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Following WWII, the United States used a medical model to deal with criminals. According to the model, inmates were vulnerable to environmental or social factors that led to their illegal actions (Seiter, 2011, p.174). Prisoners were believed to be ill upon arrest in this scheme. To deal with the inmates, prison authorities diagnosed them and devised a recovery plan. The medical model was used until a panel of experts (the parole board) determined that the prisoners were no longer benefiting from institutional care. They called for the inmates' release back into society.
Criminals will complete open-ended terms under the medical model. The minimum term was designed to meet society's need for punishment, deterrence, and incapacitation (Seiter, 2011, p.174). After attaining threshold, prisoners would be released based on how well their treatment plan worked to prepare them for society return. A parole board of rehabilitative experts was established to determine the appropriate time to release the prisoners and supervise them in society.
Parole became quite important with the establishment of this indeterminate sentence structure. To begin with, dangerous inmates got longer imprisonment periods than when under determinate sentences. High-risk offenders would serve maximum sentences (Seiter, 2011, p.175). The other benefit of parole boards is that they ensure inmates have well worked-out release plans as they return to their communities. The prisoners need to have a place to live and explain how they will acquire jobs before they can be released. The release is, however, not delayed in any way when the determinate sentence is over.
Third, the review done by the parole board is a recipe for good behavior and program participation by the inmates (Seiter, 2011, p.175). Though opponents believe that program participation is done to impress the board and that there should be no coercion to participate, no evidence has been brought forward to indicate any differences between voluntary and coerced participants about the effectiveness of the program.
The last benefit of the parole boards is that once a candidate is considered for release, avenues are also put in place to supervise and treat them in the community (Seiter, 2011, p.176). Every inmate's risk level is assessed to get their survival chances and determine the best supervisory conditions.
Several attacks have been directed toward the medical model and parole following a study that found inconsistency on the effect of various programs in reducing recidivism. David Fogel proposed a justice model to replace parole in 1975 (Seiter, 2011, p.176). He suggested the elimination of parole boards and the return of flat, determinate sentences. Also, Fogel proposed that all treatment programs be voluntary. Another proposal came in 1976 suggesting the return to the classical model of criminology where the perceived crime magnitude would determine the sentence length.
As more attacks continued to be vested on parole, it came to its peak in 1977 when above 70% of prisoners were released on discretionary parole (Seiter, 2011, p.176). This led to several states abandoning it as well as indeterminate sentencing. Today, only fifteen states have discretionary parole for inmates (Seiter, 2011, p.177).
Parole has undergone some transitions regarding its supports, operations, and processes. Three variations have thus come into play: discretionary parole (described above), supervised mandatory release, and unconditional mandatory release. In the supervised mandatory release (mandatory parole), inmates are released after serving determinate sentences, followed by a period of supervision in the community (Seiter, 2011, p.177). It is still a conditional release as prisoners have to meet certain requirements and conditions.
The unconditional mandatory release is where inmates fully serve their sentence, pay their 'debt to society', and are not supervised after their release from prison (Seiter, 2011, p.177). There are no requirements or conditions to fulfill before being released.
To conclude, discretionary parole has been in play for quite a long time. Though it has significant benefits compared to the initial medical model, several concerns have led to its alteration to bring about supervised mandatory release and unconditional mandatory release. The majority of the states have adopted both mandatory and unconditional mandatory releases while a few continue to use discretionary parole.
Seiter, R. P. (2011). Corrections: an introduction. (Third Ed.). Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN
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