A new parole system for Maine, paid by parolees, is the economical solution for prison overcrowding

Since parole was decommissioned in 1976, there has been little recourse for corrected or rehabilitated inmates of the Maine correctional system. Parole has been a neglected resource for too long in Maine.

If Maine were to upgrade, expand, and explore the full potential that exists in parole, it would not only improve the overall structure in corrections and enable inmates to function with the proper incentives needed to reach society as a value-driven asset, but it would mean an automatic reduction in the prison population, and eliminate the need for the state to commit resources for construction of non-productive prisons.

The fact that in recent years this state has passed law and order measures that have lengthened prison sentences, and reduced earnable “good time” credit, reflects this misunderstanding of the correctional system.

Parole is the early release of a prisoner on the condition of good behavior. Parole is not leniency, but a level of supervision that is somewhat less strict than prison supervision. Probation, on the other hand, is a trial period for testing a person’s behavior. Probation, commutations, pardons, and good time laws have nothing to do with parole.

Parole and probation agents function as a combination social worker, police officer, and counselor, helping parolees with their problems on one hand, while policing them on the other.

Parole could be converted into the most cost effective operation in Maine’s criminal justice system. Legislation can be written to require parolees to pay part, or all, of the cost of their supervision. With parolees bearing the cost of their supervision, parole usage and the staff to supervise parolees could easily be expanded, and prisoners who present no danger to the public could released from prison and placed in jobs supporting their families, making restitution to their victims, and paying taxes and contributing to the overall economy of the state.

The cost of putting an inmate into a parole program is miniscule, versus the annual cost of incarceration. District attorneys should favor parole, because it is easier to facilitate plea bargaining; plus, a parolee arrested or suspected of a crime could have their parole revoked, and be returned to prison without the formality of a trial.

Parole is not only a safety valve for overcrowding, but parole is good for the system because it serves the legitimate interests of wardens, judges, legislators, and district attorneys. Parole is an economical and effective way of maintaining control over an offender.

The misconceptions are that people in prison are bad, or incorrigible, and that all prisoners are the same. Not everyone that commits murder, for example has a fatal compulsion to kill or is a sadistic sociopath. Murder is primarily a one-time offense.

As a class, people serving long sentences have lower recidivism rates than others inside the criminal spectrum.

Parolees do not commit crimes as often as thought, a fact reflected by the percentage of parolees whose paroles are revoked for new criminal behavior. Since the majority of parolees are revoked for technical reasons, the reality is that fewer than believed parolees go out and commit new offenses.

Locking up people is the prevailing attitude, when the purpose of incarceration should be to keep the offender out of circulation until they are rehabilitated.

Just as people come to prison because they fail to live by society’s rules, once people are ready to become an asset, rather than a liability, in the community and are corrected, they should be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate their change and speak about their desire to live a productive life in the community.

The state should review its sentencing and criminal penalty structures and give priority to coming up with a rational philosophy about who can serve time in prison and change into responsible, law-abiding, contributing members of the community, and those who cannot and must remain incarcerated.

The business of punishment used to be measured in pain instead of time; now it is measured in time and punishment. With parole in place once again, the penal philosophy can shift back to reform, and still respect the expectations of society, and victims of crime.

Jeffrey Libby, an inmate advocate, is incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.
Parole is not only a safety valve for overcrowding, but parole is good for the system because it serves the legitimate interests of wardens, judges, legislators, and district attorneys.


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