Bring Back Federal Parole

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Bring Back Federal Parole

Post  Yoke on Wed May 20, 2009 9:51 am

by Michael Santos

Published May 19, 2009 @ 01:41PM PT


I’d sure like to see reforms within the federal system that reinstated parole. Federal sentences with eligibility for parole began to phase out in 1987, right around the time that my prison term started. It has been so long since parole has been available for federal prisoners that I’m sure many readers of Change.org do not even know the parole system functioned. I’d like to explain how the parole system used to operate, and provide reasons why we need reforms that would reinstate some form of parole for federal prisoners.

With few exceptions, when judicial proceedings resulted in guilty verdicts for federal crimes committed prior to November 1, 1987, a judge would impose a parole-eligible sentence if the sanction included imprisonment. Parole eligibility meant the prisoner qualified for a conditional release. Although judges could impose sentences that qualified the offender for parole consideration on the day he began serving his sentence, most federal prisoners were sentenced to “regular adult terms.” A regular adult term required the offender to serve one-third of the sentence before the parole board could release him.

If a judge imposed a nine-year term with parole eligibility, for example, the prisoner could request a meeting with the parole board for release consideration once he completed three years in prison. A prisoner did not have a right to release on parole, as parole was a privilege, an incentive that would motivate prisoners to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. Those prisoners who served parole-eligible terms in excess of 30 years, even if they were serving life sentences, could apply for parole consideration after completing 10 years in prison.

Three people would sit on the parole board that considered prisoners for release. In making their determination, the members of the parole board would review various factors that would influence their decision. Among other things, those factors would include a review of the offender’s instant offense, his criminal history, his prison adjustment, victim statements if there were victims, and release plans.

The parole board would authorize a conditional release for prisoners whose records suggested a law-abiding adjustment after release. If the parole board chose not to grant release to a prisoner, it would set a date toward which the prisoner could focus to apply again for parole consideration. On the flip side, if a prisoner received a parole date, but subsequently was convicted of violating the prison’s disciplinary code, the parole board could rescind the parole date.

Those prisoners who released to society under such conditional terms would report to a parole officer. The parole officer would monitor the offender’s adjustment to society, the offender could expect the parole officer to visit his residence, his place of employment, and review all of his financial transactions. The restrictions on parole may have been tight or lax, depending on the parole officer’s perception of the offender.

Lawmakers abolished parole for federal prisoners in a wave of tough-on-crime rhetoric that, in hindsight, might be better described as stupid-on-crime. By eliminating parole eligibility for federal prisoners, American taxpayers have seen the federal prison population surge. When I began serving my term in the mid-1980s, federal prisons confined approximately 40,000 people. We now lock more than 200,000 people in federal prison.

Those who now serve time in federal prison no longer have the hope that the parole board once provided. Rather than working to impress the parole board by preparing for law-abiding lives, too many prisoners now adjust in ways to ease their time through decades of confinement. They learn to live inside the abnormal world of prisons while simultaneously conditioning themselves for failure.

This lack of hope makes for bad public policy. It brings unnecessary costs to taxpayers, not only in terms of billions in prison expenditures, but all the ancillary costs that come from warehousing so many human beings.

We need prison reforms that will provide some mechanism, like parole or an effective pardon process that will allow the system to release offenders who no longer need to occupy costly prison space. A system that confines a man for 20-plus years when he was ready to live as a law-abiding citizen after five years is not just. It is wrong. It is a waste of human life, a waste of taxpayer resources, and a blemish on our enlightened society

Yoke
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