Evolution of Parole in the Criminal Justice System

Evolution of Parole in the Criminal Justice System

The concept of parole originated from military law. It was granted to a prisoner of war on a promise to return. “In military law, a promise given by a prisoner of war, when he has leave to depart from custody, that he will return at the time appointed unless discharged.

An engagement by a prisoner of war upon being set at liberty that he will not again take up arms against the government by whose forces he was captured, either for a limited period or while hostilities continue.”

Some have pointed out that, starting as an informal process, parole is historically based on the concept of a pardon.

The need for systematic supervision of prisoners released early became apparent due to indeterminate sentencing (which allows for the early release of an offender from prison or jail) and prison overcrowding.

An early concept of parole was the incentive given to prisoners who adhered to the rules of penal institutions. As a reward, they were considered for early release. Parole is a very effective mechanism to reduce pressure on prison institutions.

Over time, parole has become an essential part of the criminal justice systems of the UK and the USA. This indicates that society has changed its attitude towards crime and criminals, incorporating progressive ideas into penal policies.

Parole is defined as “conditional release from imprisonment that entitles a parolee to serve the remainder of his term outside the confines of an institution if he satisfactorily complies with all terms and conditions provided in the parole order.

J. L. Gillin defines “parole as the release from a penal or reformative institution of an offender who remains under the control of correctional authorities, in an attempt to find out whether he is fit to live in a free society without supervision.”

According to Donald Taft, “Parole is a release from prison after part of the sentence has been served, with the prisoner still remaining in custody and under stated conditions until discharged, liable to return to the institution for violation of any of these conditions.”

Edwin H. Sutherland considers that parole is a mechanism to liberate an inmate from prison or a correctional institution on the condition that his original penalty will be awarded if those conditions of liberation are violated.

Penal Reform International has defined parole as follows:

“Parole is defined as the early release, under certain conditions, of a convicted offender from custody. Individuals who are placed on parole are subjected to the supervision of a parole officer and must adhere to conditions imposed by the custodial authorities. The length of the parole period is generally established by law or by a court based on the law.”

Objectives of Parole

Penal Reform International has identified 5 objectives of parole, which are:

  1. To conserve government resources, reduce costs, and reduce overcrowding in the prison system; to increase the ‘rotation’ of the prison population;
  2. To reintegrate convicted offenders into society by providing supervision and treatment services;
  3. To preserve community safety by supervising convicted offenders;
  4. To control the behavior of inmates who are in custody by offering parole for good behavior; and
  5. To encourage positive behavior of convicted persons while they are serving sentences that deprive them of liberty.

V. V. Devasia and Leelamma Devasia have identified 5 objectives of parole as well, which are:

  1. Release of each prisoner from confinement at the most favorable time, with appropriate consideration for requirements of justice, expectations of subsequent behavior, and cost.
  2. The largest possible number of parole completions.
  3. The smallest number of new crimes committed by released persons.
  4. The smallest number of violent acts committed by released persons.
  5. An increase in general community confidence in parole administration.

Parole in Different Countries

Parole in different countries provides an idea of how it emerged and developed. Now, it occupies an important place in the penal policies of civilized countries and constitutes an integral part of corrective justice.

Parole in the United Kingdom

The abolition of the transportation of prisoners and its resulting problems led to the emergence of parole in England.

British prisons were overcrowded due to the abolition of prisoner transportation. In the later decades of the eighteenth century, ‘Ticket on Leave,’ a new method, was introduced to reduce pressure on prisons. Under this system, prisoners were released on surety for good behavior.

They were not trained for a disciplined life in the community and were provided with aftercare service.

As a result, many of them became recidivists, making public life more insecure. This situation compelled the authorities to introduce changes to the system of “Ticket on Leave.”

These changes led to the emergence of conditional release on parole in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

In England, parole is granted to individuals who are sentenced for more than three years. These parolees are required to report to the police every month during the period of parole.

Second, parole is granted to habitual offenders sentenced under preventive detention laws.

Third, juvenile delinquents housed in Borstals, Reformatories, and Rehabilitation centers are released on parole.

Parole now occupies an important place in the rehabilitative program in England.

Under this program, a convicted prisoner gets an opportunity to rectify himself/herself and adjust to the free life of society. Initially, the whole process of rehabilitation was left to voluntary organizations and agencies.

In 1973, the Advisory Council on the Penal System in England suggested that the state should assume the responsibilities for all the aftercare services of prisoners. Now, rehabilitation is the responsibility of the state.

The experience of England has highlighted the issues that need to be addressed.

