Parole Violation

Decision Making Instrument

Parole Agents at a meeting

Research Supports the Parole Violation
Decision Making Instrument


Joan Petersilia, Professor of Criminology at the University of California Irvine Center for Evidence Based Corrections:

My research has shown that California's parole system is the major contributor to overcrowding in the prison population, sending about 70,000 parole violators back to prison each year. About 20 percent of those violators churn in and out of prisons because they commit technical parole violations, not new crimes.  Many are returned to prison for repeatedly. Each time, they typically serve less than four months in prison and get no rehabilitation.  On the other hand, some parolees commit quite serious crimes and they also serve just four or five months on a parole violation and then are released again to continue their criminal careers.

“This new Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument is based on research, and is designed to help close the revolving door of repeat parole violators.  We want to provide better programs for lower risk parolees who wish to go straight, and provide swift and certain punishment for high risk parolees who continue to victimize California citizens. The end result should be lower recidivism, more successful parolees, and safer streets."

Madeline M. Carter, Principal with the Center for Effective Public Policy:

“California is taking important steps to protect the public by advancing the Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument.  This initiative is modeled on successful programs in other states, and will align California’s parole practices with a large body of research.  This evidence-based approach is designed to support the successful transition of offenders from prison to the community, reduce future victimization, and enhance the ability of offenders to become more productive members of the community. It will reinforce positive community adjustment while holding accountable offenders who fail to comply with the conditions of community supervision.

“This initiative will allow California’s parole division to increase consistency in responses to offenders’ violation behavior, use taxpayer dollars more effectively, and most importantly, reduce the rate of non-compliance and new criminal behavior among the paroled population.”

Joe Lehman, Former Director of the Department of Corrections in the states of Washington, Maine and Pennsylvania:

“The decisions regarding the violation of parolees will no longer be a subjective judgment influenced by the demand of the pressing daily work of supervision. The Parole Violation Decision Making Instrument ensures that the decision is better and more consistently informed to serve the principles of justice and fairness as well as public safety.”

Suzanne Brown-McBride, Executive Director California Coalition Against Sexual Assault:

“One of the cornerstones of public safety should be to ensure that punishment and sanctions are consistent, certain and swift.  This instrument will provide guidance to parole agents across the state to ensure that high risk offenders are appropriately incarcerated, and that other offenders who don’t pose a threat to communities will be supervised and managed accordingly.”


“Back to the Community:  Safe and Sound Parole Policies,” published by the Little Hoover Commission (2003):

Recommendation 4: The State should make better use of the resources currently spent re-incarcerating parole violators – and provide more public safety – by developing a range of interventions for failing parolees. Specifically, the State should:

  • Use structured decision-making.  The State should establish clear, transparent and binding guidelines for parole revocation to provide consistency and accountability in the revocation process.  This could be the first step in implementing a broader range of responses that are cost-effective and protect public safety.
  • Use alternative sanctions.  To promote public safety and parolee reintegration, the State, in cooperation with police chiefs and sheriffs, should develop a range of sanctions to be used as alternatives to returning parole violators to prison. A system of graduated sanctions would include:
    • Community-based sanctions for “technical” violations.
    • Limits on which serious violations warrant a return to prison.
    • Lower revocation sentences based on offender risk assessments.
    • Short-term incarceration in community correctional facilities.
  • Focus revocation time on reintegration.  Parole violators who are returned to prison should be processed and housed separately from other inmates.  They should receive services such as drug treatment, life skills and employment preparation to address the factors that contributed to their parole failure. Interventions should be targeted using risk assessments.

Corrections Independent Review Panel: Reforming California’s Youth and Adult Correctional System (“The Deukmejian Report”), as Part of the Governor’s Plan to Reorganize the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency (2005):

“The violation matrix is another important component of the new parole model.  Still being developed by the parole division, the violation matrix will guide parole agents in making decisions about what sanctions, including treatment alternatives to re-incarceration, to impose for particular violations.  Parole agents will use the violation matrix to match a parolee’s violation against a graduated range of increasingly strident sanctions.  According to officials, changes to the violation matrix are pending approval by the division’s deputy director.[59] It is risky to begin less-restrictive sanctions, such as drug treatment in the place of re-incarceration, without first using risk-assessment to determine who is appropriate for various programs.”

Expert Panel on Adult Offender and Recidivism Reduction Programming -
“A Roadmap for Effective Offender Programming in California” (2007):

Recommendation 4—Determine offender rehabilitation programming based on the results of assessment tools that identify and measure criminogenic and other needs.

The Panel recommends that the CDCR adopt and utilize a needs assessment tool that would allow the CDCR to identify which offenders should be provided with rehabilitative treatment programming and which offenders should be placed in programming designed to improve their life skills and provide them with personal growth opportunities. The Panel further recommends that the CDCR develop a risk-needs matrix to assign offenders to programming based on their risk to re-offend levels and their assessed needs.

  • For high and moderate risk to re-offend level prisoners and parolees, the CDCR should assess their criminogenic needs and assign them to the appropriate rehabilitation treatment programs and services.
  • For low risk to re-offend prisoners and parolees, the CDCR should assess their basic skills (e.g., interpersonal, academic, and educational) and assign them to the appropriate programming.