Shorter Sentences for Parole Violators

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Parole Commission considers new rule to reduce sentences for minor parole violations.

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The U.S. Parole Commission (USPC) may soon shorten sentences for federal parole violators who commit administrative violations and certain misdemeanors.

In an attempt to lessen the recidivism rate among offenders and reduce the costs associated with incarceration, the USPC recently proposed a rule that would expand a pilot program used in the District of Columbia: the Short-Term Intervention for Success.

The rule would allow paroled federal offenders who fail to comply with the terms of their parole to apply for a reduced sanction of eight months or less for select violations, including prostitution, gambling, pubic urination, possession of illegal drugs for personal use, and disturbing the peace. The parolee would be required to accept responsibility for the violation and agree to modify their future behavior.

The USPC would still retain discretion to deny any offender a reduced sentence if the deciding parole officer believed the particular case did not warrant it. Under such circumstances, the revocation procedures currently in place would be implemented.

After a parolee has served the shortened sentence for violating the terms of their initial parole, the new regulation would allow the USPC to impose a “second” shorter parole period if it would better serve the offender without putting the public at risk. This would be a departure from current policy, which requires the parole period for those who violate their parole to be equal to the maximum term the law allows.

In recent remarks to the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that the United States has a significant over-incarceration problem, stating that “[e]ven though this country comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.” He further noted that “40 percent of former federal prisoners…are rearrested or have their supervision revoked within three years after their release.” This recidivist spiral, Holder said, produces “great costs” to taxpayers for what is often an administrative or minor violation post-release.

Significantly high recidivism rates also plague the state justice system. An April 2014 U.S. Department of Justice report found that among its sample of prisoners from 30 states, about two-thirds who were released were re-arrested within three years, while more than three-quarters were re-arrested within five years. The USPC has begun recent initiatives to reduce these rates in the District of Columbia by establishing the Secured Residential Treatment Program and the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program in addition to the Short-Term Intervention for Success.

The USPC identified the Short-Term Intervention for Success pilot program as making notable advances in addressing concerns about over-incarceration. According to an internal USPC study, the program reduced the average length of a prison term for parole violators approved for the program to approximately three and a half months. Similar offenders outside of the program served an average sentence of eleven months. Those in the program serving shorter sentences were not re-arrested at a greater rate than those who received longer sentences.

In announcing the potential national expansion of the program, the USPC stated that it is an effective way to reduce the prison population, lessen the high costs associated with violation hearings and incarceration, and achieve swift resolution of minor violations.

Interested readers can comment on the proposed rule until October 14, 2014.