EDITORIAL: Be cautious on parole reform

Lawmakers need to avoid the mistake of not fully considering consequences

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

After bail reform and discovery reform, the next big reform to address in re-examining the state’s criminal justice system is parole reform.

There are legitimate problems with the existing parole system that undermine the ability of parolees to reintegrate into society, that unnecessarily overburden our jails and prisons, that prevent people in need of mental health and drug treatment from getting the consistent care they need, and that result in uneven and inconsistent supervision of parolees.

But before leaping to enact even simple and seemingly benign reforms, state lawmakers should learn from the experiences with other reforms to make sure there are no unintended consequences that need to be corrected later. The resulting patchwork of regulations and amendments to fix the original law could make the system even more unfair and inconsistent.

Before passing parole reform legislation, lawmakers need to listen closely to all those with a stake in the system, including prosecutors, judges, parole officers, police, jail administrators, defense attorneys, social workers and families.

Had lawmakers, for instance, listened to prosecutors and judges on bail reform regarding the release of non-violent offenders, they would have been able to avert the situation they’ll face in the coming months in which some potentially dangerous criminals such as drug dealers, drivers in fatal car crashes and foreign suspects could avoid prosecution because of overly broad terms of release and limitations on judges to determine a suspect’s dangerousness.

Had they listened to prosecutors on discovery reform, they may have avoided upcoming situations in which witnesses could be intimidated into not testifying because of broad new disclosure rules.

Legislators also didn’t adequately consider the financial costs of complying with the new reforms.

They shouldn’t make the same mistakes on parole reform.

One major change supported by reform advocates is eliminating mandatory incarceration for technical violations of parole, such missing meetings, drinking or associating with other parolees. 

While this reform sounds reasonable, there’s a reason the restrictions were enacted in the first place. Lawmakers need to examine them individually to ensure that the changes they make don’t inadvertently result in people who belong in jail being set free.

Legislators should also look at time limitations on jail time for certain violations and examine other incentives for encouraging former inmates to adhere to the terms of their parole.

There’s no question the state’s parole system is in need of reform.

But lawmakers need to carefully research and evaluate all proposed reforms to ensure that society is best served and protected by them.

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