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In terms of the use of parole in the Australian Criminal Justice System, it is difficult to state concretely whether it is over or under utilised particularly given the range of benefits and disadvantages of the system, and from which perspective the individual chooses to view parole. Indeed, it may be more helpful to consider the changes that have occurred in the Australian criminal justice system with regards to parole. Particular cases that problematic for the criminal justice system and the community raise challenges. During the late 1990's there was increasing pressure to tighten the use of parole to limit dangerousness in Australia. There were calls to tighten the legislation regarding those that can be deemed to go on parole, particularly in relation to violent and serious offenders which risks are heightened. In relation to this particular change, efforts were made to ensure that where the original sentencing judge deemed the individual should not be released this will make it difficult for the individual to gain parole at a later stage (Simpson, 1999).
Little research has looked at the effectiveness of parole and the impact it has on levels of offending. However Jones et al (2006) provide some valuable information about re-offending rates and the characteristics of those that do offend whilst on parole. In studying patterns of reoffending in a sample of parolees from New South Wales, the findings revealed that two thirds of those released on parole in the period between 2001 - 2002 reappeared in court. 61% of these individuals were convicted for a new offence, which is a significant proportion which raises serious concerns surrounding the efficacy of parole as a rehabilitative system. Similarly, Thompson (1989) investigated rates of offending among parolees and found that 38% of parolees were imprisoned for committing offences within two years of being released on parole. Jones et al (2006) were also able to identify particular characteristics of those who re-offended during their parole. These offenders were more likely to have a higher number of prior custodial sentences and thus a longer history of offending. In addition they were also more likely to have drug convictions, be younger and be of the indigenous population. These findings raise serious concerns around the use of parole and question what impact, if any it is having on the individual. By highlighting the specific characteristics of those who are more likely to re-offend during their parole, this has shown that there are specific types of individuals who perhaps require additional monitoring or support/intervention during parole to limit their chances of reoffending. The issue of drugs and those with previous convictions suggests as being risk factors to re-offending additionally highlights areas where the criminal justice system needs to focus in order to ensure better use of parole. This may include investing in more early detection of offenders and preventing them from becoming recidivists, as well as more focus around drug related offending as well as providing support services to help offenders recover which may in effect have an impact on reducing reoffending.
On a differing note, there has been some evidence to reveal that parole may have a positive impact on reducing reoffending. Ellis & Marshall (2000) investigated parole and re-offending to find that there was a small reduction in re-offending. Reduction was found among those with a higher risk than those with a lower risk. These findings suggest that parole can indeed have an impact on reducing reoffending but may be specific to particular types of offenders.
Carcach & Grant (1999) consider the rising prison population in Australia and the factors that have an impact on prisons. The authors highlight that many factors impact on the imprisonment rates in prisons, critically one of which is the under use of parole as a early release option. This has a direct impact on prison over-crowding particularly if crime rates rise. This suggests that the use of parole is perhaps underused by the criminal justice system. Despite the problems with the use of parole as a method, it is important to balance not only the impact of parole on the individual but also the impact of keeping someone in prison where there are serious problems around prison over crowding, which in itself do not provide a therapeutic, rehabilitative environment that can effectively reduce reoffending. Therefore, perhaps it is arguable that by increasing the use of parole, this will ease the pressure on the prison service and the criminal justice system as a whole.
The exploration into the benefits and drawbacks of parole in general as well as in Australia has demonstrated that it is a serious and complex topic. There are many benefits as well as drawbacks of the parole system and research has shown that parole may not necessarily prove to be rehabilitative or effective in reducing recidivism. Future research will need to look closely and understand the nature of re-offending of parolees which will help the criminal justice system better manage these individuals. However there are problems with carrying out such studies whereby, for example those that may not offend during their parole may go on to offender after at some point in their lives. This is something that would be extremely difficult to measure and therefore we are not in a position to state how effective parole may be in reducing reoffending in the long term. Indeed it may be more possible to say to what degree individuals re-integrate into society by looking at what offenders are doing following release, empirical studies may wish to focus on this.
Finally, it must be highlighted that parole offers society, the individual and the criminal justice system a means of integrating people back into society, which some may consider the role of the criminal justice system, to reform. If the aim is to return people back into the community, parole is guided way of achieving this. However, the exploration into parole has shown that this is a multifaceted issue whereby factors such as drugs and even socio-economic factors may have an impact on the degree to which an individual is able to re-integrate. Future research needs to highlight what the main risk factors and suggest ways for the criminal justice system to increase the effectiveness of parole.