According to a new study co-authored by Simon Fraser University economics professor Steeve Mongrain, parole board decisions can have a huge impact on whether or not prisoners are motivated to rehabilitate.
The Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, has just published their study "Rehabilitated or Not: An Informational Theory of Parole Decisions" online.
Mongrain and his colleagues argue that parole boards need to consider the length of prisoners' original sentences, as well as their behaviour in prison, in granting early parole and determining eligibility for parole review.
"Our research shows that inmates with short sentences aren't motivated to rehabilitate by enrolling in addiction recovery and skills-building programs if they're in line for early parole," says Mongrain. "But that's not surprising. What is really revealing is our finding that inmates with long sentences are also not motivated to rehabilitate if their parole eligibility is a long way off."
Mongrain says an important application of this finding is in the context of legislative changes to constraints in the justice system. Any changes to laws governing parole eligibility need to be evaluated in terms of their impact on prisoners' motivation to seek rehabilitation and ultimately the rate of recidivism in prison and society.
"Most people in prison are there precisely because of their lack of impulse control. So very long sentences combined with long waits for parole eligibility can cause impatient inmates to conclude that rehabilitation is not worthwhile," explains Mongrain. "Studies show recidivism is directly tied to prisoners' completion of addiction recovery and skills-building programs. If they're not motivated to take them then recidivism goes up.
"Contrary to punishment, which is the big stick in our justice system, parole is the carrot we offer to prisoners as an incentive to rehabilitate. If we make the carrot smaller by telling prisoners with long sentences that we're lengthening the time of their parole eligibility, then we destroy their incentive to reform."
The other co-authors on this study are Dan Bernhardt, an economics professor at the University of Illinois, and Joanne Roberts, an economics professor at the University of Calgary.
- D. Bernhardt, S. Mongrain, J. Roberts. Rehabilitated or Not: An Informational Theory of Parole Decisions. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 2010; 28 (2): 186 DOI: 10.1093/jleo/ewq008
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