Since parole was decommissioned in Maine in 1976, there has been little recourse for corrected or rehabilitated inmates.

Parole has been a neglected resource for too long in Maine. If the state were to upgrade, expand and explore the full potential that exists in parole, it would not only improve the overall structure of corrections and enable inmates to function with the proper incentives needed to contribute to society, but it would also mean an automatic reduction in the prison population. This would eliminate the need for the state to commit capital to the construction of non-productive prisons.

The fact that, in recent years, this state has passed law-and-order measures that have lengthened prison sentences and reduced the amount of “good time” credit that can be earned reflects how misunderstood the correctional system is.

Parole is the early release of a prisoner on the condition of good behavior. Parole is not leniency, but a level of supervision that is less restrictive than prison supervision.

Probation, in contrast, is a trial period of community supervision imposed in lieu of imprisonment for testing a person’s behavior.

Probations, commutations, pardons and “good time” laws have nothing to do with parole. Parole and probation officers function as a combination social worker, police officer and counselor, helping a parolee with his or her problems on one hand, while policing them on the other.


Parole can be converted into the most cost-effective operation in the Maine criminal justice system. Legislation can be drawn up requiring parolees to pay part or all of the cost of their supervision. With parolees bearing the cost of their own supervision, parole usage and the staff to supervise parolees could easily be expanded.

Prisoners who present no danger to the public could be taken out of prison and placed in jobs to support their families, pay restitution to their victims, pay taxes and contribute to the overall economy of the state.

It costs significantly less to put an inmate on parole than to incarcerate him or her. District attorneys have traditionally favored parole because it is easier to facilitate plea bargaining; what’s more, a parolee arrested as a suspect in another crime can be returned to prison.

The misconceptions are that people in prison are bad or incorrigible and that all prisoners are the same. Not everyone who commits murder, for example, has a compulsion to kill or is a sadistic sociopath. Murder is primarily a one-time offense, researchers have found. As a class, people serving long sentences have the lowest recidivism rate of the entire criminal spectrum.

Parolees do not commit crimes as often as is believed, a fact reflected by the small number of parolees whose paroles are revoked. Since a greater percentage of parolees have their parole revoked for technical reasons than for any other reason, the reality is that relatively few parolees go out and commit new offenses.

Locking up people is the prevailing attitude when the purpose of incarceration should be to keep the offender out of circulation until he can be rehabilitated. Just as people are sentenced to prison because they fail to live by society’s rules, once people are ready to become an asset rather than a liability in the community and are corrected, they should be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate the change and to speak about their desire to live a productive life in the community.

The state of Maine should review its entire sentencing and criminal penalty structure, giving priority to developing a rational philosophy of deciding who among the inmate population can change to become responsible, law-abiding and contributing members of the community and who cannot and must remain in prison.

The business of punishment used to be measured in pain instead of time; now it is measured in time and punishment.

With parole in place once again, the penal philosophy can shift back to reform and still respect what society and the victims have for expectations.

Comments are no longer available on this story