‘It Didn’t Work:’ States That Ended Parole for Violent Crimes Are Thinking Again

Virginia, newly dominated by Democrats, may broaden parole for the first time in a generation. Others states are watching.

Comments: 63

  1. People deserve a second chance MOST of the time however, if they don’t have a well thought out plan of action for when they get out of prison it will never work

  2. Yes. There needs to be a plan for housing, employment, health care. But as a society Americans don’t want to pay to provide services to law abiding citizens, they certainly don’t want to pay for the formerly incarcerated.

  3. "Mr. Barnes, who was 21 at the time, said that he had not realized when he took the deal that the Virginia Legislature had, only months before, abolished the most common type of parole, meaning that there was a good chance he would die in prison.... "Mr. Barnes said that his public defender told him he was facing 600 years in prison, but that if he accepted a plea deal for 150 years he could be released on parole in as little as five years. "Records show that Mr. St. Clair’s law license was revoked by the Virginia State Bar in 2015 for misconduct, including lying to clients." It looks to me like Mr. Barnes should be able to get his sentence reviewed.

  4. The fact that Mr. St. Clair had his license revoked for lying to his clients as a public defender is absolutely disgusting. He should face trial. He is why parole is good policy. Armed robbery is awful, but as the article notes, many murders serve less time than Mr. Barnes already has. Mr. Barnes deserves to have his case evaluated, and the opportunity for a second chance for something he did half of his lifetime ago.

  5. Interesting. How about what our genius legislature in New York has done-- end bail for the violent-- putting them back out on the streets. How has that worked out when instituted in other parts of the country?

  6. @Steve, it worked out well in NJ, which virtually eliminated the bail system in 2017. Independent research supported by the Arnold Foundation (https://www.mdrc.org/publication/evaluation-pretrial-justice-system-reforms-use-public-safety-assessment-0) as well as NJ's own analysis showed that court appearance rates remained high (a slight decrease from 92.7 percent in 2014 to 89.4 percent in 2017) while the rate of alleged new criminal activity stayed low (a statistically insignificant increase from 24.2 percent in 2014 to 26.9 percent in 2017). Defendants released under bail reform were no more likely to be charged with a new crime or fail to appear in court than defendants released on bail under the old system. The other good news is poverty no longer is a factor in determining how long a person in jail waits for trial. There were 6,000 fewer people incarcerated on Oct. 3, 2018, than on the same day in 2012. Only 4.6 percent of individuals in jail were held on bail of $2,500 or less, compared to 12 percent in 2012. And the average time a person spent in jail pretrial dropped from 62.4 days in 2014 to 37.2 days in 2017. At the same time, 47% of the jail population consisted of people charged with or sentenced for at least one violent offense, compared to 35 percent on the same day in 2012. Those high-risk individuals who were deemed a possible danger to the community or a flight risk were no longer able to leave jail simply because they had the money to pay their way.

  7. @Marc Levin, now you’re confusing Steve with facts. How unfair of you!

  8. "...during an era of surging violent crime and the imposition of progressively harsher punishments." In fact the early '90s were actually the beginning of an era of declining violent crime. That might not have been entirely clear at the time, but we have the benefit of hindsight and that should be reflected in reporting on this topic.

  9. @Matt The 90s were the "beginning of an era of declining violent crime" exactly *because* of the harsher punishments

  10. And if you live in Oakland, CA, that assailant, drug dealer, or convicted mail thief and repeat i.d. theft perpetrator on parole or just done with parole could soon be your and your children’s across-the-hall neighbor with whom you or your child might find her/himself alone with in the elevator or the dimly-lit storage room or peering over your shoulder when you get your mail; since the City Council members (who live in single family homes or other property exempt from the bill) decided to make it illegal for landlords of apartment buildings to do or use criminal background checks on prospective tenants. Nothing says “serving the people” more than ensuring safe housing for ex-cons, even violent ex-cons, at the expense of the safety, security, and mental health of middle class families with life-long clean records....

  11. @Renter Yes, it's really sad that most times local legislators care more about headlines than resolving the real issues. Criminal justice must be down in a systematic way, as it was broken down in a systematic way ever since Nixon's war on drugs. It's the safety of the people that is always more pressing than being non-judgemental. There must be tenacious laws that make sure criminals pay a dear price, and yet, those who conscientiously wish to repent must be justly recognized and protected.