First, inmates should be chosen carefully; otherwise, notorious criminals may be released on parole and engage in repeat criminal activity.

Second, parole should be granted according to a very sound policy, which needs to be circulated among the people.

Parole in the USA

In the USA, parole has emerged from the earlier system of indenturing prisoners. Under this system, prisoners were handed over to employers for work. If the prisoners did not behave properly, they were returned to prison.

After some time, a few state officials became involved in supervising and guiding prisoners in rehabilitation. Many Prison Aid Societies came forward by the end of the eighteenth century to assist prisoners in rehabilitating them in society.

Different states began assuming similar functions by the 1840s.

The computation of the period of good time allowance entitled a prisoner to release from the institution, but they remained under the custody and supervision of the authority. This idea successfully evolved into the system of parole in England.

In 1869, the Elmira Reformatory in New York State first adopted parole.

The United States Board of Parole Research Unit worked extensively to formulate standard rules applicable to the entire United States. In 1977, the Parole Reforms Act was passed, introducing a uniform system of parole for the United States of America.

Organizations Relating to Parole

Parole organizations include several agencies: the Parole Board, the Parole Department, the Case Investigators, and the Parole Supervisors. The Parole Board consists of prison officials and members of civil society.

The members of the Parole Board carefully examine the prisoners and select who will be released on parole.

They perform quasi-judicial functions as they are making administrative decisions regarding the parole of prisoners. Paid staff from the Board or a State Parole Department may assist the Parole Board in selecting parolees.

The Parole Department staff collects information about inmates’ eligibility for parole consideration. Parole Investigators are responsible for preparing a case history of the prisoner and advising him/her in the rehabilitation process.

Parole Supervisors closely monitor the activities of parolees and report to parole authorities about the performance of the parolees.

All agencies related to parole work in coordination with each other. In most cases, parole officers are responsible for investigation and supervision.

Selection, Assessment, and Supervision of Parole

The selection procedure for parole is different from probation.

The court is the only authority to grant or revoke probation, whereas there is a parole board, commission, or panel to decide which prisoners will be released early on parole. Individual inmates must be assessed to determine whether they are eligible for parole.

After examining information about the inmates, the parole board decides who should be released on parole.

The parole board obtains information from different sources, which may include:

  1. Records of the offense.
  2. Inmate’s criminal history.
  3. Inmate’s conduct while in the penal institution.
  4. Results of any diagnostic tests and evaluations done concerning the inmate while incarcerated.
  5. Prior documentation available to the institution (pre-sentence investigation, probation records, etc.).
  6. Victim Impact Statement and/or protest information from the victim.
  7. Protest from trial officials.
  8. Information from the inmate regarding the suitability of release.

Based on this information, the board or parole department prepares a list of eligible inmates who might be released on parole. The parole board then interviews the listed inmates and grants or denies release on parole.

Parole officers supervise the inmates released on parole. An inmate receives a document stating the conditions of parole when he/she is granted parole.

Conditions of parole are, in many respects, similar to those of probation. The parole officer monitors how the parolee is adjusting to the community and evaluates his compliance with the conditions of parole.

By supervising the offender, the parole officer promotes public safety and guides the offender into a law-abiding lifestyle.

Many parolees have to stay in a halfway house, and there they begin post-incarceration supervision. In the halfway house, the parolees are given orientation, and gradually, more freedom and autonomy are granted to them. The parole officers also report any violations of the conditions of parole to the parole board.

Conditions of Parole

The conditions of parole are sometimes determined by law, sometimes by the parole board, and sometimes by other agencies. These conditions may include:

  1. Leading a law-abiding life.
  2. Abstaining from intoxicating liquors or drugs.
  3. Spending evenings at home.
  4. Restraining from gambling and other various habits.
  5. Supporting legal dependents.
  6. Remaining in a specified territory.
  7. Not changing residence or employment without permission.
  8. Not becoming dependent on charity.
  9. Making restitution for the crimes, etc.

General parole conditions can be stratified into two principal groups, namely, reform and control conditions. Reform conditions help a parolee to lead a lawful life, and because of control conditions, social workers help the offender fulfill the purpose of parole.

Complying with the laws, maintaining employment and supporting dependents, and refraining from the use of drugs are some examples of reform conditions.

Reporting to a parole officer upon release, cooperating with the parole officer, and getting permission to change employment or residence are some examples of the control conditions.

