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Does Parole Work? Apparently Not.

More than 774,000 men and women were on some form of community supervision in 2003, up 74.5 percent from 197,000 in 1980. According to a March 2005 study of the Urban Institute, however, ?parole supervision has little effect on re-arrest rates of released prisoners?.

The goal of the study was ?to assess, at an aggregate level, whether parole ?works? at reducing recidivism among those who are supervised after release from state prison?. Researchers raised three key questions: (1) whether ?prisoners released with and without supervision differ with respect to demographics, incarceration characteristics and criminal histories?; (2) whether ?prisoners released with and without supervision recidivate at different rates?; and (3) ?if there are differences in recidivism outcomes between those released with and without supervision, when and for whom does supervision matter most??

Researchers relied upon data from a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) recidivism study entitled Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994, which noted that 57 percent of released prisoners were mandatory releases. 35 percent were discretionary (paroled) releases, and 8 percent were unconditional releases (no supervision).

While ?discretionary parolees were less likely to be rearrested than unconditional releases in the two years after release ? the re-arrest rates for mandatory parolees and unconditional releases were very similar?. Researchers found it ?discouraging ? although not wholly unexpected ? that the overall effect of supervision appears to be minimal?.

The Study noted several ?reasons why parole, as typically implemented, is not as effective as it could be?, and encouraged rethinking, revising, and perhaps reinventing ?parole supervision so that it is vastly better at producing public safety outcomes and enhancing the odds of successful reintegration for the more than 600,000 individuals leaving prison each year. The report stopped short of recommending the elimination of parole and supervised release in its entirety as a waste of tax payer dollars and resources. The report, Does Parole Work?, is available from: Urban Institute, 2100 M St., NW, Washington DC 20037.

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