Parole is a system whereby prisoners are granted conditional release after serving a certain length of sentence. This system was introduced in the American criminal justice system to decongest prisons and with the hope that it would reduce costs of having a large population of prisoners. With a prisoner population of more than 2.1 million as at 2005, American prisons (state and federal) registered an increase of about 600,000 prisoners as from 1995 (Merlo, p. 675). The capacity of the prisons was less than the prisoners and the state of overcrowding in prisons made many prisoners be release before they completed their full term (after serving approximately 51% of their terms as of 2002 estimates). For instance, state prisons had an average capacity of 107% in 2005 whereas federal prisons functioned at a capacity of 134%. This would lead to early release of dangerous criminals who would almost predictably recede to crime. Other than the problem of failure to complete jail term, overcrowding in prisons called for the building of more prisoners to accommodate the large number of prisoners and this translated to heavy costs to the economy. Instead of incurring billions of money to increase prison capacity, alternative solutions to prison overcrowding had to be applied and parole was among them. Parole is an effective means of criminal justice in American prisons since it saves tax payers money.
The cost efficiency of parole is undoubtedly present as it saves money that would otherwise have been used in administrative process if the prisoner is incarcerated. As of 2001, it was estimated that the cost incurred in maintaining a state inmate was approximately $22,650 thus totaling $28.4 billion required for the upkeep of all state prisoners. This was equivalent to a contribution of $100 for every American resident. These expenses were incurred in paying salaries and benefits, food service and medical care among others (Merlo, 678). It is unfortunate that the cost burden is borne by taxpayers when inmates are not granted parole whereas parole would offer an opportunity for prisoners to bear much of their costs.
Other than the positive contributions attained by the prisons, the society also get a good chance to benefit from the paroled prisoners. While under parole program, prisoners make positive economic contribution to the society. With an approximate 45,000 federal parole prisoners, the government is able to collect an estimated $10,000 in form of taxes per prisoner totaling the federal revenue to $450 million per year. An additional benefit of parole is that paroled prisoners go back into the workforce at an early age hence they get a chance to contribute to the Social Security which they later benefit from. Such an advantage would be inexistent if prisoners are made to remain in prison and their release comes after they have attained retirement age. Such prisoners would benefit from the Social Security fund yet they contributed very little if any and the tax payers would therefore remain overburdened (Austin, p. 47).
Parole is not the only means of solving the problem of overcrowding in the U.S. prisons. For persons who have committed less serious crimes or persons whose past are clean of criminal activities, probation can be offered instead of parole. In this case, the convict does not have to be incarcerated for any period as is the case with parole and instead the individual serves the out-of prison term from the beginning. Intermediate sanctions are also used to decongest prisons where the individual is allowed to be in the society but with restricted freedoms. The truth-in-sentencing can also be an effective alternative to parole although it is only slightly different from parole. At least the cost associated with overcrowding is reduced in truth-in sentencing since the prisoner does not serve a full term but for a substantially long period for violent offenders (Gottfredson, Mitchell-Herzfeld & Flanagan, p. 292).
The rate of recidivism in parole has been cited to be high such that almost 50 percent of the parolees go back to prison later – within three years post-release (
Gottfredson, Mitchell-Herzfeld & Flanagan, p. 278). This may be viewed as a major weakness in the parole system thus calling for its abolishment. While abolishment of parole and letting offenders serve full time in prison may appear as a good option, states ought to consider the cost benefits and look for ways of reducing recidivism. Serving full time does not completely deter recidivism and thus it is not obvious that abolishing parole would lead to reduced crime. Most states face budget deficits in financing incarcerations with a total of $78 billion deficit having been faced by states in FY 2004. It is observed that the costs of incarcerating criminals charged with drug-related crimes as well as property offenders would continue to rise due to the high frequency of these crimes (constitutes about 90% of all crimes). Incarcerating this group of offenders cost about $426 billion which could be channeled into preventive measures or into incapacitation (Merlo, p. 676).
Instead of states abolishing parole on grounds of failure to prevent recidivism, states can gear their efforts in helping parolees integrate into the society. This can be done by providing employment opportunities as well as providing intervention programs that would help parolees change their lives for the better. This would reduce the chances of the parolees going back into criminal activities while at the same time increasing economic contribution of the parolees. It has been identified that when paroles are given economic and social support, their chances of being incarcerated are reduced significantly. Although it is better for states to maintain parole instead of full-term incarceration, there is need to consider the type of crime (Piehl, p. 57). Full-term incarceration of low risk offenders is bound to result into diminishing returns very fast as compared to incarcerating violent offenders.
Despite parole bearing a lot of economic benefits to prisons, the government and the taxpayers, it is unfortunate that parole was abolished by the federal system in 1995. It is however not necessarily a violation of constitutional rights of the individual though the ex post facto Clause is often viewed as the most likely violation of the constitution if parole is abolished (Rhine & Paparozzi, p. 50).
In conclusion, parole is an effective way of decongesting prisons and saving the costs associated with overcrowded prisons. These include administrative costs of incarceration, costs of care for the prisoners, as well as costs of building new prisoners as a decongesting measure. Parole not only leads to reduced costs on the part of the prisons and the government but the taxpayer is also relived off the cost of keeping inmates in prisons. The parolee can be corrected outside jail while still contributing positively to the economy. Despite the parole system being deficient in reducing recidivism, states should continue with the system but address the various failures of parole. This would be better that letting offenders to serve full term sentence. In any case, abolishing parole would constitute a violation of human rights as per the human rights bill of the U.S. constitution. Parole is no doubt working in saving money and it is not a way of flushing the prison system and spending government money.
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