One of the tropes propagated by weak-on-crime politicians is: “Why spend so much money on incarceration when we can just monitor convicts through community supervision?” Well, like anything important or dangerous you want confined, the minute criminals are not under lock and key, it’s not exactly easy to keep track of them. Because of this and reluctance to re-incarcerate those who violate parole, many dangerous parolees are now absconding.
According to a new CBS6 investigation of New York’s parole roster, the NY Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DCCS) lost track of 3,275 parolees, roughly ten percent of all those in community supervision programs. These are individuals who are supposed to be finishing their sentences under home confinement but have not communicated with their parole officers and remain unaccounted for.
The local CBS affiliate discovered through the state’s Freedom of Information Law that "95 of the missing parolees were sex offenders and 50 were considered violent sex offenders.” However, requests for information on more than 3,000 other absconders have not been returned, and the DCCS has not been cooperating with CBS6’s request for more answers.
This revelation comes amid the crisis from New York’s policy of releasing without bail almost every criminal arrested. It has caused a spike in crime, as criminals fear no immediate consequence of committing crimes or of absconding from their court hearings. This report demonstrates that the increased leniencies on the back end of the justice system – converting more prison time into parole – are also sending the message to criminals that the state fears driving up incarceration numbers more than it does absconders from community supervision.
According to Wayne Spence, a parole officer and president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, quoted in the CBS6 expose, a big part of the problem with parole is that the number of officers has not kept up with the number of people being released into the system. According to Spence, each officer should be monitoring no more than 20 high-risk parolees, but because of budget cuts, the ratio is closer to 60 to 1.
This is a problem across the nation, including in Chicago, where there is a clamor for early release but not a sense of urgency to fund these programs. Advocates of de-incarceration want to have it both ways. They want to jettison incarceration for more complex and expensive forms of supervision, but they also want to tout the talking point of saving money through de-incarceration. This same dynamic played out in California, when, after the state enacted Prop 47 to downgrade certain rimes, it was supposed to ramp up spending to deal with the drug and mental illness problems. The jailbreak happened immediately, but the proposed funding to deal with the fallout, not so much.
It’s the same problem with the desire to release violent prisoners but preserve the talking point of only releasing nonviolent offenders, or the stated goal of reducing “unfair” pretrial incarceration but refusing to put more money into the judicial system to expedite trials. But it’s the law-abiding citizens, not the politicians pushing these changes, who get mugged by reality.
The marginal cost per diem per prisoner in federal facilities is only $33, while the cost of home confinement is $44 and the cost of halfway houses is $88 per day. Absent more funding for these programs, the only logical result is that authorities will lose track of parolees.
The reality is that when you tout fiscal outcomes at the expense of public safety, you achieve neither.