Despite evidence that supervision immediately after an inmate is released from prison is critical in preventing recidivism, an increasing number of offenders are serving their maximum sentence and returning to society without support or supervision, a report from the finds.
The report, (22 pages), found that in 2012 more than a hundred thousand inmates who served out their sentences — 22 percent of all releases nationwide and more than 40 percent in nine states — were released with no requirement to report to a parole or probation officer. Moreover, the max-out rate has increased in recent years — especially among nonviolent offenders — as a result of state laws and policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s requiring offenders to serve a majority of their sentences behind bars.
New research, however, suggests that shorter prison terms followed by supervision may help reduce both recidivism and corrections costs. A Pew study in New Jersey found that among offenders released in 2008, fewer parolees than max-outs were rearrested (51 percent vs. 65 percent), reconvicted (38 percent vs. 55 percent), or returned to prison for a new crime (25 percent vs. 41 percent) within three years. At least eight states have adopted reforms to encourage authorities to supervise offenders after release from prison, typically carving out the supervision period from the prison sentence, which in turn allows states to reduce their spending on prisons and reinvest some of the savings in more robust recidivism-reduction programs.
The report outlines a policy framework for reducing max-outs and recidivism, including recommendations to require post-prison supervision, strengthen parole decision-making with modern risk- and needs-assessment instruments and other tools, adopt evidence-based practices, and reinvest savings in community corrections.
"There's a broad consensus that public safety is best served when offenders have a period of supervision and services when they leave prison," said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project. "Yet the trend is toward releasing more and more inmates without any supervision or services whatsoever. Carving out a supervision period from the prison sentence can cut crime and corrections costs."