  12. It's unfortunate that for years our legislators have turned incarceration of miscellaneous felons into a profitable, capital-based business combining private prisons, bail bonds and sanctimonious law companies that would drain every last coin of already deprived families, and deprive them of further right to redemption. Glad to hear about more changes in criminal justice.

  13. I have spent the last 30 years in law enforcement, so please don't mistake for being soft on crime. The cost of keeping someone incarcerated is ridiculously high, estimates range from $30k to $60k per annum. The older an inmate is, the more expensive they are to house due to health insurance costs. Most who study the issue say that the vast majority of inmates who have become older than 37 (that seems to be the magic age) are far less likely to re-offend. I would much rather that my tax dollars be spent on professionals who help older inmates transition back into the world and have a chance to be a productive member of society. We could hire a great social worker at $100k with a caseload of 10 inmates and it would be $200k cheaper than it would be to keep them locked up.

  14. $100k for a social worker who carries a caseload of 10 is a terrific suggestion. And, sadly, a fantasy not likely to become reality any time soon. Unfortunately and unjustly and unwisely, $100k is currently about twice what the average Master-degreed social workers with caseloads 3-10 times the size you suggest make in a year. Sigh.

  15. @MSW Well, we could have more and better paid social workers with only a fraction of the boatload of money we would save by reducing incarceration..

  16. @rob It would probably be cheaper and far more effective to simply pay the 10 former inmates $12k/year to stay out of jail, than to pay 1 social worker $100k/yr. It's a shame that wealthy America's not yet ready for Andrew Yang's Freedom Dividend. Among UBI's many benefits would be reducing the financial desperation at the root of most crime.

  17. 150 years for pretending to have a gun to rob 3 McDonald's? The judge should get jail for allowing that sentence to go down. Let me guess low income, person of color with no options. Shame.

  18. Seems like good public policy is, again, undermined by the willfully self-serving, fear-harvesting GOP propaganda machine. We live in a very safe society. Yes, there will be instances where a parolee will commit a violent crime. Such individual failures do not mean an entire social program is a failure. But they garner headlines and make people scared for thier safety...and kill off good policy - and promote a security-State. It's been the standard right-wing play book for decades and it is making our society more disfunctional over time.

  19. @HereToday We live in a relatively safe society because it wasn’t safe 30 years ago. We then took steps—better policing, more arrests, stop and frisk, longer prison sentences—that brought the crime rate down to where it is today (although it is starting to rise again, it is still far from the early 90’s peaks).

  20. @HereToday Clearly, neither you nor anyone you dearly love has been the victim of a violent or other dreadful crime. How lucky for you. The next time it’s you or your child or mother or brother or granddad or wife or best friend who is attacked by an ex-con or someone let out early, be sure to write back to the NYT to let us all know how little their lives and suffering matter and how worth it was to “reform” the criminal justice system. This comment may be harsh and snide, but it’s true and a flash in the pan compared to the harshness of having one’s body, psyche, and life shattered by crime.

  21. @Alberto Except that only the US incarcerated so many people, and yet crime rates decreased everywhere... If anything they are still higher in the US than elsewhere, even with the millions upon millions of people (mostly black and hispanics, incidentally) jailed.

  22. Barnes has already served 25 years for three robberies? what a miscarriage of justice. What if he had been white?

  23. @Gary Valan Three robberies where he pretended to have a gun .... so so unjust.

  24. @Wendy Bossons @Wendy Bossons Cannot tell if serious or not... but yes, it is insane to lock someone up for 25 years for anything short of murder.

  25. The fact that we spend so much on prisons, and so little on schools and social welfare, says a lot about this country. Don't get me wrong, we have true monsters in society. Rapists, serial killers, molesters, ect. However, the vast majority of our prison population, including those in jail for violent crimes, are there because of poverty driven crime. Most homicides and robberies are between gang members, and related to the drug trade. There are not a lot of middle class or wealthy people going into the drug trade. It's a dangerous way to make a living, with a short career that usually ends in death or jail. It's not the kind of job that people take because they want to, but because they feel they have to. When is the last time you saw someone quit a middle class or wealthy lifestyle and decide to join a gang? It hardly ever happens. Yes, it is a moral failing to become a drug dealer, and use violence to solve problems. However, the fact that pretty much only poor people are choosing this path shows that it is a moral failing that we dangle in front of the hopeless, then act shocked when they choose that path. Iceland has hardly any homicides and robberies, because there is no incentive to become a criminal. People know they will have their basic needs met, even if they do the most menial jobs. If you want to reduce crime, you start with income inequality, not prison.

