It has been suggested that many probation and parole violators who have been returned to prison because of their violations might instead be better served by other sanctions, thus relieving somewhat the overcrowding within the Alaska prison system. In 1991 the Alaska Parole Board compiled a profile of offenders appearing before the board at parole revocation hearings. It was hoped that the information assembled in the profile could contribute to the overall discussion of sentencing issues. The following article presents the results of this research on the characteristics of probation and parole violators.
The analysis involved the 67 revocation cases heard by the Alaska Parole Board during summer quarter 1990. Overall, the board conducted 284 revocation hearings throughout 1990. A match of several data items with the total data base for recent years revealed that the 1990 summer quarter data were typical of other revocation data.
Background data on offenders in the 67 revocation hearings were taken from the Parole Board's risk score sheets for the parole violators. The risk score sheet has been used for all parole applicants for over a decade, and the board has been using the same instrument on a trial basis on revocation cases for the last year. Recently the board began to use the score sheets on all prisoners being released on mandatory parole; as a result, scores will be available for all future revocation hearings.
Summer 1990 Revocation Cases
The risk score sheets include a variety of offenses and offender characteristics, including prior criminal history. Information on prior convictions, offense history and offense severity is included. Among the 67 Summer 1990 cases examined, fourteen (21%) offenders had only one felony conviction. Fifty-three (79%) offenders had two or more felony convictions. In only four cases (6%) did the offenders have no misdemeanor convictions. In 15 cases (22%), offenders had one to three misdemeanors and in 48 (72%) cases the offenders had four or more misdemeanor convictions.
Type of prior offense is also important in risk assessment. In 44 cases (66%) the offender had at least one conviction for burglary, criminal trespass, forgery, checks or credit card crime; in 23 (34%) the offender had no such conviction. In 19 cases (28%) the offender had a conviction for a sexual assault crime, while in 48 cases (72%) the offender had not been convicted of a sexual assault crime. Of those with a sexual assault conviction, none had completed an institutional sexual offender program.
Substance abuse history plays a role in risk assessment. In 52 cases (78%) the offender had an alcohol abuse history, while in 15 cases (22%) there was no alcohol abuse history. In 32 cases (48%) the offender exhibited no significant drug abuse, while in 35 cases (52%) the offender did. In three cases (5%) the offender had no probation or parole revocation.
A majority of the offenders examined had already incurred at least one probation or parole revocation. In 19 cases (28%) the offender had one revocation; in 45 cases (67%) the offender had two or more revocations.
Of the violators reviewed, 30 (45%) committed their violations before completing three months of supervision; 49 (73%) of the violations were committed before the offender had completed six months of supervision; and only five (7%) completed more than a year of supervision before committing the violation. Overall, the range of time on supervision before the violation was committed was 0 months (1 to 29 days) to 16 months.
The average length of the jail sentence for which the offenders were on mandatory supervision was 4.4 years. If these offenders lost no good time, they would be on mandatory parole about 18 months. The shortest supervision length was four months and the longest supervision length was 35 months. Forty per cent of the offenders had supervision lengths of less than a year. Fifty-one per cent had supervision lengths of one year to 25 months. Only nine per cent of the offenders had supervision lengths of 25 months or longer. More offenders had supervision lengths of eight months than any other length.
The Parole Board's risk score sheet has a range of 0 to 49 points. The best possible risk score is 0, and 49 is the worst. The following are the ranges of the four groups, from best to worst risk:
Group A = 0-6 points
Group B = 7-14 points
Group C = 15-29 points
Group D = 30-49 points
The 67 parole violators studied had risk scores ranging from a low of 15 to a high of 47. The average for all offenders was a risk score of 27.36 - almost at the top of Group C.
None of the offenders had a risk score of 0 to 14, i.e., within the two best risk groups. Sixty-six per cent of the offenders had risk score of 15 to 29, and 34 per cent had risk scores of 30 to 49.
The offenders committed the following parole violations: five per cent were convicted of a new felony; 22 per cent were convicted of a new misdemeanor; and 73 per cent were "condition violators."
