CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: Parole Bonds To Cut Recidivism

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States has 20% of the world’s prison population but only 5% of the world’s population. Perhaps one reason is that our prisons aren’t that effective at reforming their prisoners so that they do not re-offend. In 2005 the federal government’s Nation Institute of Justice reported that:

  • Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
  • Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
  • Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year.
  • Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82.1 percent of released property offenders arrested for a new crime compared with 76.9 percent of drug offenders, 73.6 percent of public order offenders and 71.3 percent of violent offenders.

The parole system does not work any better. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis:

  • Criminals under government supervision commit 15 murders a day.
  • Nearly four out of 10 people arrested for a felony crime are already out on probation, parole or pretrial release from a prior conviction or arrest.
  • One in 10 probationers and parolees “abscond.”

One idea whose time has come is the “parole bond.” We are all familiar with the pre-trial bond (“bail”). An accused who is under arrest but not yet convicted can “make bail” by posting money or property to guarantee that they will show up for their trial. If they don’t show up, they forfeit the money or property they put up for their bail. Since many prisoners do not have enough money to make their bail, the bail amount is often put up by a bail bondsman for a non-refundable fee, typically 10% of the bail amount. If the prisoner does not have that much money, family members may put up some or all of the bail. Thus, family often has a strong incentive to keep an eye on the bailee so that they stay out of trouble while they are out on bail and show up for their trial. This system works fairly well and saves taxpayers a great deal of money on jail costs and costs taxpayers little or nothing, a double win.

The same thing should be tried for parolees to cut down on re-offending and shift the costs of post-release supervision to the offender and off of taxpayers. The benefits of this approach start well before release. The prisoner who wants to be released on parole will have an incentive to be a model prisoner and learn a useful, and legal, skill while they are behind bars so that they will be seen by bail bondsmen as a reasonable risk. Those who are bad apples in prison will have a much harder time getting anyone to put up their parole bond.

Then, once the prisoner is released, there will likely be conditions attached to that bond by the bail bondsman, such as maintaining full-time legal employment and drug testing. Indeed, I have been told by criminal defense attorneys and bail bondsmen that 80-90% of convicts have drug abuse histories that play a large role in their criminal tendencies, regardless of the particular crime they committed. With a parole bond system, families and bail bondsmen will have a strong incentive to closely supervise the parolee to make sure they stay out of trouble, all at little or no cost to the taxpayers. That will be a win for everyone, the parolee and his or her family, the community in which they live and work, society at large, and taxpayers.

It is well past time to try this eminently sensible reform for our failed criminal justice system.