Are hair-trigger parole systems being reformed effectively?

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Sentence and Punishment on Monday, January 7, 2013

When it comes to holding individuals accountable for illegal behavior, the criminal justice system tends to dig its heels in too far and for too long. In addition to requiring any accused individual to mount an extensive criminal defense, those who are convicted may be fined, incarcerated and/or required to submit to alternative sentences. Finally, many individuals are also placed on parole or probation during which even unintentional technical violations of their parole or probation terms can lead to severe consequences.

While it is understandable that a goal of the criminal justice system is accountability for illegal behavior, some widespread policies neither do convicted persons or society much good. For example, it may make sense to incarcerate someone for a time based on the nature of their crime. However, mandatory minimum sentences can lead to prison terms which are grossly disproportionate to an individual’s crime.

In addition, hair-trigger parole and probation systems that result in severe consequences for minor terms violations can also produce disproportionate punishments which may devastate individuals, families and the employers of those affected. Thankfully, many of these hair-trigger systems are being reformed to more logically reflect the ultimate goals of the parole and probation systems.

However, reform of these systems is occurring too slowly and not effectively enough in general. While many states are aiming to target the most high-risk parolees, other systems continue to lock up individuals for minor and largely unpreventable parole violations.

Those sentenced to parole and probation often benefit from rehabilitation programs and other community support systems. Rather than lock up minor terms violators, states need to continue to reform their hair-trigger policies and provide necessary support for those offenders seeking to adhere to the terms of their release.

Source: New York Times, “Keeping Parolees Out of Prison,” Dec. 28, 2012