  26. @Kenneth : I was thinking the same thing. We already know that poverty robs children of IQ points. And we also know that scarcity leads to ADHD-like lack of impulse control, which facilitates the behaviors associated with crime, namely, lack of self-control and executive function.

  27. The problem is disparate treatment, with murderers being released while those convicted of lesser crimes imprisoned for longer. Sentencing should be uniform. Parole for a robber makes sense. Murderers should not be paroled until their victims are paroled from the grave.

  28. Crime has been tackled, unsuccessfully, politically, not scientifically, not ethically. We do a disservice to those incarcerated for substantial periods of time and, upon release, do not give them the supportive services to re-integrate them into society. And prisons cannot be run by anyone. They should be certified to be run by psychiatrists and psychologists specializing in the rehabilitation and humane treatment of these people. Crime doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are factors that predispose to it.

  29. And some (but not all) of those conditions cannot be (a) determined in a meaningful way and/or (b) cured or even, in certain cases, even lessened or mitigated. That’s the sad, but true, fact.

  30. California has had 3 or 4 cases of people killing after early release. Each time the killer's families blame society instead of the killers. The mother of the loser with the long criminal record who ambushed the police is blaming society and everyone else. When he got out, he told her he was going to kill cops, and she told no one. Millions and millions of people go through life poor, discriminated against, etc. and they do not kill or rob people.

  31. To set the record straight, victims of crimes are the true victims, the perpetrators—and those who aid, abet and participate in crime with them—are criminals. I hope all the progressive prosecutors--and Democratic Presidential candidates--will give serious thought to what it means to eliminate bail, reduce sentences and allow criminals to run loose in our communities. Who is responsible for post-release crimes committed by those released early? An apology to their future victims will be of small consolation for those who are harmed; and how about compensation and restitution for the actual victims? Early release or release without bail of thousands of criminals is a recipe for increased crime, and increased numbers of victims. (Check federal statistics of recidivism rates—very sobering.) Why doesn't the NYT run a long series of articles about how victims' lives have been harmed--or shattered--or taken--by criminals? Pretty easy to develop sympathy for victims, I should think. Virtually no criminals are forced to commit their crimes; there is such a thing as free will. It's simple: Just don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

  32. “We thought we were fighting crime, and it didn’t work,” said David Marsden, a Democratic state senator in Virginia . . .” Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. —George Santayana Marsden is a fool. In the early 1990’s we were fighting crime. And we largely won. Rates of murder, rape, robbery, assault fell consistently and dramatically through the 90’s and 00’s. Young people alive today can’t imaging the level of violence in places like NY City 25 years ago. There are small cities worth of people alive today who otherwise would have been murdered if crime rates had stayed where they were. Large cities could be populated with women who weren’t raped, and others who weren’t robbed or assaulted violently due to falling crime rates. And that doesn’t count the millions, who might not have been direct victims but whose lives and families might have otherwise been ruined by violent crime. There are no doubt many reasons why crime rates fell. But the population grew, and the prime 16-25 age cohort grew. And became more urban. And gun laws were relaxed. All things that might lead to increases in crime, not decreases. But we did introduce Broken Windows Policing, and Compstat sent cops to neighborhoods with high crime (no, this didn’t start with Bloomberg). And we arrested more violent criminals, and convicted more violent criminals. And kept violent criminals in prison longer. And, lo . . . Violent crime went down. No, Marsden is a fool.

  33. @Alberto The economy was a lot better during those years, which also has a big impact on crime rates.

  34. That’s a lot of words

  35. @Alberto Crime fell in all Western countries in a similar timeframe, and none of them instituted policies as draconian as the US. Yet crime fell all the same. What's your conclusion from observing these facts?

