If we want to reduce mass incarceration, we also need to fix probation and parole.
The latest state corrections data indicates that mass incarceration is increasingly driven by people returning to prison for probation and parole violations, not for committing new crimes. With this trend in mind, Utah’s Campaign for Smart Justice will focus more attention in 2019 on reforming Utah’s probation and parole process.
In 2017, parole violations made up 51 percent of all admissions to prison in Utah, while probation violations accounted for another 25 percent of admissions—meaning that these community supervision violations accounted for three-fourths of all prison admissions. Many of these people return to prison for technical violations, which means that they broke a parole or probation rule—like missing a meeting or curfew—but they did not commit a new crime. Another study tracking groups of parolees showed that 46 percent of one cohort returned to prison within a year of release due to technical parole violations.
To address these issues, the ACLU of Utah and community partners created an inmate handbook to help people in prison navigate the parole system once they are released. Everyone entering prison will receive a copy so they can better prepare for reentry into the community. Supporting incarcerated persons before they’re out of prison is crucial to reentry reform and to reducing the recidivism rate.
We have also advocated for improved compassionate release guidelines so that people with terminal illness, dementia, and other health concerns can have family members or attorneys request release to community supervision when remaining in prison no longer meets the ends of justice. The proposed guidelines will be made available for public comment before implementation this summer. Lastly, we filed a “friend of the court” brief to the Utah Supreme Court calling for increased due process protections during parole rescission hearings, a meeting where the parole board can postpone or repeal previously-granted parole or release decisions.
Looking ahead in 2019, the Campaign for Smart Justice will continue our efforts to reduce Utah’s prison population by, 1) Promoting legislation to improve probation and parole reentry programming, 2) Pushing Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole to improve evidence-based parole decisions, and 3) Examining potential due process violations in the decisions to revoke probation and parole. We believe we can continue to reduce mass incarceration in Utah by focusing our work on these priorities.
...from the Spring 2019 Liberty Reporter