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A parole officer's thoughts

If you are convicted of a crime in Iowa or virtually any other American jurisdiction, with some exceptions of particularly violent crimes, it is very likely your sentence of jail time will include some period of parole. Parole is becoming increasingly popular with most state governments, as the high cost of incarceration is forcing them to adopt less expensive alternatives.

Parole is seen as one of those alternatives. It is an area where few people outside of the criminal justice system ever venture. The Marshall Project published a Q & A from a New York parole officer, where he discussed some of the issues in dealing with paroles and the parole system.

The title of the article suggests something few people would ever consider; that he protects felons from society. Many would see that statement as absurd. After all, they are felons, and deserve nothing.

But that attitude essentially dooms them, and us, to a permanent dysfunctional relationship. If a former felon, who has served his or her time, cannot obtain an education, cannot find somewhere to live, cannot find a job, why should we be surprised that they wind up back in the criminal justice system?

The parole officer notes the most ridiculous rule imposed on paroles, demand that the "not be in the company" of anyone with a criminal record. And who else would they know after sometimes years in and out of jail and the courts? The members of Des Moines Ladies Garden Club?

He notes that GPS monitoring appears mostly designed to make GPS-selling companies money. Not unlike private prisons and other "market solutions," and is not designed to help in the reintegration of former offender back into society.

Those who have never been on parole likely do not appreciate how the web of rules and conditions make it all too easy to find oneself entangled in such a way that there is little chance of exit.

He suggests that, "public safety policy operate off science, not fear." Too bad fear works so well with voters.

The Marshall Project, "'I Spend Just as Much Time Protecting Felons from Society,'" January 22, 2015

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