Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Modernizing Parole Statutes: Guidance from Evidence-Based Practice

Modernizing Parole Statutes: Guidance from Evidence-Based Practice

August 3, 2018

Modernizing Parole Statutes: Guidance from Evidence-Based Practice

Suggested Citation: Catherine C. McVey, Edward E. Rhine, and Carl V. Reynolds, Robina Inst. of Crim. Law & Crim. Just., Modernizing Parole Statutes: Guidance from Evidence-Based Practice (2018).

Nearly one million people are released or supervised under conditions established by state paroling authorities each year. The appointed members of those paroling authorities determine whether and when individuals are released from prison, how they are supervised post-release, and the punishment (including reincarceration) they may face for violating the conditions of their supervision. The power over an individual’s liberty exercised by paroling authorities is vast, in some respects as much as sitting felony sentencing judges, more in some jurisdictions. How paroling authorities carry out their responsibilities matters to those sentenced, their families and their victims at the individual case level, as well as in the aggregate through the collective impact these decisions have on the key goals of managing criminal justice system costs, reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.

Research has grown on what works relative to evidence-based practice. Paroling authorities are increasingly working to apply this research to the policies and tools driving the parole release and supervision function. Their efforts have been supported and nurtured by such organizations as the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the National Parole Resource Center (NPRC), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. Although states have made considerable progress in incorporating evidence-based practices in parole board decision making, many paroling authorities still operate under state laws that have not been amended in decades. Paroling authorities often find their new practices require that the statutory requirements need to be modernized, either because they directly conflict with evidence-based practices, or they do not support efforts to ensure parole decisions and supervision practices are rooted in what the research says works.

This paper offers broadly crafted recommendations for legislation to serve as a starting place for those states and paroling authorities interested in modernizing parole laws around three core areas: the parole decision-making process, the terms and conditions of supervision post-release, and the administration of the paroling authority itself. The proposals are designed to support the continuing transition of paroling authorities to effective, evidence-based organizations. In several instances, sound or best practices formed the basis of the recommendations in this paper, drawing from published works and advocacy efforts undertaken by organizations committed to parole reform.