For those found guilty of parole violations, the board "revoked and denied" 70 per cent of the offenders, thus requiring them to serve the remainder of their sentences. The board "revoked and reparoled" 15 per cent of the offenders - in essence not putting them back in jail but extending their periods of supervision. The board "reprimanded and warned" 13 per cent of the offenders, neither returning them to jail nor extending their periods of supervision. The board "revoked and continued" two per cent of the offenders, essentially returning them to jail for a short time before again considering the offender for parole. Overall, 70 per cent of the offenders were returned to custody to serve the remainder of their sentences, and the other 30 per cent were not.
A further scrutiny of those offenders "revoked and denied" shows that six per cent had committed new felonies, 26 per cent had committed new misdemeanors and 68 per cent had condition violations. Of those offenders "revoked and reparoled," 100 per cent were for conditions violations. Of those offenders "reprimanded and warned," 22 per cent had new misdemeanor convictions and 78 per cent had condition violations. Of those offenders "revoked and continued," 100 per cent had a new felony conviction.
"Revoked and Denied" Violators
During the 1990 summer quarter the board revoked and denied further consideration to 47 violators - 70 per cent of the 67 violation cases. These 47 "revoked and denied" violators had an average risk score of 29.26. The risk score for all violators in the quarter, including those revoked and denied, was 27.36. Over 85 per cent of the "revoked and denied" violators had risk scores between 23 and 40.
Over 35 per cent of the 47 violators had four months or less to serve at the time of the revocation hearing; 63 per cent had eight months or less to serve. The average length of time still to be served was about eight months. In 32 per cent of the cases, the parolees signed waivers of appearance at the final revocation hearing and requested full revocation.
Many of these violators had substance abuse problems. Although some violators were serving time on new sentences and therefore would not in any case be eligible for other non-incarceration options, the Parole Board examined how many violators indicated a willingness to try additional programming. However, information was not readily available in many of the files on a violator's willingness or unwillingness to become involved in relevant programming. It should be noted, though, that in 28 per cent of the cases the violators clearly refused additional programming.
The Parole Board makes individual case decisions based upon the specific case information. They have no quotas or targets. In order to understand why so many violators were revoked and denied, we need to look past the numbers to specific cases for a few examples:
1. L.P.'s current parole violations were for refusing to go to mental health counseling and violating the community residential center rules and being removed. This violation was the third parole violation on this release. L.P. had just been reparoled at the previous hearing. This risk score was 24.
2. A.D.'s risk score was 36. He is an untreated sex offender. He sold and gave alcohol to minors and had sexual contact with a minor. He agreed he needed sex offender treatment and agreed to go to the Hiland Mountain sex offender program if his parole was revoked.
3. L.P.2's risk score was 23. He had received numerous chances at probation and parole in the past. His current violations included several drinking incidents, only two days after his release from jail. He has an extensive history of alcohol abuse and violence.
4. A.J.'s risk score was 40. His current conviction is for sexual abuse of a minor. He has a prior rape. The current violations included possessing guns, using and possessing alcohol, having alcohol in his house and car and possessing a drug pipe. He failed to tell people in his household of his crime and was around and "grooming" a nine-month-old child and a twelve-year-old child.
5. L.G.'s risk score was 39. He has a serious drinking problem. He was involved in two separate drinking incidents and, during the last one, threatened to kill the Village Public Safety Officer. He did not report the police contact to his parole officer.
6. D.R.'s risk score was 37. He committed three new misdemeanant convictions, used drugs, left the area of the state where he was being supervised, moved without telling his parole officer, failed to go to sex offender programming and substance abuse programming, failed to notify his parole officer of police contact and consumed alcohol.
7. A.B.'s risk score was 29. While on supervision he absconded for seven months and committed a new theft.
All the "revoked and denied" parole violators were moderate to very high risks. Most of them have alcohol and/or drug abuse problems and again need substance abuse programming, usually in a residential program. There is usually a three-to-four-month waiting list for this programming. Many of the violators refused programming to deal with their problems. Over a third of the violators had four months or less to serve at the time of the hearing, and almost two-thirds had eight months or less to serve.
There is little doubt some of these violators could be diverted from prison if residential substance abuse treatment programs or other intermediate sanctions were available. However, the profile of the violators does not suggest the numbers diverted would be large.
Samuel Trivette is Executive Director of the Alaska Parole Board.