Reform Needed?: Why The Parole System is Broken

Throughout the past year, protestors and politicians alike have been calling for police reform across the nation. Although legislation is certainly in the works to achieve that, there are other areas of the law that have also come into question. One of those includes how states handle their parole system. The parole system is often used to reward prisoners with the ability to leave prison as long as some restrictions are placed on the prisoner. For example, a prisoner who has had a criminal past involving weapons may not be allowed to handle or be around guns or knives. Failure to follow these requirements may lead to returning to prison and being sentenced for a much longer time. However, according to former prisoners such as Jason Jones, these restrictions are doing more harm than good.

Jason Jones

Although placing certain restrictions on former prisoners may seem like common sense, many have accused the parole system of profiting off past prisoners, especially those from minority communities. So, what you may ask is the parole system selling? According to Jason Jones, a former prisoner at San Quentin State Prison, the parole system is out to sell comfort to society. Jones states that there is nothing good about their intentions but rather what they want the community to think of them. Jason Jones points towards the demands made by the parole system when it is granted to former prisoners. In many cases, the parole board won't even look at what you have achieved in prisoner but rather the crime you committed. Many former prisoners see this not only as an insult but also as a step back. For Jason Jones, that step back was being forced to take anger management classes which not only did he already complete in prison but were able to be certified as an instructor. However, he knew that attempting to fight the parole board was going to reflect negatively on his record and may also cost him his freedom.

Lost Opportunity Equals More Danger

One of the reasons that parole boards place certain restrictions on a former prisoner is to ensure that they are not going to be returning to their past life of crime. As stated above, these may include common sense things such as not being around a certain place or handling a weapon. However, according to Jason Jones, there are other restrictions that are placed on prisoners, which make no sense and thus make it much more difficult for them to find job opportunities. For Jones, that meant not being allowed to travel past 50 miles from his current residence. This made finding jobs extremely difficult, often causing him to turn down work due to the distance he would have to travel. In fact, even when permission was granted to travel further, these requests would have to be made 10 days in advance. Most companies won't provide 10-day notices before setting up interviews, and thus further opportunities are lost. These types of restrictions have caused former prisoners to, unfortunately, go back to the criminal life they lived before in order to take care of their families.

Data Collection Keeping Underserved Communities Down

If a person has never been in trouble with the legal system nor has had family members incarcerated, they may not know about the vast amount of data collection going on within underserved communities. In particular, this includes COMPAS or Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions. This is a risk assessment tool used by the state of California to determine a person's threat level. The assessment consists of 100 questions that include things such as the community you grew up in and how many family members have been in trouble with the law. Jason Jones comments on how your level of threat may have been pre-determined before you have committed a crime. Essentially, you are paying for the actions of your past family members and those within their community. The data software used to run COMPAS is costing the state a lot of money, but those at the very top ultimately justify it as it provides the rest of the community with peace of mind that "criminals" are being tracked.

Although Jason Jones has found a new positive path in life, there are so many more who don't have the same story. That is why Jones has called for the removal of the old profit-making system in exchange for one that actually protects the community and invests in former prisoners so they become an asset to the community and themselves.

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