Book Report: History of Parole the Philosophy

Pages: 10 (3239 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

History Of Parole

The philosophy of parole had its germ in the minds of early 19th century English thinkers. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution -- as the poorer populations burgeoned and the gap between them and the rich grew -- England and other western countries were plagued by sharp increases in crime. The colonial powers of the day had already instituted widespread penal transportation systems, and, in fact, great nations -- notably Australia and the United States -- were built partially around societies of transported convicts. In that time it became clear to many administrative thinkers that the philosophy by which incarceration was viewed as merely retributive was flawed, and a more inclusive philosophy of corrective incarceration began to take shape. Corrective incarceration held that the traditional system of punishment resulted in released convicts unprepared for freedom; men who were bitter, and, without recourse to common social avenues, prone to recidivism. One of the first solutions proposed was the parole system, perhaps originally developed by one Captain Alexander Maconochie, whose intent was twofold: first, to give inmates the opportunity to earn their release by good conduct and service; and, second, to better equip inmates for transition into society by providing them with increasing stages of supervised social responsibility. Since Maconochie's experiment on Norfolk Island, parole systems have become standard practice for governments the world over. At year end 2008, some five and a half million men and women were supervised in the United States under some form of probation, parole, or federal supervised release, collectively referred to as community corrections. The history of this system, which in the United States has passed through many hands, is the subject of this study.

Perhaps as long as there have been societies, systems of incarcerations and prisons have existed alongside, a necessary adjunct to the truth of the human condition. In ancient Sumer, the mythology spoke of the goddess Nungal, who was herself imprisoned; in Old Jerusalem of biblical times a prison facility was kept; in Europe, and principalities the world over, there were dungeons; in Shakespeare the Tower of London looms large over misbehaving royalty. Most of these facilities were not, strictly speaking, institutions of incarceration but more akin to holding cells, where convicts were held until either corporal or capital punishment was administered.

Since then, the institution of incarceration has been through many progressive rehabilitations. In renaissance Europe the idea of penal transportation grew up; later, in industrial age England specifically, the idea of institutional incarceration as a sentence unto itself grew up. These two advancements still retained the core philosophy of incarceration as a retributive practice. Convicts were sent to prison to be punished -- by hard labor and harder conditions -- for their crimes. Hence the term penitentiary, indicative of penance.

In the 1830s and 40s, Captain Alexander Maconochie (1787-1860) developed and first instituted a system of parole on Norfolk Island, a transport colony for convicts "twice-sentenced," those who had been found guilty of a crime in England and transported to Australia, then found guilty of another crime in Australia and transported to Norfolk Island. Maconochie had served in the English Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and, off the coast of Holland, had been captured and became a prisoner of war, following Napoleon's army on hard marches for over two years. His firsthand perspective on the life of a convict led him to his ideas about parole, which at the time were widely controversial and radical.

Maconochie's ideas revolved around two principles:

as cruelty debases both the victim and society, punishment should not be vindictive but should aim at the reform of the convict to observe social constraints, and a convict's imprisonment should consist of task, not time sentences, with release depending on the performance of a measurable amount of labour.

Maconochie's biographer writes that Maconochie "was a deeply religious man, of generous and compassionate temperament, and convinced of the dignity of man," (Wikipedia, 2009).

In 1840, Maconochie was appointed to the penal governorship of Norfolk Island, where he had his chance to institute his corrections based incarceration philosophy. Maconochie's system was composed of "marks" awarded to inmates for exemplary conduct and service; by earning marks, inmates passed through stages of incarceration from an initial period of harshest confinement with difficult labor, to "first, separate imprisonment; then, 'social labour' through the day and separate confinement at night; next, 'social treatment both day and night,'" (Morris, N. 2002). Another stage was also originally planned, wherein convicts would be grouped together for social treatment and their advancement in the mark system would be contingent on the group's advancement as a whole, rather than individual merit. This phase was never implemented, and the preceding phases only ever became reality in limited forms of themselves, due to political opposition from London. In 1843, Maconochie was recalled from Norfolk Island -- a largely political decision -- after having convinced even some of his detractors of the success of his system; in his time as warden, Maconochie had released more than 900 inmates to community corrections programs, and, in time, less than 2% ever re-offended.

The credit for the introduction of parole systems to the United States is traditionally awarded to Zebulon Reed Brockway (1827-1920), a former corrections officer who became a career warden in prisons in New York and Michigan. At Elmira Reformatory in upstate New York -- a maximum security prison still in service today -- Brockway instituted a system of inmate classifications and "marks" by which inmates could earn reductions in their sentences and parole. The idea of convicts being able to earn reductions in their parole -- traceable to both Maconochie and an Irishman, Sir Walter Crofton -- is known as an indeterminate sentence; the term representative of the fact that while a total time of incarceration is prescribed by a judge, the inmate will actually serve an indeterminate period of time -- possibly much lower than the judge's prescription -- in accordance with his conduct and service. Brockway's system divided inmates into three categories on the basis of their responsiveness and cooperation with correctional methods and labor regimes. Only inmates in the first or lowest category could earn reductions in their sentences or parole releases.

Another Yankee, John Augustus, is remembered as "the father of probation." Augustus, a private citizen, undertook to bail convicted felons from jail after their convictions but before they had been sentenced. Augustus operated mainly in Boston, where he "confined [his] efforts mainly to those who were indicted for their first offence, and whose hearts were not wholly depraved, but gave promise of better things . . ." (Probation and Parole, 2009). Augustus also provided a support system for bailed convicts -- assisting them with family, financial, and occupational matters -- which led to categorically reduced sentences for those participating in the program; convicts were able to appear in front of a judge with accomplishments and progress in hand, and not just a hat. Of the roughly 2000 people Augustus bailed out throughout his career, only four were ever reported to betray his trust. (Lindner, 2006)

Pursuant to Augustus's practice in Boston, the state of Massachusetts passed a bill in 1878 authorizing the hiring of a probation officer and providing for probationary sentences for convicted felons. The practice spread throughout the country, although it was nearly another 80 years before probation was available across the United States for all convicted adults.

Prior to the Massachusetts probation legislation, an off-the-cuff system of parole had been practiced in the United States by the judicial branch. The system began with the judicial power to suspend a convict's sentence in the case where it was believed that justice had been miscarried. By 1830, in Boston, this practice had expanded to widely include cases where no miscarriage of justice was apprehended, but the suspension was rather used as a tool to mitigate harsh sentences and alleviate over-crowding at prisons. In 1916, the practice of judicial suspension of sentences came under review by the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that the practice infringed on the presidential power of pardon and was, thereby, unconstitutional. The Court recommended that congress pursue parole-type legislation to provide for the deficiency in judicial sentence suspension.

In the federal system of the United States, the first provision for good-time reduction in sentences was made law in 1867, and provided for one month of credited time per year of good conduct to inmates sentenced to one year or more. This was not yet a true parole system, but more akin to today's supervised release system, in that it did not provide for any sort of community corrections program but was a determinate reduction in total sentence.

It was not until 1910 that the first true parole legislation was enacted in the federal system of the United States. Under this legislation, parole boards were created at each of the three federal penitentiaries then in operation, to provide for the determination of parole release dates. These parole boards… [END OF PREVIEW]

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