Franks on abolishing parole


ACT and the Conservatives are making excellent criminal justice policy announcements. If both are in Parliament we might see an end to the cosy major party consensus that has fostered our high rates of serious violent and youth crime.

Garth McVicar’s announcement on is more straightforward than I had expected. Most criminals come up for at one third of their Judge-given sentence. Garth says:

“The Conservative Party will overhaul the parole system so that a Judge given sentence means what it says, 9 years will mean 9 years. Life will mean Life. The only function of the parole board will be to apply release conditions and ensure they are enforced”

So how would no parole work?

It seems that they would introduce the US Federal system introduced after 1996, when Bill Clinton reached across party lines and took the Republicans policy and ended federal parole. Instead, there is a period of mandatory supervision at the end of most sentences. 

Great! There is no evidence that parole works any better to reduce reoffending than supervision at the end of the judge-given sentence. 

I’d be interested to see data on this.

People worry that prison populations will explode. That has not been the inevitable experience elsewhere after parole has been cut back. Prison musters would likely drop after an initial rise while offenders worked out that a new sheriff had come to town. 

Some attribute the long drop in crime rates in the US, for example, at least partially to the increased deterrence of sentencing certainty. There is a good research consensus that severity of sentencing has much less deterrent power than speed and certainty of detection, conviction and punishment. Ending criminal expectation of parole dramatically increases certainty, and judges could afford to reduce sentence lengths.  

It would be logical to reduce a sentence length to take account of no parole.

But there is another reason why prison musters will not escalate nearly as much as some would theorise. Because much of the serious crime is committed by a relatively small population of career criminals, the change would  merely cancel for  those serious offenders, who accumulate records of hundreds of crimes, their brief parole excursions from prison to add to their tally. Instead they stay much longer where they cannot prey on fresh victims. 

I think this is right. A small core of criminals commit a huge amount of the crimes.

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