The benefits of parole can be measured by comparing rates of recidivism for parolees and inmates who are released without parole. Shawna Andersen, the Parole Board’s Research and Planning Specialist, prepared this Special Report making that comparison for offenders discharged in 2009. As documented and described in the Special Report, 24% of parolees recidivated while 35% of offenders without parole recidivated. Many of the offenders without parole were subject to probation supervision, but the Parole Board’s statistical system cannot separately track these offenders. Our statistical system identifies inmates who are released without parole, but cannot distinguish between those who are unsupervised versus those who are on probation. Recognizing the benefits of probation, we would expect the recidivism rate for offenders released without probation to be higher than 35%.
Parole Officers work hard to encourage productive and lawful behavior in their parolees. The Parole Board’s policies and practices, including the Graduated Sanctions policy, allow the Board to impose sanctions short of re-incarceration for parole violations that create no imminent risk to public safety. For those violations that do threaten public safety, the Board revokes parole and the parolee is returned to prison or jail to resume serving his sentence.
Shawna Andersen, the Board’s Research and Planning Specialist, has produced two Special Reports, one on the successful completion of parole and another on the frequency of parole revocation and the conduct of parolees that requires revocation. The data support three important conclusions. First, the Parole Board’s efforts to encourage parolees to remain law-abiding and complete their sentences in the community are succeeding: between 66% and 72% of Massachusetts parolees complete parole in the community without re-incarceration; that success rate is considerably higher than the national average of 52%. Second, the rate of parole revocation in Massachusetts has remained quite steady between 2009 and 2013, even as the Board was in transition and undertaking reforms in other areas of personnel, practices, and policies. For example, in 2010 the Board revoked 17% of parolees and the rate for 2013 (through August) is 15%. Third, the Parole Board revokes parole only for conduct of a parolee that creates an imminent risk to public safety or is otherwise intolerable in the community; parolees are not revoked for trivial technical or non-threatening violations of parole.