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Opinion: Lock the Parole-Prison Revolving Door—Rethink a System That’s Sending Far Too Many People Away for Minor Violations

Most people are aware of mass incarceration, but few have heard of mass supervision. Yet behind the scenes, community supervision after prison — generally known as parole — has become one of biggest drivers of jail and prison populations in New York State. The statistics are dismal.

Each year, 30% of the people sent to state prison here are not incarcerated for new criminal convictions, but for breaching parole restrictions. Most of them are imprisoned for non-criminal “technical” violations, such as missing an appointment or failing a drug test.

We send more people to prison for technical parole violations than any other state but Illinois. For every 10 people who successfully complete parole in New York, nine are sent back to prison, usually for technical violations. This amounts to a parole failure rate of 47%, almost twice as bad as the national average of 28%.

Parole failures are not only returning New Yorkers to state prison. They are also driving up the number of people locked up in local jails.

On any given day on Rikers Island, 20% of the detainees are jailed on parole warrants. The large number of alleged parole violators is a major obstacle to plans to close that miserable place.

This is not just a problem in New York City. While the number of people held on technical violations grew by 8% in the city’s jails last year, in county jails in the rest of the state, that number grew by a whopping 15%, costing taxpayers around the state millions of dollars.

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