Should California Change the Name of Parole Supervision, Part II
A few weeks ago I wondered whether California should change the name of parole supervision to something else, to mitigate the confusion that enclouds all public debate about parole policy in the Golden State. Not unreasonably, given the traditional meaning of the word “parole,” many California citizens seem to think that parole means releasing a prisoner early, before his sentence is fully served, upon the condition of a period of supervision in the community by a parole agent.
But since the determinate sentencing reforms of the late 1970s, most California offenders have served determinate sentences, so the prison can’t let them out early nor can it keep them past their judicially imposed term. On top of that, because of a 1978 amendment to California’s determinate sentencing law, determinately sentenced offenders are also subject to a mandatory post-release supervision term of up to three years. This is under the state’s parole division, it’s called parole, and their supervisors are called parole agents; but in this context the word “parole” has nothing to do with early or discretionary release. Note that no other state keeps 100% of its former prisoners on post-release supervision.*
Anyway, apparently it’s not just citizens who are confused about what parole means in California. Here’s Lieutenant Chris Piombo of the Lodi Police Department:
I noticed a reoccurring theme in the [crime report] summaries this past week. Parolees, or people who had been released from prison with the agreement that they be monitored and supervised by a parole agent, were involved in the commission of the crimes.
Now, sure, in the sense that California inmates are required by law to submit to a term of parole supervision upon their release, I suppose you could call this an “agreement that they be monitored,” but it’s misleading to suggest that this “agreement” is a) voluntary or b) in any causal way related to their release. For the majority of California prisoners serving determinate sentences, they’re released from prison because they’ve served their judicially imposed prison term and the prison has no legal power to hold them one day longer.
* California passed a law earlier this year (click on my earlier post here and scroll down to “The Corrections Reduction Bill” for a full summary) to move about 15% of the lowest risk offenders off of full parole and onto something called “non-revocable parole,” which basically means they aren’t under the supervision of a parole officer and can’t be sent back to prison on a parole violation, but don’t have full Fourth Amendment rights. Even after this reform, California is still keeping far more released prisoners on post-release supervision than any other state.