Two new reports from Columbia University are raising questions about New York’s probation and parole system and offering suggestions for making it more effective.
The publications issued Monday were written by corrections experts from around the nation. They examine how inmates are often sent back to jail for technical violations of their parole, such as missing curfew or a meeting with a parole officer.
One of the reports takes a national look at how insufficient funding hurts the effectiveness of parole, while the other examines the situation in New York. It finds that despite success in reducing overall prison populations, the number of inmates re-incarcerated for parole violations is increasing.
The reports recommend shifting the focus of parole from punishment to incentives that help parolees reintegrate into society. One idea tried in other states: Reduce the length of post-release supervision for parolees who show progress, while devoting extra resources to those who are struggling. Another proposal would prohibit re-incarceration for technical violations, though it would remain an option for parolees who commit another crime.
“Everything we know about human behavior tells us that folks need incentives,” said Columbia researcher Vincent Schiraldi, the lead author of the two papers and a former top corrections official in New York City and Washington D.C.
State and city officials have said they want to reduce the prison population, and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has plans to close Rikers Island. But those efforts are being undermined by the parole system, said Gabriel Sayegh, a prison reform advocate and co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice.
“We are still stuck, in terms of our policies, in the framework that was set up at a ‘tough on crime’ moment,” he said.