Parole refers to the conditional release of prisoners into the community before the expiration of their sentence. The parole and probation laws within a country have a strong impact on that country’s prison population, and they are often criticized as being unduly sentencing related too much to actual “punishment” (Reitz & Rhine, 2020). Some jurisdictions call this type of early release “judicial parole,” which is done after conviction by a court of law or other designated tribunal, such as for serious violent crimes in a country with release at about half-time served (Reitz & Rhine, 2020). The modern parole system was developed in Canada and the United States during the 1870s (Reitz & Rhine, 2020). Since the adoption of the parole system, its effects have been observed to be both positive and negative to some extent. It is nonetheless an alternative to life imprisonment, which has been shown to be a more cost-effective and expedient option. The positive impacts of parole in U.S, have contributed to its popularity where it is slowly gaining recognition and becoming more accepted as an approach to managing offenders (Reitz & Rhine, 2020). However, the associated negative effects are causing contradictory views which hence indicate the need for improvement. The parole system has come to be characterized by a growing concern for public safety, especially in the United States. As the number of people who are released from prison increases, there is growing debate about released prisoners attempting to re-offend and what this means for corrections policy. The widespread and increasingly popular belief that parole officers are unable to contribute meaningfully towards public safety has generated a backlash against parole and the crime control policies that surround it (Reitz & Rhine, 2020).
A common misconception is that parole is a “get-out-of-jail-free” card; however, it is not. While on parole, an individual is expected to obey all laws and all of the conditions of the parole can be enforced with sanctions or incarceration if violated (Bartels, Fitzgerald& Freiberg, 2018). Studies have shown that people who are in prison for serious felony crimes tend to offend again within three years upon release. This statistic shows us that there may be some people who simply cannot be rehabilitated while in prison; therefore, they must serve their entire sentence behind bars; they will certainly offend again after release if not incarcerated (Bartels, Fitzgerald& Freiberg, 2018). However, parole allows these individuals to be released from prison sooner than the originally intended (Bartels, Fitzgerald& Freiberg, 2018). It allows for this to be more effectively done, as not all individuals can be rehabilitated despite being kept in custody over their crimes for their entire sentence. The problem with not being able to participate in society once a person has served their sentence is that they may resort back to crime and stop working towards rehabilitation. Parole allows individuals to become productive members of society and encourages reformation. In addition, although people who have committed serious felonies tend to offend after release while on parole; this still does not mean that all serious felons cannot be rehabilitated while on parole.
Lack of adequate time for parole consideration is hurting the corrections system; therefore, indicating that indeterminate sentencing should be abolished (Dagan & Roberts, 2019). Supportive evidence of this position is that there are few incentives to prison rehabilitation, and the limited amount of resources in prisons. This more permanent sentencing has a negative impact on inmates, families, and communities by causing people to be released without a job or stable living environment. Furthermore, without an indeterminate sentence, prisoners would have more incentive to participate in programs and work towards rehabilitation because they would want to get out early instead of being incarcerated for life. Studies have shown that indeterminate sentencing undermines prison rehabilitative efforts as it limits the amount of resources available for inmate support. However, other findings support that parole does not reduce recidivism but rather does just the opposite of what is intended in order to rehabilitate criminals (Dagan & Roberts, 2019). Also, in 2005, there were approximately 1,300 murders committed by individuals while they were out on parole (Dagan & Roberts, 2019). The same year that these murders took place was also the same year that seven hundred and sixty-six thousand people were on parole (Dagan & Roberts, 2019). Although the fact that parole does not reduce recidivism, the U.S. Department of Justice does support the validity of parole. The reason that notwithstanding the lack of evidence regarding its effectiveness; still, parole continues to be supported by federal government is because it allows prisoners who serve their sentences to be released as soon as possible. By doing so, it gives these individuals more time to adjust back into society and become productive citizens.
The structural risk of the federal prison system is largely due to a variety of factors, including inadequate rehabilitative services, insufficient funding and resources allocated to prisons, and prison overcrowding. Since its inception in 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act has been a major turning point for criminal justice policy in the US (James, 2018). The act was written primarily with inner-city violent felonies in mind but had an unforeseen effect on nonviolent drug offenders as well. In 2010 alone, 2 million people were incarcerated at either federal or state level. Inadequate rehabilitative services are the major risk factors within the federal prison system (James, 2018). With the exception of prisoners convicted of drug-related offenses, there are no provisions in place to provide inmates with basic education or vocational training. This leads to inmates either returning to society with minimal skills and education, therefore more likely to continue their criminal lifestyle upon release, or foregoing an education altogether which can ultimately lead to future offending. Insufficient funding and resources on the other hand, is also a major deterring factor within the federal prison system. It leads to overcrowding, which itself is a serious issue but also has a negative effect on prison management and administration as it leads to further staff shortages, resulting in numerous problems including poor sanitation, understaffing and underfunding of programs.
One of the most crucial functional risks in the federal prison system is understaffing. Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) currently manages over 193 facilities throughout the United States with a total reported inmate population across all facilities at over 209,000 people (Hickert et al., 2022). With a constant increase in population, the system cannot help but have their concerns on the understaffing of federal prisons. According to the BOP website, as of March 2018 there are 7,489 staff vacancies within BOP facilities; not including contract correctional officers (Hickert et al., 2022). The level of understaffing is so dire that correctional officers are allowed to work double or triple duty shifts. A 2017 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that the federal prison system was experiencing an even more serious issue. In a survey conducted on over 3,000 inmates nationally, about 40% of those surveyed reported being overworked and about 60% reported being underpaid for their work in BOP facilities (Hickert et al., 2022).
