Short-Term Effects of Sanctioning Reform on Parole Officers' Revocation Decisions

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Abstract:

Parole officials have traditionally been afforded considerable discretion when making sanctioning decisions to be able to tailor sanctions according to substantively rational concerns such as individuals' unique needs and situations. However, the application of substantive rationality in sanctioning can also generate unwanted disparities because sanctioning decisions may be based on extralegal factors that parole officials consider relevant. Concerns regarding disparate treatment of offender groups have prompted a number of states to consider adopting administrative violation response policies that emphasize formal rationality and uniformity by restricting parole officers' discretion and structuring sanctioning decisions according to legally relevant criteria. By emphasizing formal rationality in sanctioning, structured sanction policies present a dilemma for parole officers—uniformity versus individualized treatment. In 2005, the state of Ohio implemented an administrative violation response policy designed to reduce parole officers' reliance on revocation hearings and promote uniformity in sanctioning decisions. This study involved an examination of whether Ohio's shift to structured sanctioning coincided with differences in legal and extralegal effects on parole officers' decisions to pursue revocation hearings. Analyses of data collected before and after the implementation of the policy revealed a reduction in the number of revocation hearings officers pursued. Only modest increases in uniformity were observed, however, because there was little disparity resulting from officers' hearing decisions before the policy was put in place. These findings are discussed within perspectives on justice system actors' decision making.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5893.2011.00440.x

Affiliations: 1: Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina 2: Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati 3: Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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