NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bouncing Between Prison And Parole

November 29, 2000

Putting more people in prison means that eventually there will be more ex-cons on parole. Criminologists report that more and more parolees are being re-arrested and sent back to prison.

Many former inmates being locked up again were sent back not for committing new crimes, but for technical violations of the terms of their parole -- such as failing a drug test or missing appointments with parole agents.

California's experiences in this area more or less describe what is happening throughout the nation.

  • Four out of five former inmates returned to prison in California -- the state with the largest prison population -- were sent back for parole violations.
  • Some 68 percent of people admitted to California's prisons last year were parolees -- up from only 21 percent as recently as 1980.
  • Studies have shown that without such a high rate of return of parolees, California's prison population would have declined, not grown, as crime dropped in the 1990s.
  • The California State Legislative Analyst's Office reported last year that 85 percent of released prisoners are drug or alcohol abusers, 70 percent to 80 percent are still jobless after a year, 50 percent are illiterate and 10 percent are homeless.

Nationally, 82 percent of people on parole who are returned to prison are drug or alcohol abusers, 40 percent are unemployed, about 75 percent have not completed high school and 19 percent are homeless, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Experts say that getting tough on criminals has contributed greatly to the reduction in crime. But it should be kept in mind that 98 percent of those who are locked up will be returned to the streets one day.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Often, Parole Is One Stop on Way Back to Prison," New York Times, November 29, 2000.


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