social development programs, in order to avoid falling back into the criminal lifestyle With America hosting roughly a quarter of the world’s prison population, the for-profit prison industry is booming

For most, that’s not good news To learn more about the problem with for profit prisons, check out this video thanks for watching, make sure to like and subscribe We release new videos every week

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