Parole Decisions and the Role of Institutional Factors in Successful Reentry

Article excerpt

One of the most important public policy and public safety decisions in the criminal justice system centers on determining which inmates are granted parole. Little is known about this process--how likely offenders are to succeed on parole and what issues are related to success/failure while on parole. The present study is an examination of how parole decisions are made and the outcomes for offenders who are either paroled or released at the expiration of their sentences in the state of Kentucky.

Previous studies have suggested that the most important predictors of recidivism are criminal histories, social achievement, age, gender, race and family factors. (1) However, it has also been shown that parolees are often supervised in diverse ways and parole violation/revocation rates vary significantly across jurisdictions. (2) National studies report three-year reincarceration rates for former inmates ranging from 25 to 41 percent. (3) Most recently, the Pew Center for the States reported that 43 percent of all inmates released in 2004 returned to prison within three years. (4) Reincarceration has been identified as most likely for offenders who are young, nonwhite, less educated and with a mental health diagnosis. (5)

The roles of demographics and criminal history have been the traditional focus of recidivism studies. One area that has been only infrequently examined as a factor in successful reentry has been institutional experiences. The present study is designed to draw on both existing knowledge regarding the role of demographics as well as aspects of institutional experiences to assess the roles each may play in successful community reentry for inmates, distinguishing between those who are released on parole and those who are released at the expiration of their sentences.


The study examines recidivism likelihood and correlations for all offenders released from Kentucky prisons either via parole or through the expiration of their sentences from July 2002 through December 2004. All data for this study were provided by the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC). The KDOC matched these groups based on age, race, sex and original offense (n=20,877).

The variables used in the analysis include offender sex, race, age, commitment from an urban or rural county, original conviction offense as a drug offense, the inmate's fast custody level while incarcerated, gang membership, education level, number of parole hearings, number of institutions where time was served, number of days served, number of prior incarcerations and whether the offender was reincarcerated. The analysis focuses on identifying differences between the attributes for offenders who served out their sentences and those who were paroled, as well as identifying the aggregate rates of success and failure (e.g., reincarcarceration) at the five-year point for all offenders released from prison during the two-and-a-half-year study period.


Table 1 presents the demographic attributes of the served out and paroled offenders. All of the attributes are significantly different between the two groups with the exception of whether the original offense was in an urban or rural county. As shown, offenders who served out their sentences were more likely to be white, male, less educated, unemployed, gang members and convicted of violent offenses. Paroled offenders were more likely to be under the age of 28, identified severe drug/alcohol problems, were married, were convicted of drug offenses, had more parole hearings, served more days incarcerated and served time in more institutions.

Table 1. Demographic Attributes of the Served Out and Paroled Groups
Race (1)

White           6,655 (70.5%)   7,170(66.6%)

Black           2,786 (29.5%)  3,597 (33.4%)

Sex (2)

Female          1,096 (11.2%)   1,582(14.5%)

Male            8,697 (88. …