Many of the nation’s prisoners are parole violators, including those returned to custody not for committing a crime but for failing to follow rules like missing an appointment with a parole officer, failing a urine test, or staying out past curfew. The actual number has been elusive, as they are held for relatively short stints, from a few months to a year, not long enough for record keepers to get a good count. A survey of state corrections departments found more than 61,250 such parole violators in 42 state prison systems as of early 2017, The Marshall Project reports. The number does not include those in county and local jails, where thousands more are likely held. (The eight non-reporting states — Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia — either do not keep state-level data or it would be too costly to generate.)
The total seems small, given the 2.3 million behind bars, but “the numbers aren’t trivial,” said Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project. To Mauer, the fact that tens of thousands of people are incarcerated for infractions such as traveling without permission or frequenting a bar that serves alcohol is significant. That may be all the more true in seven states — Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania — which have more technical parole violators in their prisons than the other 35 states combined.