American Exceptionalism in Parole Release and Supervision: A European Perspective
in American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment (Kevin R. Reitz ed., Oxford University Press 2018) (with Dirk van Zyl Smit), pp. 410-486.
77 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 18 Nov 2018
Date Written: July 19, 2016
This chapter explores the quantitative and qualitative dimension of parole on both sides of the Atlantic. It sheds light on a story of partially common historical roots but also of independent developments, showing how American parole has had a different trajectory from that in Europe. In the Old Continent, discourse on conditional release revolves around human dignity and procedural justice rather than public safety. In the U.S., parole boards are usually staffed with political appointees whose release decisions are risk-averse and affected by the political climate. In most European countries parole decisions are made by special sentence implementation courts that are part of an independent judicial branch of government. They exercise their function insulated from political pressure — a circumstance American parole boards can scarcely dream of. In the final part, the paper reflects on whether some core traits of the European model of parole may take root in the U.S. as well. It argues that recent signs in criminal justice reform in America may facilitate an approach that places greater emphasis on the dignity of potential parolees as well as released offenders subject to supervision in the community. The chapter also stresses the desirability of a progressive shift in the U.S. towards a quasi-judicial model of parole boards, where the reduced public accountability of such bodies would be largely compensated by increased independence and professionalism in decision-making.
Keywords: parole; community supervision; sentencing; comparative law; criminal justice
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