Parole reform should include jail expenses

Proposed changes to the state’s parole system aren’t a bad idea as long as state legislators remember a couple of things.

Legislators want to shift the parole system’s emphasis from technical violations to a series of incentives to reward good behavior. The legislation, as written, would prohibit certain minor parole violations from being used to send people back to prison and, instead, create a series of incentives that would shorten parole if a parolee makes progress reintegrating into society.

Earlier this year, researchers at Columbia examined parole rules in New York and other states and found many cases in which minor infractions, such as showing up late to a meeting with a parole officer, can lead to serious consequences and even reimprisonment. The report recommended shifting the focus of parole from punishment to incentives to reduce recividism and help former inmates rebuild their lives once they are released. Reducing the number of people sent back to prison could allow the state to refocus staff and correctional resources to work with prisoners who are the most likely to reoffend.

Technical parole violators often don’t break any laws. It would make sense to keep technical parole violators out of jail. That is a fine goal, provided the changes don’t put the public at risk.

It is also time for the state to take a hard look at the way technical violators are housed. Currently in many counties, technical parole violators who haven’t broken a single law within that county’s borders are housed in the county jail at local expense, until the state takes the parole violator back into state custody — which sometimes takes weeks. Ideally, reforming the parole system would reduce the number of technical parole violators entering county jails simply by reducing the number of technical violations of parole.

If the state is going to make major changes to the parole system, it should also remove the burden for housing technical parole violators from local jails.

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