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Due to the historically bourgeoning prison population, how and when offenders re-enter the community has received increased attention. Parole, the discretionary release of an offender to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community, is seen by many as a solution to prison overcrowding concerns. Many jurisdictions call upon paroling authorities to review the prisoner’s case and to assign release conditions intended to assist in the re-entry process and mitigate public safety concerns for both mandatory and discretionary releases. This chapter provides a brief overview of the history and current status of parole. Other areas discussed include how risk assessment is incorporated, and separate from, parole decisions, the various methods by which parole decisions are made, commentary on the existing evidence of parole efficacy, discussions of the role of victims in the decision-making process, and considerations for various offender sub-populations.
Most jurisdictions use parole, which allows certain offenders to serve a portion of their sentence in the community, supervised and subject to certain conditions. Two primary forms of parole exist: mandatory and discretionary. Policy documents offer parole decision makers guidance on how to reach their decisions. A recent review highlighted that offenders with more extensive criminal histories or more serious institutional misbehaviour were less frequently granted discretionary parole, and when granted release, it was typically after having served a greater proportion of their sentence. Psychologists use a number of approaches in assessing risk, including unstructured clinical judgement and actuarial instruments, which make predictions of the likelihood of the offender engaging in a certain behaviour based on patterns previously found in similar groups. Given that the incorporation of results from actuarial instruments generally increases accuracy, parole decision makers would be best served by psychological reports which emphasize and address actuarial results.