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Are minor parole violations responsible for rising incarceration rates?

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Are minor parole violations responsible for growing incarceration rates?

Research at the University of Michigan indicates a key driver of the high incarceration rates is someone on parole being returned to prison — not for an additional crime, but for a technical violation of parole.

Jeffrey Morenoff, a research professor and director of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, joined Stateside to talk about his new research.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On how minor parole violations increases incarceration

Morenoff’s research examined recidivism rates and found that minor parole violations are driving are growing incarceration rates. A number of different non-violent violations can cause someone to find themselves locked up again, including failing to report to a parole agent, failure to complete programs, and failing substance use tests, among many others, said Morenoff.

“We would hope that there’d be some kind of payoff in terms of public safety from sending more people to prison, but we find that those effects are relatively negligible,” Morenoff said.

On what the justice system and legislators should do

Morenoff listed a plethora of methods that the justice system and legislators could use to curb incarceration from minor parole violations. Morenoff called on the justice system to rely more on probation as punishment, rather than prison and parole, which is stricter. He also called for fewer parole violators to be sent back to prison.

Morenoff also had ideas for legislators. He called for a system to use money saved from reduced incarceration rates and reuse it for funding other parts of the criminal justice and social welfare systems. He also called for more checks and balances on prosecutors, who have a lot of discretion with who does and doesn’t get sent to prison. Morenoff also thinks that changing prison funding from a state concern to a local concern would be a good idea. That way, local courts would be more aware of the budget effects their sentences have.

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