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Bureau of Justice Statistics Analyzes Parole Trends

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has issued a report analyzing changes in parole and the resulting effects. The report compared the two types of parole releases (discretionary and mandatory) and their effects on parole populations in the United States. Discretionary parole is release determined by a parole board. Mandatory parole is release determined by statute; an offender usually serves a stated prison term followed by supervised release.

"By the end of 2000, 16 States had abolished discretionary release from prison by a parole board for all offenders. Another four States had abolished discretionary parole for certain violent offenders or other crimes against a person." Mandatory parole is now the most common form of release from prison. Nonetheless, there has been a 3-fold increase in the number of persons under parole supervision from 1980. In 2000, about 312 adults per 100,000 adult U.S. residents were on parole supervision, compared with 121 per 100,000 in 1980. Nationwide the annual growth in State parole was 10% from 1980 to 1992 and 0.7% since 1992.

Much of the change from discretionary to mandatory parole is because of the 1994 Crime Act. That Act established the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing (VOITIS) grant program. States that required Part 1 violent offenders to serve not less than 85% of their sentence before being released to supervision were eligible for VOITIS grants. Part 1 violent offenses include murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. VOITIS grants permit States to expand prison capacity. By 2000, 29 States and the District of Columbia had adopted Truth-in-Sentencing standards. Of the ten States with the largest prison populations, only Texas did not adopt Truth-in-Sentencing. By the end of 1999, mandatory parole accounted for 41% of all releases, while discretionary parole accounted for 24%, down from 39% in 1990. Prisoners released at the expiration of maximum sentence rose from 13% in 1990 to 18% in 1999.

The types of offenders released on parole also changed in the 1990's. Nearly one-third of all prison releases in 1999 were drug offenders, up from 26% in 1990. Violent offender releases remained stable at 25% of all releases. Property offenders declined from 39% to 31% between 1990 and 1999.

Another change in the character of releases was the length of time prisoners were incarcerated prior to first release. While mean sentence lengths for most offenses (except drug offenses) shortened between 1990 and 1999, the length of time served on the sentence rose sharply. Longer incarceration was most noticeable for violent offenses and drug offenses. Assault offenders and rapists had the largest increases in percent of time served on the sentence.

The report also found that prisoners released on discretionary parole served longer until first release than prisoners released on mandatory parole. Moreover, black prisoners served more time than white or Hispanic offenders before release by discretionary or mandatory parole.

The overall rate of successful completion of parole remained unchanged at 42% between 1990 and 1999. On closer examination, though, the report noted that first releases and discretionary parole releases had higher rates of success than re-releases and mandatory parole releases. Hispanic and female prisoners were most likely to complete parole successfully.

The report is titled Trends in State Parole, 1990-2000 , and is report number NCJ184735. One copy is available by, writing U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC 20531. The report can be downloaded from the BJS website at

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