Trial judges are coping with the question of what is the best way to release felons from prison but make sure they don’t commit a crime again, says the Wall Street Journal. The issue is particularly difficult in federal sex-offense cases, some involving computer downloads of illegal pornography. The debate has intensified as some judges impose what felons say are broad or arbitrary restrictions on how they live after prison, from bans on alcohol and gambling to constraints on housing arrangements.
During supervised release, felons are prohibited from breaking any laws and are required to submit to drug testing. Those convicted of domestic violence or drug crimes must attend rehabilitation programs. The penalty for violating these conditions can be more federal prison time. As of September 2008, more than 95,000 convicts were serving a term of supervised release, up from 51,000 in 1997. In some cases, judges have barred felons from using the Internet, while others have prevented sex offenders from driving a car or said they must wear “appropriate” clothing. Until recently, challenges to supervised release conditions were rare, but that might be changing. “I tell my clients now they need to worry just as much about the supervised release as about the sentence because it will have equally long-lasting life consequences for them,” said Troy Stabenow, a federal public defender in Jefferson City, Mo.