Parolees may not live behind bars, but they are far from free. Their parole officers have enormous power to dictate whom they can see, where they can go, and whether they are allowed to do perfectly legal things like have a beer. Breaking those rules can land a parolee back in jail — the decision is up to the parole officer, the New York Times reports. As prison populations drop, the number of parolees is increasing. For more than a year, the Times and PBS’ “Frontline” followed ten newly released prisoners as they tried to find homes and jobs, reconnect with loved ones and avoid temptation, sometimes discovering that the system created to help them can also hold them back. Six returned to prison.
In the first article in a series, the news organizations tell the story of a Connecticut ex-prisoner who was forbidden to see his girlfriend after his release. His parole officers were making difficult calls about his best interests, while navigating safety rules such as the one barring contact between parolees and their past victims. In Connecticut, which has come to be seen as a model, parolees face obstacles that can seem blind to individual circumstances. In this case, the parole officer says of the former inmate, “He’s giving me every reason to lock him up, and I’m still working with him. I’ve got 65 cases and one flaming” jerk.