Setting Parole Conditions to Achieve Public Safety

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

Understanding the Research

New research is providing lessons about how the criminal justice system in the United States can reduce recidivism, prevent crime and victimization, and better utilize precious public resources.  This research, in brief, concludes that targeted treatment and supervision can be instrumental in changing offender behavior and reducing risk and recidivism; but that the "right" intervention must be directed to the "right" offender—at a time and at an intensity tailored to have the greatest impact (Andrews 2007; Andrews and Bonta 2007; Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006; Andrews and Dowden 2007; Andrews, Dowden, and Gendreau 1999; Bonta 2007; Dowden 1998; Gendreau, Goggin, and Little 1996; Lipsey and Cullen 2007). Another fundamental principle of this new body of knowledge is that all components of the justice system can benefit from working collaboratively to target new, more effective solutions to the offenders for whom they share responsibility.  Paroling authorities, in particular, are well and uniquely 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.  

Why Focus on Medium and High Risk Offenders?

Matching Intensity of Intervention to Risk Level Reduces Recidivism

Research demonstrates that the likelihood of reoffense can be diminished if the level of intervention (defined as both monitor­ing and treatment) is matched to the assessed level of risk.  This is commonly referred to as the "risk principle" (Andrews 2007; Andrews and Bonta 2007; Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006; Andrews and Dowden 2007; Andrews, Dowden, and Gendreau 1999; Bonta 2007; Dowden 1998; Gendreau, Goggin, and Little 1996; Lipsey and Cullen 2007).  Research further demonstrates that the best outcomes with the low-risk population are achieved by low levels of intervention; in fact, some research demonstrates that an over­reliance on supervision or the delivery of intense treatment services to the low-risk population can actually increase their likelihood of reoffending (Andrews and Bonta 2007; Cullen and Gendreau 2000; Gendreau et al. 2001; Lowenkamp, Latessa, and Holsinger 2006).

Policy and Practice Implications for Paroling Authorities

  • Provide high-intensity services to high-risk offenders and less to moderate-risk offenders.
  • Provide minimal intervention to the low-risk population.
  • Engage in collaborative discussions with stakeholders who are responsible for provid­ing services to inmates and parolees (e.g., corrections agency staff, service providers) to develop an agreement to prioritize and target treatment services to moderate- and high-risk offenders.

Source:  Carter, Madeline (2011).  Evidence-Based Policy, Practice, and Decisionmaking:  Implications for Paroling Authorities,, last accessed September 6, 2013.

In essence, the criminal justice system is continuing to move from a primary strategy of custody and control—with major goals focused on punishment, incapacitation, and deterrence—to one that includes deliberate efforts to change offender behavior to reduce their risk.  These efforts are focused on changing an offender's inclination to commit crimes in the future and, if successful, promise greater long-term impacts on community safety.  This is not to say that custody and control—particularly, maintaining safe and secure correctional systems—are less important.  Rather, they are now viewed as being on par with a new emphasis on risk reduction.  At the same time, there is a recognition that, for the long-term protection of the community, sentencing and corrections should be using the lessons of research to shape practices that reduce offenders' likelihood of committing crimes and victimizing their fellow citizens in the future.  In light of the harsh fiscal realities of the day, both goals must be pursued through the wise and efficient use of public resources.

Potential Impacts of Release Decisionmaking

Paroling authorities typically exercise their decisionmaking responsibilities at critical "pressure points," including the decision to grant parole release.  It may be appropriate to conceive of Parole Boards' authority in this matter as one that guides the timing and conditions of release rather than to release or not to release.  This is the case because, even if a Board declines to parole, every offender, unless he/she has a sentence of life without parole, will be released from prison at some point at the end of their sentence or at a mandatory release date.  If parole Boards do decide to grant parole, however, this can potentially:

These are precisely the opportunities that many paroling authorities around the nation have before them. For parole to take advantage of these opportunities, however, a number of critical ingredients are necessary, including:  the availability of good assessment and other decisionmaking tools, the availability of effective correctional and community programs, and the willingness of key partners—institutional corrections and community supervision—to collaborate on individual cases.

Another key choice that Parole Boards can make is whether to engage in this targeting effort in the context of decisions about individual cases, or whether to expand that targeting effort to working with system partners to influence and encourage the development and targeting of resources on a system-wide basis, through collaborative partnerships to agree on targeting strategies, encourage the development of such resources, and track progress over time.  A companion Action GuideThe Importance of Developing Meaningful Partnerships,provides helpful information and tools for Boards who wish to focus on strategies to encourage partnerships—important vehicles for system-wide targeting of resources.

An important dimension of this aspect of parole decisionmaking is the procedural "timing" of parole consideration.  Paroling authorities can further leverage the impact of their release decisionmaking by considering how their own procedures, and the timing of parole consideration, can affect the substantive outcomes of their work. For most offenders who may someday be eligible for parole, eligibility comes at a particular point in time—after some percentage of a sentence has been served or after some mandatory minimum has expired.  Offenders cannot be released before that date, and can be released at any time after that date, with the granting of parole by the paroling authority.

Data also suggest that early scheduling of consideration for parole may, itself, serve as an incentive for offenders to "cooperate" in preparations that could lead to parole. In Wyoming, where 40 percent of parole-eligible inmates waive parole consideration, a study of those inmates indicated that the less time remaining on an inmate's sentence, the more likely the inmate was to waive a parole hearing in favor of finishing his or her sentence in prison.  In 2008, in an effort to entice more inmates to parole and reduce minor infraction threshold revocations, the Board implemented legislative action that enables awards of good time credits to parolees and imposes intermediate interventions.  

Source:  Study of Wyoming Parole Revocations 2005-2009: Produced for the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Justice Research and Statistics Association Multi-State Study,, last accessed September 19, 2013.

Over the years, and across states, different approaches to the timing of parole consideration have been used.  The pressures of growing prison populations have encouraged states to ensure that parole consideration occurs just before or just after an eligibility date, so that if the decision is made to parole an offender, release can take place as quickly as possible.  Some states have taken to scheduling parole considerations months prior to eligibility to allow for planning and so as not to delay release.

Paroling authorities, however, now operate in a "reentry context" where the conventional wisdom is that planning for reentry should begin at admission to prison—or even before sentencing.  By scheduling parole consideration early in the period of incarceration, paroling authorities can participate more strategically in the management of individual cases and the system as a whole.  Armed with good assessments, the paroling authority can focus early on medium- and high-risk offenders, setting expectations for what programs they should complete to address their risk to reoffend.  Setting and clearly communicating these expectations allows the offender, institutional case managers, and program staff to understand the incentive offered by favorable parole consideration.  This can also allow more time for moving offenders to appropriate housing for participation in those programs the paroling authority considers essential for a particular individual.

Clearly, while such an approach would have impact upon individual cases and how a Parole Board might make their decision, it will be important to address the systemic changes that would need to be made, and would allow for what might call a "systemic approach to targeting of resources."

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