New York State Department of Parole or the Department of Corrections is an agency of the state responsible for the supervision and management of criminals convicted of a crime, felony level or higher. The Department of Corrections was put in place to provide protection for the community by operating and managing safe, secure facilities that keep offenders under control as well as allow them fair treatment during time served. The main objective of the agency is to minimize the risk of criminal behavior through a partnership consisting of communities, a continuum of community supervision, incarceration, sanctions and services to deal with criminal or unlawful behavior. The core values existing within the sequence of probation, prison, and parole is the foundation that the least antagonistic adjustment be used to monitor offender behavior, all while adhering to public safety rules and regulations.
What does it truly encompass to be paroled in America? The term parole, like other criminal justice terms, is often times misinterpreted to signify different things or in some cases, is just not fully comprehended. The definition of parole as stated by Eisenstadt & Moss is: an offender serves a section of their given sentence while under the supervision of either their community or an officer. (Eisenstadt, & Moss, 2005, p. 120) Another definition, given by the U.S. Parole Commission, states that parole may be granted if:
1. The convicted person has extensively followed the rules of the institution
2. If release would not abate the gravity of the offenses or advocate impudence for the law.
3. Release would not threaten the public welfare. (National Institute of Corrections (U.S.), 2001, p. 45)
This definition implies that parole systems set in different states vary in how they observe the rules and regulations. Parole systems are the same in regards to overall structure, but differ in the details. By applying research to how New York deals with the parole system, many interesting facts and figures will surface that interconnect with the idea of parole for offenders and how successful or unsuccessful the system for the state and to some level, the country, truly is. A quick example would be offenders get 6 months to a year of unsupervised probation if it is their first offense committed in New York. This law applies countrywide, but only to certain crimes.
Looking into the origin of probation allows an insight into the need for probation's existence. The origin of probation can be traced back to England and its criminal laws of the Middle Ages. Punishments were not only given to adults, but children, and not only for major crimes. People were treated in the same, harsh manner for petty crimes as well as major crimes. Sentences included branding, flogging, mutilation, as well as public execution. (Morgan Jr., 2009, p. 2) Public execution was so common that during the time of King Henry VIII, over a hundred crimes (some, minor offenses) were punishable by death.
The severity of these punishments were eventually met with discontent by English society. Consequently, they decided to re-evaluate their justice system. Progressive mentality wanted to generate a justice system that would slowly, but resolutely make an effort to alleviate barbaric and unfair punishments. They went about doing this through a variety of measures that were concocted and adapted to suit the needs of the many. Examples of these were royal pardons which could be purchased by the person accused; leniency could be granted by decision of the judge; stolen property could be diminished in value by the court so offenders could receive a lesser crime charge.
Additional methods such as: benefit of clergy, judicial reprieve, sanctuary, and abjuration, gave offenders a level of protection from receiving bleaker charges.(Parent, & National Institute of Justice (U.S.), Abt Associates, 1994, p. 56) In time, the courts initiated the practice of "binding over for good behavior," a form of ephemeral release during which offenders could take action to assure resources for pardons or lesser sentences. As it progressed in the United States, certain courts began adjourning sentences. Offenders achieved adjournment through a method similar to modern bail: the accused paid a fee as collateral for good behavior.
Filing executed in cases that did not require an instant sentencing, was also permitted and is the norm for minor cases presently. Using this maneuver, indictments were "laid on file" or held in recess. To alleviate arbitrary mandatory penalties, judges often assumed a motion to extirpate based upon minor technicalities or mistakes in the proceedings. These American practices are seen today as precursors to probation. It is also acknowledged as the early use of recognizance and suspended sentence which played a direct role in modern probation.
Modern Probation encompasses a variety of terms and actions. Intensive Supervised Probation or ISP is a form of release into the community that spotlights close supervision of convicted offenders and appoints stringent conditions on that release, such as the following:
Multiple weekly correspondence with officer, mainly verbal (phone) or in person
Random and unannounced drug testing to assure the offender is not under the influence
Strict obligation of conditions, for instance, maintaining a job
Required attendance in treatment, education programs, volunteer work, etc. (Barker, 2009, p. 12)
ISP is only reserved for those who are deemed least likely to exist in society without regressing back to criminal activity in the community. The degree of limitation placed on them is often exorbitant and the level of direct, face-to-face contact required is thought to greatly impede, or at least thwart any ongoing criminal activity. Some say the opposite and feel as though this kind of parole serves to keep criminals from ever becoming upstanding citizens, which will be assessed later on.
Another form of probation is Shock Probation and Split Sentencing. Shock probation/split sentencing is a sentence for a designation of years, but after 1-3 months, the convicted is withdrawn from jail or prison. While both these concepts are used vice versa, they are in reality two different activities. Shock probation has the offender originally sentenced to jail, then taken before the judge after 1-3 months and re-sentenced to probation. Split sentencing, has the offender receive probation as part of the original sentence demanding no supplementary appearance before the judge. Still, the terms refer to jail, some community service or both. (Reichel, 2008, p. 23)
Reichel, P.L. (2008) discusses in Comparative Criminal Justice Systems: A topical approach the concept of revocation. Revocation refers to the removal of probation privileges. Probation is afterall, a conditional release. Because of this, under the right conditions, it can be revoked, or taken away. The conditions include a technical violation or if the person charged is convicted of a new crime within the probationary period. The process of probation revocation is first done by the probation officer's belief that a violation deserving revocation happened. As a result of the 1973 case Gagnon v. Scarpelli, the Supreme Court assured that where "liberty relevance" is involved, probationers are honored to clutch certain due process rights. Such rights include:
1. Written declaration of the supposed violations
2. Preliminary (or PROBABLE CAUSE) HEARING where a judicial authority will decide whether enough probable cause exists to continue the case
3. If warranted, a revocation hearing.
If a revocation hearing is then set up, probationers are given the authority to testify on their own behalf, may present witnesses, and may also have an attorney present. New York allows the offender the right to an attorney. If the person cannot retain a private lawyer, the court will appoint one. The court appointed lawyer option usually leaves the offender with little chance of escaping a harsher plea if a private lawyer is not retained, but does allow the offender time to prepare a defense.
The standard of proof needed at a revocation hearing is a "preponderance of the evidence," which means it needs less than what a criminal trial would. Possible outcomes include return to supervision, discipline with renewal to supervision, or revocation with jail time. Looking into modern parole/probation and how England began using probation and criminal leniency allows for a deeper look into the role of parole and the purpose it serves. As mentioned prior, the system of corrections existed for centuries before modern times.
The corrections history of New York is only a small piece of the picture that makes up parole/probation in the United States. But to begin to look into what this kind of agency is truly about, one must look at the problems it faces in its continual sequence of delivery and action. Are criminals re-offending? Can people put under probation and parole continue a normal and stable life outside of the criminal-justice system? Do actions like revocation and sealing perpetuate/hinder or help reduce criminal activity?
In the United States, Zebulon Brockaway, the superintendent of the Elmira Reformatory during the 1870s instituted the first indeterminate sentencing law in the United States. He also proposed the first good behavior system in order to diminish inmates' sentences and generate better behavior…