Parole Release and Supervision: Critical Drivers of American Prison Policy

Kevin R. Reitz, Edward E. Rhine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Decisions tied to parole release, supervision, and revocation are major determinants of the ebb and flow of prison populations across two-thirds of US states. We argue that parole release, as an institution, has been an underacknowledged force in American incarceration and reincarceration policy and an important contributor to the nation's buildup to mass incarceration. In paroling states, no court or state agency holds greater power than parole boards over time actually served by the majority of offenders sent to prison. We examine the leverage exercised by parole boards through their discretionary release decisions and their powers to sanction violators of parole conditions. We note the state-by-state diversity and complexity associated with parole-release decisions and the absence of successful state systems that might serve as a model for other jurisdictions. We highlight the procedural shortfalls universally associated with parole decision-making. We discuss the long reach of parole supervision and the pains it imposes on those subject to its jurisdiction, including the substantial financial burdens levied on parolees. We then turn to the prospects for parole reform and outline a comprehensive blueprint for improving parole release in America.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-298
Number of pages18
JournalAnnual Review of Criminology
StatePublished - Jan 13 2020

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  • discretionary release
  • parole boards
  • prison policy
  • revocation
  • supervision


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