Focusing on High Risk Parolees: An Experiment to Reduce Commitments to the Texas Department of Corrections

by Susan Turner, Joan R. Petersilia


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This study presents the results of a randomized experiment conducted to assess the effects of Intensive Supervision Parole (ISP), a Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles program whose primary objective was to help alleviate prison crowding. The evaluation assessed program implementation, as well as the program's impact on offenders and system costs. Overall, the ISP results were the opposite of what was intended. The study found that ISP was not associated with fewer arrests, even though ISP offenders received more contacts than offenders on routine supervision. ISP was associated with increased technical violations, particularly in Houston, where the ISP model was implemented more fully. At the end of one year, about 30% of all ISP participants were in prison, whereas this was the case with about 18% of those on routine parole. Instead of saving the State of Texas money, ISP supervision turned out to be 1.7 times the cost of routine parole. The ISP program did however constitute an appropriate intermediate punishment, also an important Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles objective. If jurisdictions are primarily interested in providing much-needed flexibility in sentencing decisions by imposing an intermediate punishment that more closely fits the crimes of offenders, then ISP holds promise. If, however, they are primarily interested in reducing recidivism and system costs, then ISP programs, as currently structured--with a focus on surveillance as opposed to treatment--will likely fall short.

Originally published in: Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, v. 29, no. 1, February 1992, pp. 34-61.

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