  36. Jeff Sessions and the Correction Corporation of America won’t be happy

  37. "Like Virginia those states decades ago virtually eliminated discretionary parole..." There are those argue parole must be subject to periodic review, otherwise it amounts to a life sentence. Lifetime sex registration is quite similar: it must be subject to periodic review to remain constitutional.

  38. Yup. Gee I could have told you that. People in jail for assault get out before their.victims recover.

  39. Cash bail should be eliminated for all AND judges should be able to hold those accused of crimes with a history of repetition or acts of violence until their trial. Cash bail IS discriminatory by it's nature in that not being held shouldn't be determined by your economics. At the same time, holding people in custody should ALSO be colorblind in that regardless of your race if you're an habitual criminal you should be held and not released so that you can prey again on innocent victims. It's that simple and taking away the ability to hold persons in custody is utterly ridiculous, as we've clearly already seen in just a month and a half here in New York. I believe in criminal justice reform so long as it's equitable and sensible, and the reforms as they were done are neither.

  40. The parole system is part of the revolving door in the system, that is a money machine for the public unions, and state patronage rackets. The States are going bankrupt housing the criminals and now they need to release them into the public but at the same time maintain the money machine for their friends and relatives on the state payroll, it s a balancing act but they managed to con the public in the lawless 70s and 80s why not take another bite at the apple

  41. Astonishingly, at the same time Virginia is releasing violent criminals into the community they are taking the guns away from law abiding citizens

  42. @D They aren't taking guns away from anybody law abiding. Making sure the right people get them to begin with.

  43. It's more a matter of mental health. A violent offender who is a sociopath can't be cured and is almost certain to reoffend. Many schizophrenics need constant medication in order to be safe. Medication that requires them to be under a doctor's care to maintain the prescription and medication that they may not have the money to buy. In the absence of these very serious and difficult to treat mental health issues then parole after middle age would be a great idea. Now let's get the ball rolling by eliminating capital punishment.

  44. Many people with schizophrenia, especially certain manifestations of schizophrenia, need more than being followed by a doctor and free medication. Most do much better at taking their medications everyday and in the correct amount and timing with the help of Assertive Community Treatment, which sends a licensed social worker or psychiatric RN with proper expertise to each individual’s home each day (or if needed more than once a day) to ensure meds get taken and other supports remain in place. Also, you neglected to mention the greatly adverse impacts of substance abuse and the intense pressure many former users, maybe especially individuals exiting prison or jail and returning to communities, families, or friendship circles who don’t support sobriety.

  45. Repeat offender just shot up a precinct in the Bronx when he got out.

  46. @Ignatius J. Reilly And that single anecdote tells us all we need to know about crime, the jail terms, parole, and the entire justice system. Who knew it was so simple.

  47. @Sandy You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know which way the wind is blowing.

  48. @Mon Ray So by this logic, why not eliminate all discretion and go back to 3 strikes, because that was so effective at reducing crime rates and had not negative impacts on society. Now that I think about it, we should be able to judge a persons trajectory based upon there first run-in with the law. 1 fast food joint robbery = sorry, you are a waste to society... 100 year sentence with no parole.

  49. To keep crime rates at an acceptable rate, a certain percentage of the population must be locked up. This is a fact. Virginia or the States that border Virginia will go through a period of violent crime before they re-remember that important fact.

  50. @Ryan Bingham @Ryan Bingham No country incarcerates as many of his citizens as the United States, and yet they are doing fine, mostly with crime rates lower than the US. So, what gives?

  51. @Ryan Bingham Except the science doesn't really support you. Do a good search for "do incarceration rate correlate with crime?". And look at other countries. No one in Virginia is suggesting to get rid of prisons... but a parole board with some discretion isn't that radical.

  52. Sometimes, it's not about rehabilitation, or 2nd chances, or being punished long enough. Sometimes it's about the punishment fitting the crime, or the feeling of the victims and their loved ones, or making an example. If these offenders behave themselves, and thrive in prison, give them privileges and opportunities. In prison. Don't give them their freedom, and the opportunity to live their lives they way they want to, because their victims can't.

