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Study Finds High Cost of Parole Supervision Placed on Families of Returning Citizens

Parole Reforms Rely on Families and Communities of Returning Citizens to Pick Up Responsibility for Care and Supervision

Vanessa A Masarro - May 2, 2019

The last decade has seen a leveling off of prison populations in the United States. Professor Vanessa A. Massaro writes that the reforms which have led to this trend have actually displaced the burden of incarceration from prisons onto families and communities. Through her ethnographic research in Philadelphia, she finds that care for incarcerated people imposes significant financial and emotional costs on their families.

"The State of Pennsylvania serves as a prime example of these national trends in imprisonment reform. Pennsylvania is only 12 percent Black, yet its overcrowded state prison system is 45 percent Black. Republican Governor Corbett signed the bi-partisan Justice Reinvestment Reform Initiative bill into law in 2011. Since taking effect in 2012, Pennsylvania has reduced the state prison population by over 1000. But in this same period the number of people on parole has increased by over 5000. The state has experienced a net increase of people under correctional supervision. Criminal justice reforms are “net wideners” that sweep more people into the justice system overall. This increase in total people supervised signals the need for closer attention to the often unseen consequences of criminal justice reform.

When a loved one returns home, there is still a great deal of work and cost for families. Families help them with supervision fees upon release from prison, aiding in job searches, and providing ongoing emotional support during the reentry process. If the goal is to reduce the number of people in prison and not to simply widen the net of correctional supervision, then the broader support network that keeps people from recidivating must be taken into account."

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