Embracing Parole Reform Across the States
Over the past few years, many states have enacted new laws reforming parole and probation. These reforms tackle a myriad of problems, but their main objective is to improve public safety through reducing recidivism rates and overcrowded facilities – while also ensuring victims’ needs are met and limiting costs to taxpayers.
As of 2020, the total incarcerated population in the United States was 2.3 million (nearly 1% of the U.S. adult population), and on average, the cost of incarceration per inmate is $33,274 annually – states themselves spend more than $50 billion per year on imprisonment. When factoring in social consequences of incarceration – such as lost employment, adverse health effects of inmates, and individuals being unable to support their families – the overall economic impact is even more profound.
Nationwide, over 40% of individuals released from prison return within three years. To address these unnecessarily high rates which harm American communities, several states have adopted community correction reforms.
In 2020, Louisiana enacted HB 77, which not only provides flexibility for parolee workers but also encourages the use of technologies to allow online self-reporting. Under the new law, the work schedules of individuals under community supervision must be considered and accommodated by their respective parole or probation officers during their period of parole or probation.
This year, Mississippi also addressed community corrections reform, with its passage of SB 2795. Under this law, any eligible individual who meets certain criteria and is within a 48-month window of their parole eligibility date will be prioritized for participation in job-training and educational development programs included in the agreed upon parole case plan. This reform should help Mississippians combat their overall recidivism rate of 35.9%.
Both HB 77 and SB 2795 aim to ensure more parolees and probationers successfully conclude their community supervision and better reintegrate into society. They shed light to a shift from applying punitive measures to embracing rehabilitative ones, recognizing their needs to mitigate their recidivism rates and establish more resilient criminal justice systems. Unsurprisingly, Louisiana and Mississippi are already reaping the fruits of their hard labor – both states are already seeing a reduction in recidivism, even with the short amount of time these laws have been in place
With the passage of the First Step Act in 2018, Congress and President Donald Trump acknowledged that higher incarceration rates do not necessarily make communities safer. Among the many changes brought forth by the First Step Act was the establishment of new methods of risk assessment to determine the likelihood an individual in federal prison will recidivate after their release. This crucial change allows the federal government to focus its time and efforts on ensuring individuals receive appropriate levels of supervision.
States like Texas and Mississippi, which helped to lay the foundation for the First Step Act, have experienced positive impact of parole and probation reform. Following parole reform in 2007, the revocation rate for parolees in Texas dropped 25%, and the number of individuals who recidivated dropped by 21%. Similarly, Mississippi witnessed a 6% reduction in crime rates following the enactment of their parole and probation reforms.
Just last year, West Virginia followed suit with its own parole reforms in SB 620. The new legislation allows for individuals sentenced for non-violent crimes to apply for parole if they have served the minimum length of their sentence. Between 1,000 and 1,600 inmates would be released from prison in a given year under this parole reform in West Virginia, saving the state about $35 million annually and providing beneficial alternatives to incarceration.
By addressing high recidivism rates and implementing these forward-thinking reforms, states are improving their communities by reducing the human and financial strain of incarceration and empowering individuals to successfully reintegrate into society. ALEC’s Resolution on Improving Community Supervision Policies and Practice, Resolution in Support of Reentry Programs, and Model Policy on Probation Period Limits, all provide ideas for community corrections policies based on the successes of states that have undertaken parole and probation reform.