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1 in 5 inmates returns to community without supervision, report finds

Twenty-two percent of state prisoners who maxed out their sentences were released without any supervision in 2012, undercutting efforts to prevent recidivism and improve public safety, according to a report released Wednesday.

“Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision” found that myriad laws and policies adopted in the 1980s and ‘90s has led to a stark increase in the rate at which those inmates serve their full sentences behind bars, leaving no time for parole or probation agencies to monitor their whereabouts and activities. The so-called “max-out rate” grew 119 percent between 1990 and 2012, from fewer than 50,000 to more than 100,000, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts survey.

“There’s a broad consensus that public safety is best served when offenders have a period of supervision and services when they leave prison,” Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public safety performance project, said in a statement. “Yet the trend is toward releasing more and more inmates without any supervision or services whatsoever. Carving out a supervision period from the prison sentence can cut crime and corrections costs.”

Behind the increase, according to the 22-page report, are nonviolent offenders. Roughly 20 and 25 percent of drug and property offenders, respectively, were released without supervision in 2000, but those figures leapt to 32 and 31 percent — or nearly 1 in 3 — in 2011.

“There’s a broad consensus that public safety is best served when offenders have a period of supervision and services when they leave prison."

- Adam Gelb, director, Pew’s public safety performance project

“The increase in max-outs is largely the outcome of state policy choices over the past three decades that resulted in offenders serving higher proportions of their sentences behind bars,” the report reads. “Indeed, ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws, limits on release eligibility, and the outright elimination of parole in some states added nine months to the average prison time serve by offenders released in 2009, compared to those released two decades earlier.”

Max-out rates, meanwhile, vary widely by state. Florida, which abolished parole in 1983, had the nation’s highest max-out rate between 1990 and 2012 at 64.3 percent, closely followed by Maine (63.4) and North Carolina (55.9). Conversely, fewer than 10 percent of inmates were released without supervision in 2012 in several states, including Arkansas, California and Wisconsin.

At least eight states, including Kansas, Ohio and West Virginia, have adopted reforms in recent years to ensure that all or most offenders can be supervised upon their release. Most of the reforms, however, which are too new to effectively evaluate, typically carve out the supervision period from the inmate’s prison term rather than adding additional time post-release, the report found.

“The prevailing philosophy used to be that we just turn inmates loose at the prison gate with nothing more than a bus ticket and the clothes on their back,” Gelb said in a statement. “Now, policymakers on both sides of the aisle are starting to realize that if you’re serious about public safety, you need more effective strategies.”

The report recommends that states reduce max-outs by requiring post-prison supervision for all offenders. At least eight states — including Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia — have passed mandatory reentry supervision policies in recent years.

“Policymakers are increasingly recognizing the fragility of the successful resumption of community life after incarceration,” the report concludes. “States and the federal government are committing significant resources to improve reentry planning and strengthen community supervision in response to evidence of their effectiveness in protecting public safety by preventing recidivism.”

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