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Letter to U.S. Parole Commission on Responding to Parole Violators

The United States Parole Commission, the board responsible for granting parole and supervising parolees in its jurisdiction, is considering a proposal to improve its procedures for determining how to respond when released offenders violate the terms of their parole.

Policy Integrity recently submitted a detailed letter urging the Parole Commission to rely upon evidence-based analysis and empirical research in modifying its procedures. Some of the most compelling studies demonstrate that parole programs that impose swift yet proportional responses to minor parole violations end up reducing the number of people who end up back in prison for new crimes, and are otherwise benefit-cost justified.

In most cases, if a parolee commits a technical violation or fails a drug test, he knows in advance what the consequence will be (such as a short return to prison). Studies in several states have shown that this approach, when combined with additional programs that support offenders as they transition from prison to society, can sharply reduce the likelihood future parole violations and recidivism. When more parolees are successfully reintegrated into their communities, it benefits society while simultaneously decreasing the public cost of re-incarceration.

The Parole Commission is developing these regulations as part of a broader effort to incorporate retrospective review—also known as regulatory “look backs” at existing regulatory programs—into its institutional processes. Policy Integrity suggests implementing individually-tailored release plans, and using a data-management system to track the success of efforts to ensure parolees stay out of prison.