  53. @Dave So there's now a 20-year-old fast food robber a little more than 1/6th of the way though his 150 year sentence. When he's 170, I hope we'll agree he's been adequately punished for his stupid behavior when he was 20. Good thing there isn't a parole board with some discretionary powers letting this black criminal out on the street. And let's be blunt, a 20-year-old white kid making stupid decisions in 1995 would have been WAY more likely to have gotten an appropriate / reasonable sentence.

  54. It didn't work? No where does the author mention that crime rates did indeed fall. The problem may be that we have incarcerated more criminals than we have room for, and that prevents convicts who could be rehabilitated from getting the chance they deserve. But far and away those who are incarcerated will remain criminals and any attempt to get them out earlier will lead to more victims. A better solution may be to stratify convicts into those who, via good behavior, demonstrate the ability and desire to change their life, and then place them in prisons designed to rehabilitate.

  55. One of the reasons for the decrease in violent crime across America was that bad guys stayed locked up. An experiment to let them out will not end well. It takes Democrats to believe otherwise.

  56. @Truthbeknown right... except that violent crime has declined in all advanced economies, none of which has mass incarceration at the level of the United States (which also had had periods of both lower and higher crime than they have now, with no correlation whatsoever to the number of people incarcerated). So, yeah, it only takes disregarding all the facts to be completely in agreement with your opinion.

  57. @PGH Next you're going to question the logic / appropriateness / excessiveness of locking up a person for 150 years for robbery? Maybe the exercise of letting anyone convicted of any crime out of prision should be revisted. All felonies = life sentence. Think of the safe society it will create! (again, let's just ignore the statistics and evidence that the length of sentences don't have any meaningful impact on whether people commit crimes in the first place.)

  58. If Virginian has the fourth lowest violent crime rate among the U.S. states then the status quo seems to be working OK.

  59. There is nothing inherently positive or meritorious in releasing duly convicted violent felons early.

  60. A lot of comments here from people who appear to have never read any of the voluminous research literature about incarceration and violent crime rates. General consensus is that the US over-incarcerated to such a massive scale that it did have a small reduction impact on crime rates. But what a price you paid. Crime rates went down during that era everywhere, whether incarceration was used or not -- it was largely demographics, not "get tough" policies. Start by reading some of the research done by Marc Mauer, referred to in the article.

  61. I've worked with inmates for 20 plus years - incarcerated for minor and very serious offences. A common denominator in positive growth of many inmates is maturity, exposure to valuable self help classes, family support, understanding how negative behavior impacts them, their family and the victims of the crime, accepting responsibility for their past life, not judging others and finally identifying their values remaining loyal to them. How does this process occur. By holding the inmate accountable and showing respect for him/her as a person. Separating the crime for which the inmate is incarcerated and focusing on how to help the inmate grow into a responsible citizen. Civic lessons, how successful communities differ from non successful communities, etc. How each of us can make a positive contribution to society. In other words bring them in as opposed to isolating them.

  62. Let the punishment fit the crime. Forget 'social engineering' as a crime deterrent; it never works. If it did, there would be no crime. Again, let the punishment fit the crime. And have the backbone to mete it out, not bail on your principles because prisons are---how ironic!---becoming overcrowded.

  63. As I sit here, two cars in succession sped by my window, easily going 60 in a 30 zone. One can hear their enlarged tailpipes and stereo systems from half a mile away. My neighbor and I pick up bagfuls of litter on our daily walks, thrown out of car windows by such "non-violent" offenders. Car break ins and robberies are rampant. From my vantage point, school discipline and law enforcement need to be much stricter and to start at an earlier age. I’m in favor of children being taught and empowered to clean their own classrooms, to keep the school grounds manicured and to pick up bags of trash on the walk to school. Parents should be required to participate in cross-walk duty and teachers need to be allowed to discipline those in their charge, physically or otherwise, as they see fit. I’d love to see the school day begin with calisthenics. Music, art and theater should be funded and celebrated again. Two years of military service should be required for all youth, with eligibility starting in grade eight. Prisons should be self-supporting through work farms and in-house for-profit industry, with proceeds paying for heavy restitution. Continue the very effective “three strikes and you’re out” laws and restrict parolees from returning to the environments where they learned to become criminals in the first place. In short, bring back personal, community and civic responsibility through empowerment, broken-window level enforcement and robust educational funding.