Behind Bars: With its low success rate, parole is a scary proposition

Monday , March 20, 2017 - 5:30 AM

BRIAN WOOD, Behind Bars columnist

Parole is a rather scary proposition. I’m told that three out of four parolees don’t complete it successfully.

When someone is on parole, they’re still considered to be serving their sentence. At any time, they can be taken back to prison.

Because of this, prisoners are constantly asking the parole board for a termination of their sentence rather than being released on parole. Many would rather do any extra six months to a year to get “off paper.”

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The circumstances as to what will bring an offender back to prison fluctuate greatly. When I first came to prison, it seemed the only way one would come back to prison was if they brought new charges with them.

Right now, the climate is very different. The change seems to move in tandem with bed space available in the prison system. If there is space available, it seems to be much easier to be punished for parole violations, even small ones.

I was just in line to get my hair cut with a guy who told me the halfway houses are packed full of guys on “techs” — a “tech,” or technicality, is when a parolee doesn’t necessarily break the law but doesn’t follow all the rules of parole, like missing a required class or breaking curfew.

This prisoner had just come back to prison because he was scheduled to “check-in” with his parole officer in Utah an hour before his sister’s funeral in Wyoming. He asked if he could reschedule and was told he could not. At least when he chose to go to his sister’s funeral, he knew the consequences.

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Occasionally situations arise in which a parolee is unaware he is breaking the rules. I recently heard of one such case. The prisoner I am referring to was incarcerated on a third-degree sex offense, served 3 years in prison and was released on parole. He was out for about a year and a half before violating parole.

The reason he violated was because he had his children spend the night at his home, and they didn’t sleep on a different floor than him, which was a stipulation of his of his parole. His home didn’t have a separate floor, so he slept in a different room.

I’m sure he believed he took the necessary precautions and didn’t mean to break the rules, but when it comes to the system, ignorance is no excuse.

I know another prisoner who served over 20 years for murder before being granted parole. He told me he violated for having a hunting knife in his room, which is against the rules. He went to the parole board for his violation and was given a 10-year rehearing, meaning he won’t be eligible for parole again for at least 10 more years.

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It’s no doubt tough, but with so much on the line, parolees need to learn and obey every rule with an uncompromising steadfastness. There are no little mistakes afforded.

I don’t think the relationship between every parolee and their parole officer is necessarily an adversarial one. Of course, I don’t get to hear about the successful cases. It is, however, the parole officer’s job to “catch” offenders and send them back.

It would seem parolees are graded on a curve, and some parolee’s efforts won’t be good enough. I must believe mine will be because it will be my best. But who knows if my best will be good or thorough enough?

I assume parole officers need to hit quota with violations just like traffic officers need to with speeding tickets, so literally and figuratively I won’t speed. Metaphorically speaking though, if driving under the speed limit isn’t enough, I won’t even get behind the wheel.

The only way to make 100 percent sure you don’t fall victim to the inconsistent treatment is to not ever let yourself become part of the prison system in the first place.

Parole, with all its hoops to jump through and the games played, is just part of what you sign up for when you get yourself sent to prison.

Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 35 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.

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