No Life Is Beyond Redemption
When a crime is committed, it tears the fabric of society and breaches community trust.
For true justice to be dealt, restoration must be considered—for the person who committed the crime, the victim of the crime where possible, and society. Justice that restores holds people accountable while protecting the community.
But too often, the punishment administered is disproportional rather than restorative. The result? People leave prison unchanged, and hurting communities experience even more crime.
WHAT IS PAROLE?
Parole offers eligible men and women behind bars an opportunity to be released from incarceration to community supervision and can help align the goals of punishment to include a focus on cultivating rehabilitation. Parole determinations focus on rehabilitative progress beginning on or after the earliest release eligibility date set by the sentencing judge. When a release to parole is granted, conditions are imposed that generally include reporting to a parole officer, staying at the same address, submitting to urinalysis and blood tests, and obeying all state and local laws. Those who fail to comply with the conditions of release face the consequence of returning to prison to finish their sentence, or in some cases, serve a new sentence.
Parole has been a fixture of the United States criminal justice system since the mid-19th century. Every state in the U.S. had some form of parole, earned time credits, or good time credits. But in the 1980s and early 1990s, things changed. A push began for harsher sentencing guidelines. As a result, several states and the federal government outright abolished parole. And virtually every jurisdiction reduced the frequency of parole and other release incentive programs.
The consequences were overcrowded prisons; a 199% increase of people released from prison to a community without supervision; and an increase in recidivism. In Alabama, even where parole is still possible, the parole board drastically reduced hearings for parole-eligible prisoners in recent years. The backlog, which kept even low-risk prisoners from accessing parole, contributed to dangerous prison overcrowding.
Today, 600,000 formerly incarcerated people return to society every year. Within three years, 2 out of 3 will be rearrested.
THE LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF PAROLE AND CREDIT POLICIES
Research now shows that those released to parole supervision have lower recidivism rates than those who complete their sentence in prison. In one state, prisoners who were released under supervision were 36% less likely to be reincarcerated than their peers who served out their full sentences and had no supervision after release.
At Prison Fellowship®, we also have seen how in-prison programming, aligned to individual risks and needs and incentivized by parole and credit policies, can contribute to:
- Safer and more constructive prison environments.
- Lower recidivism rates.
- Higher employment attainment post-release.
- Overall cost savings to the correctional agency.
In contrast, lack of parole or other release incentive opportunities can contribute to an increase in prison misconduct and may decrease the likelihiood that incarcerated men and women will take advantage of programming that better prepares them for release.
PRISON FELLOWSHIP'S POSITION
We believe that when someone is convicted of a crime, a just penalty should take into account the nature of the offense and the extent of harm caused. Alternatives to incarceration should be prioritized. The use of imprisonment should be limited to instances where proportionality and safety concerns require incarceration.
But if incarceration is required, we believe one thing is clear: an indeterminate sentence that offers parole, earned time credits, and good time credits in a complementary manner is the best option. Such a sentence serves the punitive goals of incarceration while at the same time cultivates rehabilitation. Prisoners who serve an indeterminate sentence with these incentives are given the tools they need to change, make amends, and earn back their community's trust.
We believe that at sentencing, clear communication should be made with the victims regarding the defendant's earliest possible release date, and victims should also be notification of parole hearings and when the release date approaches.
HOW CAN PAROLE AND CREDIT POLICIES REDUCE RECIDIVISM?
So how can we ensure that parole and credit policies effectively reduce recidivism?
EMPOWER CREDIT POLICIES
Making parole available alongside the opportunity to gain earned and good time credits creates a complementary structure that helps incentivize good behavior.
And earned time credit should be made equally available for a wide variety of programs and activities, including faith-based programs like Prison Fellowship Academy®. The Academy uses targeted curriculum, compassionate coaches, and restorative community to replace participants’ criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles. Graduates complete the year-long program as change agents and good citizens inside and outside of prison.
STRENGTHEN PAROLE POLICY
- Parole boards should include members of the community at large, as well as corrections professionals, victims, and people who have successfully reintegrated after incarceration.
- Determinations of release should focus on evaluation of rehabilitative progress and character development, and eligibility for parole shouldn’t be constrained based on offense type or classification.
- When parole boards deny a prisoner release, they should provide the incarcerated person with a written decision documenting the reason for the denial and expected steps for remediation.
OFFER REENTRY SUPPORT
All persons released through parole and credit programs should receive supervision and support during their initial reentry. Conditions for supervision should be narrowly tailored to the unique risks and needs of the individual. They should also track metrics of success.
NO LIFE IS BEYOND REDEMPTION
By making parole, earned time, and good time credits available this way, our criminal justice system can ensure proportional punishment is served while also offering a pathway to redemption that requires active and intentional effort by the incarcerated person.
And when incarcerated people can take an active role in their rehabilitation, we see more restorative outcomes for all. There is greater victim satisfaction, more constructive prison culture, and increased public safety benefits. Prison overcrowding and the taxpayers' burden are reduced.
When a restorative approach to justice is put into action, we see that no life is beyond redemption.
WATCH: THE JUSTICE CHRONICLES
Pastor Jon Kelly of Chicago is a shining example of why parole should be utilized more.
"I feel like what happened to me was a process of restoration and redemption, albeit flawed and broken along the way, tripping along the way," Jon says. "And it wasn’t simply the parole board; it was a collective effort of the church, of my employers, of my family and community… of people around me providing opportunities for me and me taking advantage of them by God's grace."
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