Setting Parole Conditions to Achieve Public Safety

Background and Context

Traditional Approach to Release Decisionmaking

Parole Boards with significant release decisionmaking authority typically place a heavy emphasis on voting on individual cases.  Statutory language guides many Boards regarding the factors to be considered, often including items such the severity of the crime, the likelihood that an offender can remain crime-free if released, and requirements for an approved residence if release were to be granted.  Some Boards have Developed release guidelines—advisory in nature—which specify in more detail the factors to be considered, perhaps even the amount of time a typical offender with a specific combination of factors might have served in the past, and other considerations, such as the presence or absence of institutional misconduct.  Given the rules of a specific Board, decisions are made as a result of a certain number of votes by individual Board members, or hearing examiners.  The result is, for the most part, practice that is very case specific, is driven by the voting discretion of individual Board members, and that relies, in very general ways, on the effectiveness of individual professional judgment.

Given the emerging research on "evidence-based practice" and a focus on the significant numbers of offenders reentering from prison to the community, Parole Boards are becoming more active in using some of the practices emerging from that research in an attempt to reduce the risk of recidivism.  These practices include the use of empirically based assessments of risk and needs and attempts to link offenders with correctional programming that would reduce their risk of re-offense.

An Evolving Role for Parole in a Criminal Justice System Moving Toward Evidence-Based Practice

Paroling authorities are well positioned to assist the criminal justice system to target its resources toward risk reduction and recidivism reduction goals and to make significant impacts on community safety.  By building on their unique role and broad discretion, Parole Boards can significantly strengthen system-wide efforts to be more effective in supporting community safety and the wise use of resources.  Other Action Guides in this series address, in more detail, strategies for Parole Boards to consider in strengthening their partnerships with other stakeholders around targeting.  The Guides also advise on other aspects of good parole practice, including the use of empirically based risk and need assessments, the role of condition setting, and responding to parole violations as part of this larger targeting strategy.  This action guide will focus on how the basic role of parole in release decisionmaking can be strengthened to support a system-wide, strategic approach to targeting resources for community safety.

< Goals of this Guide, and How to Use It

Understanding the Evidence and Its Implications
for Parole's Role in Targeting of Resources