Monday, July 17, 2017

Life With Parole

Invisible Punishments Haunt Former Inmates:

Parolees may not live behind bars, but they are far from free. Their parole officers have enormous power to dictate whom they can see, where they can go, and whether they are allowed to do perfectly legal things like have a beer. Breaking those rules can land a parolee back in jail — the decision is up to the parole officer.

Addiction is only one of the many challenges faced by those getting out. As prison populations drop, the number of parolees is increasing — people with layer upon layer of disadvantages that often date back to early childhood. For more than a year, “Frontline” and The New York Times followed newly released prisoners as they tried to find homes and jobs, reconnect with loved ones and avoid temptation, sometimes discovering that the system created to help them can also hold them back.

One of them could not buy his daughter the Christmas present she wanted because the halfway house controlled his spending; another, living in her own apartment, was told her boyfriend could not spend the night. For their part, parole officers were making difficult calls about the best interests of their charges, while navigating safety rules such as the one that affected Mr. Brantley: no contact between parolees and their past victims.
Which oftentimes includes family members and significant others...the very people who offer the only semblance of a support system for the inmates when they are paroled from prison.

 But the domestic violence concerns are real and valid.
“Flip this on the side,” Richard Sparaco, the executive director of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, said about keeping the couple apart. “Who would be at fault here if no one paid attention and all of a sudden that victim was murdered by that person? It would be: ‘Parole, they knew about this and they did not protect this person.’”
And of course, all it takes is one case gone wrong, that gets sensationalized by the media, and pretty soon we're dropping even more draconian restrictions on probation or parole.

The Frontline documentary airs tomorrow night (7/18) and is already streaming online via the Frontline website. I've only watched a few minutes of it, but I can already predict it will become a staple of my 3150 punishment class going forward.

Most of the criminal justice reform rhetoric today, as I've said countless times on this blog, focuses on (rightly) getting people out of prison and jail. But if all we're doing is stuffing probation and parole to the gills, with overworked parole and probation officers carrying caseloads of 50, 150 or even 300 cases at a time, we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Reentry has to become more holistic and address the issues central to criminality (lack of jobs, drug treatment, education, etc.). And using probation and parole without addressing these issues is a dishonest shell game that only serves to cover up the fact that we simply punish too many people, for too many crimes of inconsequence, in the United States.

Punitiveness has a price tag, and the 5 million people rotating in and out of probation and parole at any given time are the collateral damage.

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