UPDATE: Cutting Back on the Strings Attached to ParoleJanuary 26th, 2009 by josh farley
There are four times as many Americans — 780,000 — on parole in the U.S. now than in 1980, according to the Urban Institute.
That increasing load is not a positive statistic by any stretch, but in these financially perilous times, it’s even worse. Thus, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the State Legislature have both come up with plans to cut out parole funding, leaving it for the most violent criminals or the most likely to re-offend.
Lawmakers are looking at a plan that would put offenders deemed “moderate risks” to re-offend back on the street after prison time with little or no supervision by corrections’ officials. On Monday, Senate Bill 5288 was sent to the Senate Rules Committee for discussion.
Eldon Vail, Department of Corrections’ secretary, is quoted in a Sunday Seattle Post-Intelligencer story saying it comes down to this:
“We have to either incarcerate less people or supervise less people, and by reducing the supervision of those offenders who score out at a low or moderate risk to reoffend, we’re cutting out caseload,” Vale said.
Of course, the state has to weigh the risks of such a plan. Veil’s answer?
“Does it present zero risk to the public? That’s not a question anyone can answer,” said Vale.
Russell Hauge, Kitsap County Prosecutor, wrote me today in an email after I asked him about what this concept could mean.
Hauge said that if well funded, the Department of Corrections could and should monitor these convicts.
“However, these low-risk categories of offender receive little or no supervision under current practices,” Hauge said. “That is not the fault of DOC or its personnel–it’s that the Department has never been given enough to do its job.”
Hauge says the cuts would, at least, bring corrections more toward a concept he calls “truth in sentencing.” For too long, he’s argued previously, the general public is led to believe if a judge doles out a five year prison term, for instance, they serve all five years. In actuality, they’re given up to 50 percent off the sentence for good behavior in many cases, such as non-violent property crimes.
In this case, the cuts mean more honesty as well — there may be laws on the books about monitoring low-risk offenders, but it rarely happens, Hauge said.
“I see (the cuts) as a step toward more truth in sentencing,” he said. “If this bill passes, we will not be lead to expect that orders to serve community custody will actually be enforced.”
For more about this topic, I recommend reading the Urban Institute’s public paper entitled, “Putting Public Safety First: 13 Parole Supervision Strategies to Enhance Reentry Outcomes.” I was happy to see reporter Madelyn Fairbanks included it in the P-I’s story.