When California prison officials unveiled new strategies for tracking former inmates this year, they said freeing low-risk criminals from formal parole supervision would allow agents to zero in on the most dangerous felons. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that under a reform plan being rolled out in several test markets, the highest-risk former convicts actually have less mandated contact with parole agents – one visit a month, down from the previous minimum of two. The policy includes more positive feedback and “community celebrations” for parolees, and less of a reliance on required visits. Oscar Hidalgo of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the shift is based on research showing the “need to move from a contact-driven system to a behavioral management model. This includes motivational interviewing, positive reinforcement, parolee engagement and clear communication.”
Critics say the revisions show an overburdened corrections system lowering its guard to save money at the risk of public safety. They say promises made to secure legislative approval to put tens of thousands of criminals on “nonrevocable parole” – with no supervision and no threat of a return to prison – are being broken. “They said the new nonrevocable parole policy would increase public safety by letting them focus their resources on the highest-risk offenders,” said Assemblyman Ted Lieu, who has called for an independent investigation of the prison system. “They have a systematic policy of not just lowering supervision of low-risk offenders but lowering supervision of high-risk offenders.” An internal corrections department slide presentation says, “Evidence is clear that increasing the number of contacts does not improve the outcome for parolees.” Officials plan to reduce costs and the inmate population partly by redefining parole supervision, which historically returns two of every three parolees to prison within three years.