NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Are Abolishing Parole

January 13, 1999

Fifteen states have abolished their parole boards -- thus confining criminals until they have served their sentences. Some criminologists say parole boards are a failure. Others contend that there is no statistical evidence that ending release programs reduces crime.

The movement to abolish parole began in the late 1970s after studies suggested that rehabilitative efforts in prison and early release on parole for good conduct had no measurable effect on reducing repeat offenses.

However, keeping criminals in prison without chance of parole increases prison costs -- and some experts suggest that less serious criminals be sentenced to shorter terms, thus freeing up space for serious offenders.

Parole consists of two parts: parole boards with the authority to decide when to release prisoners, and parole officers supervise convicts after their release. The failure rate of parolees may partly depend on the number of parole officers and the effectiveness of transition programs, say experts. Thus, having more parole officers may lead to uncovering more violations and sending more parolees back to prison.

  • In California, 80 percent of parolees fail to complete parole successfully.
  • In 1997, 57 percent of people entering California's prisons were parole violators, not criminals convicted of new crimes, according to criminologist Joan Petersilia of the University of California at Davis.
  • But in New York state, only 20 to 25 percent of those sent to prison are parole violators, according to Katie Lapp, the state's chief criminal justice official.

States that have eliminated their parole boards are Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington. And New York Gov. George Pataki has proposed making that state the 16th. The federal prison system has also eliminated parole boards.

However, three other states (Connecticut, Colorado and Florida) have reinstituted parole boards after eliminating them.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Eliminating Parole Boards Isn't a Cure- All, Experts Say," New York Times, January 10, 1999.


Browse more articles on Government Issues