Over the years, various reforms have been developed and implemented to prevent and reduce the risk factors within the federal prison system, to make the facilities safer for both imprisoners and the staff. Reduction of harsh prison sentences is one of the reforms that have been implemented (Hickert et al., 2022). In the past, federal prison sentences have been harsh and these harsher penalties were based on the seriousness of the crime committed. Yet today, most prison sentences are not as harsh as they once were. These reforms have been developed to reduce prison overcrowding and make sure that prisoners are sent to the prisons that will best suit their needs. Additionally, judges are now allowed to use discretion in deciding which penalties each criminal should receive. The custody level is one of the reforms that has been developed to deal with this problem. Another reform is creation of Transforming Prison Acts which allows for inmates to be placed in pioneering education programs. The concept of Transforming Prison Acts was developed by the American Bar Association (ABA) and created out of the belief that prisoners can become productive members of society if given proper instruction and training. These new educational programs aim to reduce criminal activity while increasing employability. The correctional system role emphasizes the rehabilitative aspect of punishment, rather than simply punitive measures. The idea behind these reforms stems from the idea of reformation, which is consistent with an individual’s unique characteristics at the time of sentencing and current changes in public opinion (Hickert et al., 2022).
Implementation of the reforms has positively impacted on corrections such that the federal prison system is now considered to be less harmful. The majority of prisoners are now being enrolled in educational programs, which has decreased the prevalence of crimes among prisoners. The younger generation was already growing up with the new attitudes towards crime and punishment; therefore, it has been easier for prisons to implement reforms and make sure that people stay out of trouble. The amount of federal prison population has decreased by more than one fourth in the past decade. There have also been several cases where individuals were released because they were deemed to be no threat to society.
Focusing to implement reforms that only improve the conditions for the imprisoners while leaving out the prison staff will indisputably result to total failure. This is because the system is not only made up of the incarcerated individuals but also, the prison staff who play a bigger role in protecting the imprisoners and providing them with the required necessities. It is therefore important to consider ways of motivating them to excellently perform their duties. The most essential way for motivating the staff is by meeting their needs, such as provision of proper salaries and incentives. This will enable them to perceive their work as a profession and not a sacrifice. Another way is by providing them with the opportunity to get additional bonuses for promoting better performance in their jobs. A new study conducted by Prof Leanne Reynolds and Dr Mavis Smith from the University of Northeastern Australia has revealed that staff in correctional facilities were not motivated enough to meet the different job roles well. The study was aimed at assessing the effectiveness of bonuses and incentives as a way of motivating staff in correctional facilities. The researchers found that incentives have a significant impact on improving staff motivation and consequently highlight their role as important as correctional administrators. Feedback also indicated that staff who didn’t receive incentives had a lower level of job satisfaction. Staff who participated in the study also acknowledged that they were less satisfied with the relevant aspects of their jobs, such as workload and supervision. Organizations, especially those that are a part of government agencies, should adopt these strategies because they will lead to an increase in staff motivation levels which ultimately promotes a better correctional facility where all the staff are actively involved in working together towards the same goal while achieving it effectively.
On the other hand, staff retention continues to be a major challenge that faces the federal prison staffing (Jernigan, 2018). It is essential as well to develop strategies which would promote retention of prison staff in correction facilities. One strategy would be to create a strong and vibrant culture that will support the staff towards achieving their goals as well as building a professional relationship with the prison management, thereby creating an environment for them to excellently do their job (Jernigan, 2018). The second strategy would be through addressing factors that influence the staff to quit work; such as increased workload (Jernigan, 2018). For instance, employment of more workforce will relieve the workload; thus, reducing the possibilities of staff quitting their jobs. Organizations should consider these strategies because they will ensure effective and efficient service delivery. The prison staff play a very significant role in ensuring detainees are protected and treated in a humane way while being held in custody centers. In addition, they promote an effective correctional facility whose services are delivered efficiently to all inmates. The challenge of understaffing is often resolved by hiring temporary workers and holding on to staff who have been with the organization for more than 5 years; however, there are other issues which come along with this strategy such as limited career potentials, limited salaries and few benefits initiated by the organizations. Hence, the issue would be effectively resolved through employment of permanent staff in the facilities, to increase workforce.
Reitz, K. R., & Rhine, E. E. (2020). Parole release and supervision: Critical drivers of American prison policy. Annual Review of Criminology, 3, 281-298.
Bartels, L., Fitzgerald, R., & Freiberg, A. (2018). Public opinion on sentencing and parole in Australia. Probation Journal, 65(3), 269-284.
Dagan, N., & Roberts, J. V. (2019). Retributivism, penal censure, and life imprisonment without parole. Criminal Justice Ethics, 38(1), 1-18.
Hickert, A., Bushway, S. D., Harding, D. J., & Morenoff, J. D. (2022). Prior punishments and cumulative disadvantage: How supervision status impacts prison sentences. Criminology, 60(1), 27-59.
Jernigan, B. C. (2018). Correctional Nursing: Why is Retention an Issue?. Gardner-Webb University.
James, N. A. (2018). Risk and needs assessment in the federal prison system (pp. 7-5700). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.