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International delegates discuss parole. (Probation and Parole Forum).

Questions concerning the value and necessity of parole and other forms of conditional release were discussed at a meeting of 200 international corrections professionals representing 35 countries. This was the third annual conference of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) -- a new affiliate of the American Correctional Association -- held in Perth, Australia, Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, 2001. "Partnerships: Expanding Our Networks and Horizons" was the conference theme.

Most of the presentations centered on prison programming and a limited amount of time was devoted to community corrections, probation and parole issues. However, in the session dedicated to community corrections, probation and parole, chaired by Renee Collette, president of the Association of Paroling Authorities International, the need for a more focused emphasis on community corrections was discussed.

The group devoted the remaining time to discussing parole and its value and necessity in providing a full range of correctional options. Most of the countries represented had some form of parole, such as use of parole boards and statutory release mechanisms, all involving some community supervision. Since an objective of the conference was to enhance the field of corrections' potential to contribute to increased public safety and healthier communities, the group saw an opportunity to discuss what it perceived as barriers to the effectiveness of parole, as well as some possible solutions. Given that in most jurisdictions, the majority of incarcerated offenders are eventually released into the community, it seemed prudent to explore issues involving offenders' reintegration.

The group members discussed what they collectively viewed as obstacles to the safe return of offenders to their communities. The first and foremost issue that emerged was the lack of positive relationships between and among the various sectors of the criminal justice system. The need for better information-sharing and a clearer understanding of roles and responsibilities of each part of the criminal justice system were seen as crucial to improving re-entry strategies. In some jurisdictions, the lack of a good tracking system was seen as contributing to poor supervision outcomes, i.e., some agencies do not know where some of the offenders who have failed to report are, and others have failed to keep accurate records of offenders' whereabouts. Also, there is a lack of effective programming for offenders under supervision and as a result, violation rates are much higher and successful completion rates have been dismal.

Another issue raised was the lack of adequate and appropriate support for offenders leaving prison. The problem of the community's ability to absorb the projected large volume (particularly in the United States) of offenders being released from prison during the next few years concerned delegates. As a result, some believed the community was not prepared to receive parolees, thus aggravating rather than mitigating the reintegration goals of parole. Some delegates also felt that the primary issue was that the communities to which offenders returned were disorganized and sites of high criminal activity and that the offenders' opportunities to successfully reintegrate were hindered. The problem of legislative barriers such as community notification, sex offender registration and removal of citizenship rights (e.g., voting) were seen as possible obstacles to parolees' reintegration.

The problem of inadequate resources, especially as they relate to the development and maintenance of a viable, vibrant voluntary sector (i.e., nonprofit, charitable) was highlighted. The last issue raised was the visibility of probation/parole and community corrections within the criminal justice and correctional systems. Delegates were eager to find ways to raise the profile of what they saw as an essential public safety service. The group continued to explore the matter of offender release and noted that the isolation of offenders from the community was a major contributor to failure after release. The participants felt that although the models of release were varied, they all had common goals and needs: gradual release mechanisms as an essential contributor to public safety. The need to build a solid bridge between prisons and the community and to devote resources to this activity were seen as crucial elements in developing safe re-entry programs.

When the group met for its second session at the conference, Collette asked members to focus on possible solutions to some of the issues an barriers they had discussed in the previous meeting. She acknowledged the group's sentiment regarding the importance of having a system of conditional release and the need to develop partnerships with the community.

Realizing the need for improve relationships within and between the various sections of the criminal justice system, the group saw the potential for integration in the system, especially as a result of developments in information technology. To assist offenders with successful reintegration, the need for more employment services was indicated. Also, participants felt that there should be better coordination between employment programs in prison and community efforts.

The participants indicated a strong emphasis on the development o community partnerships, and the general sense of the conference delegate supported the value of partnerships as well. This approach facilitates the finding of resources for offenders an provides public visibility for parole and community supervision agencies. The session ended with the group calling on ICPA to include more sessions in future conferences on the role of community corrections as represented by probation and parole and the voluntary sector.

Donald G. Evans is president of the Canadian Training Institute in Toronto.
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Title Annotation:International Corrections and Prisons Association
Author:Evans, Donald G.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:887
Previous Article:Q & A: An interview with Sarah V. Hart: director of the national institute of justice.
Next Article:Transnational crime: A new health threat for corrections. (NIJ Update).
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