NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Financial Bonds Could Reduce Parolee Crime

June 8, 2000

One out of fifty adults free on the streets today is a convicted criminal released on probation or parole. That's 4.1 million people "under government supervision," and a majority are convicted felons. Some 50,000 government bureaucrats supervise these probationers and parolees.

The probation and parole systems have many problems, especially the fact that many of those released commit loathsome crimes.

  • Criminals under government supervision commit 15 murders a day.
  • Nearly four out of 10 people arrested for a felony crime are already out on probation, parole or pretrial release from a prior conviction or arrest.
  • One in 10 probationers and parolees "abscond."

This year state and federal prisons will release 600,000 convicts, 38 percent more than in 1990. Most are released on parole or other supervision because they have not served their full sentence.

The probation and parole systems could be made more effective and efficient by enlisting the private sector. Here is one approach:

  • Those released on probation or released early from prison could be required to post a financial bond guaranteeing behavior in accord with terms of the release.
  • This would transfer the successful commercial principles of our bail system -- which allows most people who are arrested and charged with a crime to be released on bail pending trial -- to the probation and parole systems.
  • Bail operates on the principle that the accused can go free once he guarantees his presence in court on a certain date by posting a significant sum of money.
  • If he shows up, he gets his money back; if he doesn't, he suffers a major financial loss.

Harris county (Houston), Texas, operates a blended system of commercial bond posting and public supervision for pretrial releases with very good results, judging by a major drop in bench warrants issued for absconding. This amounts to partial privatization or contracting out an aspect of pretrial supervision to the private sector.

Source: Morgan Reynolds, "Privatizing Probation and Parole," Policy Study 233, June 2000, National Center for Policy Analysis.


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