Setting Parole Conditions to Achieve Public Safety

Understanding the Philosophy and Evidence
about Responding Most Effectively to Violations

The analysis of promising practices from a number of jurisdictions and research that forms the basis of evidence-based practices has helped to identify specific actions that appear to be significantly related to improved success rates for offenders under supervision. This research has helped to focus attention on the value of using particular risk-reduction and behavior modification strategies, rather than simply focusing on monitoring compliance with the terms of supervision. Overall, the new emphasis has been on finding ways to engage in supervision work that helps to prevent or avoid violations, while also finding effective ways of responding to violations that do occur, reserving options that involve incarceration for the most serious types of circumstances. Evidence-based literature has helped to identify key elements of violation response approaches that, if followed, appear to promote more successful offender outcomes. These key elements are:

Certainty
Future behavior is significantly influenced by the degree to which an individual believes their non-compliant behavior will be noticed.  When individuals believe that their non-compliant behavior will be identified, they are more likely to act in a compliant manner.  Therefore, all violations should be responded to in some manner. (See, e.g., Grasmack & Bryjak, 1980; Nichols & Ross, 1990; Paternoster, 1989).

Celerity
Reducing the time between the violation and the response to the violation is critical.  The closer in time the response occurs, the greater the impact it will have on the future behavior of the parolee.  (See, e.g., Rhine, 1993). 

Consistency
Similar responses to similar circumstances improves the likelihood that a person will comply with expectations.  The presence of policies, guidelines or decision making tools can help to promote or improve consistency (See, e.g., Paternoster, Brame, Bachman, & Sherman, 1997).

Neutrality
Processes that are perceived by others to be impartial, logical and fair yield increased adherence to rules.  When rules seem to be applied in an arbitrary fashion, or when there is no predictability to responses, then rules are followed less often (Tyler, 1990).

Parsimony
Punishment should not be more intrusive or restrictive than necessary to accomplish the objective (Tonry, 1996).

Proportionality
The level of punishment should be commensurate with the severity of the behavior or the circumstances of the offender (Von Hirsch, 1993).

Risk and Need-Driven
Use risk to reoffend as a key factor in determining the appropriate level of response; tailor responses to address the individual's unique criminogenic needs (Andrews and Bonta, 1998).

To help to meet these goals, many paroling authorities and supervision agencies have developed and implemented revised approaches to responding to violations (click here for examples of states' approaches to responding to violations).  These policies encourage the use of lower-level response options (e.g., increasing supervision contacts, reprimands, appropriate referrals) when low-level technical violations are present that do not appear to involve significant public safety concerns.  To assist with consistency in the application of these various sanctions, and to incorporate key policy considerations such as offender risk, several paroling authorities have developed a violation response tool that can be used to guide the use of violation response options.

Lessons from jurisdictions that have made these and other significant changes to their violation response systems suggest that there are a number of key elements that successful violations response strategies should include, such as:

Improved collaboration and information sharing with key criminal justice partners, community service providers, courts, and other critical entities to ensure consistency in the approach taken to the management of offenders in various programs or sanctions, to create new options or expand existing supervision and violation responses to behavior, and to improve the nature and quality of information that is shared between individuals and organizations involved in the management or provision of services to offenders.

< Background and Context Continued

Continued >