probation and parole in the state of Pennsylvania. As in most states, probation and parole go hand-in-hand in Pennsylvania. The same agency, the Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) oversees both agencies in the state, and they work together to ensure citizens' safety and well-being through the criminal justice system. They are an essential part of the criminal justice system, and an essential aspect of overall public safety.
Definitions of Probation and Parole
First, it is necessary to define probation and parole. Probation is when the Department of Corrections (DOC), suspends the legal sentence of a convicted person, and grants the person freedom, but with caveats. The person has to periodically report to the parole board, they have to promise good behavior, and they are subject to home visits from their probation officer. Probation can be granted to people in an alternative to prison time, as well. Parole, on the other hand, is the early release of someone in prison. They are then subject to parole officer monitoring and complying with specific terms and conditions for a specific length of time. They are also subject to home visits and must report to their parole officers periodically.
In Pennsylvania, as in most states, has a central board that monitors and oversees parole and probation monitoring, and it is a busy job. Two writers note just how many inmates the parole board has to keep track of each year. They write, "Of these, 10,500 inmates were released from Pennsylvania state prisons and the number of inmates leaving Pennsylvania prisons has grown by nearly 15% since 1997" (Beard, and Gnall). The PBPP works very closely with the Department of Corrections in determining how to monitor released inmates, and they follow mandates in state law as to what and how they monitor. Another responsibility is ensuring that the inmates and probationers are assimilated back into society successfully.
Background of the PBPP
The state defines the board as, "The Board of Probation and Parole is an independent agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which by statute has the authority to parole and reparole and commit and recommit for violations of parole, offenders sentenced to a maximum of two or more years" (Editors). If the court demands it, the board is also responsible for sentences under two years, these are called "special probation/parole cases" (PBPP). In all other probation cases under two years, the Court of the Common Pleas, with agencies in each county, is in charge of probation. The PBPP has the overall supervisory control over these courts. This current board came about in 1941 after a specific Parole Act was passed in the state's General Assembly, and the Act has been amended many times since then. However, parole and probation existed far earlier in the state's history, but it was organized a little differently.
The Parole Process
The parole process actually begins before an inmate's release from prison. The board Web site notes, "While still incarcerated, an offender seeking approval for parole begins working with institutional parole staff to develop a plan for residence after release, and a plan for post-release employment" (PBPP). Once released, the Pennsylvania parole system is extremely structured. The "Parole Supervision Continuum" is the foundation of the parole system in the state. Each parolee is assessed by their risk to society. This risk assessment includes the parolee's time out of prison, the background of his crimes, and how he is behaving in the community. The PBPP Web site continues, "A parolee moves towards less structured supervision as he proves himself to be a productive member of society, and conversely, he moves back towards more structured supervision, up to and including reincarceration in a state prison, if his behavior deteriorates" (PBPP). This risk assessment actually begins in the DOC before the inmate is released, and continues throughout the parole period. There are four levels of supervision in the Continuum, Minimum, Medium, Maximum, and Enhanced, according to the risk assessment of each parolee. Parole officers can use electronic monitoring; require drug or alcohol counseling, domestic violence treatment, and other treatments they may find the parolee requires.
All parolees must spend time in a Community Corrections Center (CCC) directly after their release from prison. The PBPP Web site states, "While CCC's are facilities that place certain restrictions, they also offer inmates and parolees significantly more freedom and privileges than they experienced in prison" (PBPP). This time allows them to live in a supervised environment with peers, along with that peer support, while they restore family ties, find work, and reintegrate into the community. The CCC's are also a place for parolees who violate certain terms of their parole, and if parolee's behavior is poor, they can be sent back to prison from the CCC.
The Probation Process
The Pennsylvania probation process is quite similar to the parole process. Probation is granted in cases that do not involve any incarceration, but the rules and regulations are the same. Probationers have to follow rules, such as no drugs or alcohol (subject to random urine samples for testing), they have to check in with their probation officer regularly, they have to undergo treatment if necessary, and they cannot possess weapons. They have to have permission to leave the state, and they have to be seeking employment if they are not employed ("General Rules"). If probationers do not follow these rules, they can have their probation revoked and serve prison time, so there is a strong incentive for them to follow the rules.
Parolee and Probationer Rights
In many states, convicted felons and many others with a criminal record are not allowed to vote. That is not the case in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court revoked a law that did not allow them to vote in 2000. Last year, the ACLU accused parole officers of handing out false information related to this law, and the ACLU intervened. The ACLU Web site notes, "In Pennsylvania the only adult citizens who cannot vote are those who are currently incarcerated for a felony. Individuals in jail awaiting trial who have not been convicted, those incarcerated for misdemeanors, and those on probation or parole can vote. Voting rights are automatically restored upon release from prison" ("Pennsylvania Parole and Probation Officers"). This law may pave the way for other states to revise their laws and allow those with a criminal record to participate in the democratic process.
DOC Part in the Process
The DOC has taken a very active role in helping assure the success of their inmates when they return to society and face parole. When an inmate enters the prison system, the DOC starts a three-step process almost immediately. They do a risk assessment of the inmate; they offer drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and offer education and training. They also have a program called the Community Orientation and Reintegration (COR) program, "which teaches inmates skills to find and keep a job, and how to overcome the obstacles to successful reintegration" (Beard, and Gnall). This begins immediately because the DOC recognizes that their real job in incarceration is to prepare the inmate for success in the "real" world, so they do not return to prison and become productive members of society.
The Success Rate
How does the DOC program, combined with probation and parole efforts, measure its success? Figures show that the system, for the most part, seems to be working. Authors Beard and Gnall note there is a high number of inmates entering the system each year, and many of them are parole violators. They note, "Approximately 13,000 inmates, including 8,000 new commitments and 5,000 parole violators, were admitted to the Pennsylvania DOC in 2002" (Beard, and Gnall). However, Pennsylvania's success rate is better than the national average, and continues to improve. A Bureau of Justice…