Strategies for Effective Parole Supervision: Ohio's Graduated Sanction Guidelines

Article excerpt

Arecent study by researchers at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) examined the effectiveness of Ohio's four-year-old sanctioning guidelines. The study was designed to determine whether the guidelines helped improve the sanctioning process and offender outcomes. Results suggest that the violation grid significantly reduced reliance on revocation hearings and sanctions, and kept offenders out of local jails.

Prior to 2005, offenders in Ohio who recidivated were given random sanctions, ranging from just a reprimand to a return to confinement. In 2005, Ohio created policies, such as progressive sanctions, to better manage supervised offenders so that offenders who repeatedly violated their supervision conditions could receive increasingly harsh penalties. The Ohio Adult Parole Authority guidelines use a violation response grid that assesses risk and number of violations and indicates how supervision staff should respond.

The Grid

Ohio's guidelines stem in part from a 1996 truth-in-sentencing law that established sentencing guidelines, abolished parole and imposed flat sentences for most felonies. Many offenders not previously subject to parole were now being supervised after mandatory release under a system called post-release control. Both nonviolent and violent offenders could be placed on post-release control.

Initially, violations by offenders on post-release control were handled inconsistently, which led to re-incarceration for many offenders. In 2001, Ohio began developing a system for handling violations more effectively. The resulting new sanction guidelines and grid system went into effect July 2005.

Ohio's violation grid determines sanctions by assessing the offender's history, risk level and number of previous violations. It provides for a more structured system that dictates specific responses to offenders' behaviors; limits the use of temporary jail detention; and increases the proportionality of sanction responses.

Testing the Effect of the Grid and Guidelines

Researchers at ODRC examined whether Ohio's sanction grid reduced recidivism and achieved Ohio's policy objectives. Policy objectives included increasing the use of risk-based decision-making and creating consistent, fair and effective sanctioning.

The study compared offender outcomes across two groups of post-prison offenders placed on supervision before and after the guidelines and grid system went into effect during October-December 2003 (1,040 offenders), and August-December 2005 (1,012 offenders), respectively. The researchers followed both groups of offenders for the first year of their supervision, or until supervision was terminated.

The researchers collected information from case files, field officer notes and electronic documents. They noted the following information about offenders:

* Residential history;

* Employment history;

* Program and treatment interventions;

* Codes that indicated a change in status; and

* Other descriptive information.

The study also relied on focus group interviews and a statewide survey of parole officers conducted separately by University of Cincinnati researchers. …