Punishment or Rehabilitation?

In the U.S. there is a strikingly high level of recidivism, meaning criminal acts that resulted in the re-arrest, reconviction, or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within three years. In 2007, 15.5% of the total parole population returned to incarceration.

The largest source of recidivism comes from revocation of parole. In 2007, 514,962 people left parole. Of these, 235,004 (45.6%) completed their parole satisfactorily. A total of 193,636 (37%) returned to prison or jail, and of these 136,222 were due to revocation of parole (70% of all those returning to incarceration). In 2006, 35% of all state prison admissions were offenders returned to incarceration due to parole violations, according to the Department of Justice. Surprisingly, relapse is rare among rapists and murderers, with only 2.5% and 1.2% arrested for committing another rape or homicide within three years of release respectively.

This indicates two things: that incarceration prevents crimes that would otherwise happen by removing criminals from the general public, and it does not generally rehabilitate criminals. Part of the reason for the latter is the way the parole system is set up. Often violating minor parole or probation rules, for example smoking a cigarette in a halfway house, can result in re-incarceration, depending on the circumstances. Technical violations of parole and probation are often things that normal law abiding citizens would be allowed to do, such as drinking, and can also involve failing to attend an educational or work program.

States have a variety of different ways to deal with parole violations. In some states, great discretion is given to the judge in determining the proper action, depending on the violation. Other states have stricter rules, and some states allow jail time instead of revocation.

In Georgia, certain offenders can participate in boot camps instead of traditional parole. These are structured with a military regiment and require the offenders to work during the day, either in the facility or the local community. Risk Reduction and substance abuse programs are held in the evenings. A new justice reform bill took effect July 1, which will change some of the laws regarding parole in Georgia, including modifying the maximum stay in a probation detention center.

Additional Resources

National Conference of State Legislatures Probation and Parole Violations: http://www.ncsl.org/print/cj/violationsreport.pdf

Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/reentry/recidivism.cfm

Bureau of Justice Statistics Recidivism: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=17

Yahoo Voices Punishment vs. Rehabilitation in the Criminal Justice System: http://voices.yahoo.com/punishment-vs-rehabilitation-criminal-justice-119962.html?cat=17

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