In the UK, according to the Criminal Justice Act of 1967, a parolee agrees to five conditions:

  1. He shall report to an officer indicated.
  2. He shall place himself under the supervision of an officer (Correctional Social Worker) nominated for this purpose.
  3. He shall keep in touch with his officer in accordance with the officer’s instructions.
  4. He shall inform his officer at once if he changes his address or loses his job.
  5. He shall be of good behavior and lead an industrious life.

Termination of Parole

A Handbook for Crime Victims developed by the American Probation and Parole Association has pointed out two different ways by which parole may be terminated, those are:

Expiration of Sentence: The period of parole supervision usually runs as long as the offender’s original calendar sentence or ends upon reaching a statutory date. Therefore, a parolee is discharged when this date is reached.

Revocation: If a parolee violates the conditions of his/her release, the parole officer informs a section of the parole department, at which time a decision is made whether or not to issue an arrest warrant for violation of parole. Once a warrant has been served and the parolee arrested, he/she is entitled to a hearing before a representative of the parole board (usually known as a hearing officer). Parole may be continued, or it may be revoked. If parole is revoked, the offender is returned to the custody of an institution. The parole cycle may not stop there; however, eventually, the revoked parolee will probably again become eligible for parole consideration.

Requirements of an Ideal Parole System

The purpose of parole is reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners before the completion of their sentence. Success requires both surveillance and assistance from the parolee. Only supervision or assistance is not enough; rather, a combination of both is required.

Excessive surveillance on the activities of the parolee may ensue negative consequences. The parolee may consider that s/he is not trustworthy and that the parole authority is policing him/her.

This realization may frustrate the purpose of parole. Proper supervision and guidance to the parolee will make the parole system successful.

Only assistance to the parolee without supervision may again generate negative results.

Residing in the free society (under supervision) cannot make a parolee adjust to the outside world.

The parole officer ought to ensure that the parolee makes the best use of the opportunity offered under the parole scheme.

When the authority paroles out a prisoner, they have to balance the parolee’s rehabilitation and the common people’s security. Common people’s security should be given priority, and the Parole Board should not do anything at the cost of the country’s interests.

An ideal system of parole needs to contain some necessary elements, without which the system cannot operate smoothly.

  1. First, a good combination of supervision and guidance can make the parole successful. This will accomplish the purpose of parole by rehabilitating the parolees in particular and benefiting society generally.
  2. Second, after selecting the prisoners, they should be prepared sufficiently for the time when he or she will be residing in the free society. A committee may be consigned to prepare the selected inmates.
  3. Third, the parolees should be provided with suitable employment. It will help them build confidence and become independent. Parolees are no longer a burden on society; they are now incoming members. The financial solvency, confidence, and independence of the parolee have tremendous utility as they generate positive results for society and the parolee and his family members.
  4. Fourth, parolees are rehabilitated in society with the aid of various social agencies. The parole authority should involve more social agencies and common people in the process of rehabilitation. It will make the process informal and yield good results.
  5. Fifth, Parole Boards should be kept beyond any political pressure and consideration. Fully professional, qualified, and impartial people must be the members of the Parole Board.
  6. Sixth, the parole officers should be selected carefully. People with qualifications, training, and commitment can only be recruited as parole officers. The success of parole largely depends on its officers who investigate and prepare case history and supervise and guide the parolees during the parole period.

Evaluation of Parole

When evaluating the parole system of the USA, Robert M. Bohm and Keith N. Haley mentioned the condition in the following language:

In 1987, the U. S. Justice Department released its findings from a six-year follow-up study of nearly 4,000 individuals between the ages of 17 and 22, who were paroled from prisons in 22 states in 1978. Over the six-year period, approximately 69 percent were rearrested, 53 percent were reconvicted, and 49 percent were returned to prison… Although the 1987 study is dated, current trends are similar.

Samuel Walker evaluated the parole system in the following language:

Despite the broad-based attack, parole continues to survive. This is not the first time it has weathered a major assault. David Rothman has found that parole was everyone’s favorite whipping boy in the 1920s as well. It survived because it serves the practical needs of prison officials, specifically their ability to manage prisoners.. .parole serves as a safety valve for the prison population.

Prisons have always been overcrowded, and parole has permitted some leeway in keeping the problem from getting completely out of hand.

Parole is an after-sentence correctional device that originated to give good inmates an opportunity to rehabilitate in society. However, available data indicates that parole is not always successful. It is very difficult to determine which inmates will again become lawful members of society.

Abolition of parole is no solution. Parole is a good system to reduce pressure on prison institutions. Most importantly, parole keeps a way open for offenders to return to normalcy.