Individuals on probation or parole find themselves in a rather peculiar situation for even though they are no longer in prison they are nevertheless considered to be still in jail.
When a person is released from jail and placed on probation or parole, they are given a manual detailing all the conditions for their probation or parole. The parole officer can then add or eliminate some of these conditions. These must be in writing.
Part of the requirements for probation or parole is that the parolee must agree to an absolute waiver of the Fourth Amendment rights, which demands that the parolee must “submit his person, property, place of residence, personal effects, to search at anytime, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law-enforcement officer.” It can be argued that the term “search” can extend to determining the status of the individuals the parolee associates with.
Courts justify these violations of the Fourth Amendment rights on the grounds that parolees are still considered to be in jail, albeit the jail is “virtual,” or on a policy of “special need.”
Individuals on parole or probation have to comply with a number of parole rules and regulations in order to keep their parole status. These conditions include reporting regularly to the parole or probation officer, prohibitions against traveling out of state without the parole officer’s permission, to be employed, no law violations, drug and alcohol testing, and the parolee can only live at an approved residence. In addition an individual on probation or parole cannot associate with felons or possess firearms. “Felon” includes a person who has been previously convicted of a crime whether or not on probation or parole. In addition, the Parole Board may impose conditions associated with the parolee’s history and crime. The goal of the Parole Board is to provide as strong framework to support the parolee in his rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Violation of the parole requirements may result in a number of responses, including stronger intervention, counseling, community service, therapy, relocation; and, depending on the violation, the parolee may even be returned to prison.
The rationale behind the prohibition of the association with felons is that the data shows a strong association between associating with fellow felons and future criminal behavior (Agnew & White, 1992).
However, studies have shown that association with peers is critical to the individual’s health quality of life, helping to protect against depression (Smith & Lincoln, 2011), HIV (Khan et al., 2011) and heart disease (Rod, Andersen, & Prescott, 2011). Of all the possible restrictions, not being allowed to associate with your friends may be considered the most punishing restriction for the parolee and might even fall into the “unusual and cruel punishment” category.
This restriction against associations is an extension of the prohibition against romantic prisoner-prisoner liaisons and prisoner-guard liaisons. The rationale against romantic relationships between prisoners is that these types of liaisons may represent a security risk (Sylla, Harawa, & Reznick, 2010), while the rationale for the restriction against prisoner-guard liaisons is the inequality of power inherent in the guard-prisoner relationship.
When a prisoner completes the sentence imposed, upon release, the prisoner enters a period of court supervision where the released prisoner regains most rights under the Constitution that were suspended during the period of incarceration. Nevertheless Fourth Amendment rights remain suspended. The period of supervision may last between three to five years after which point the parolee regains all legal rights.
Individuals on probation are designated as “people under community supervision” by the US Department of Justice. Parolees convicted of felony cannot associate with anyone previously convicted of a felony without special permission from the probation or parole officer.
In other words, the state has the right to tell you who you can have as friends and should you decide otherwise, the penalties for violating this rule can be severe. The system also requires that the parolee sign a monthly document swearing that the parolee has not violated any of the terms of their parole. What this translates into is that the parolee is not only required to swear against himself, but also against the individual with whom the releasee was associating with.
This goes against the deeply ingrained value, held by both guards and prisoners, not to inform against each other. No one likes a snitch. In prison, snitches are ostracized and are in danger of physical violence.
Releasees who break the rule against association with felons can end up having to return to jail for two years plus have their parole time extended. However, this punishment rarely matches the violation, in particular since the releasee’s health is not taken into consideration, not to mention the arbitrariness of enforcement.
There are two main issues concerning the rule against the association by parolees with other felons to consider. First, a significant percentage of the population in the U.S. have been convicted of a crime. The current estimate is that there are 16 million people over the age of 18 that have, one time or another, been convicted of a felony (Uggen, 2006), representing around 8% of the workforce in the U.S. What this means, is that it is almost impossible to have a strong circle of friends without violating the terms of parole.
Second, the monitoring of this requirement against association, and punishment for its violation, is mainly carried out in poor and minority communities (Western & Pettit, 2010) stressing the arbitrariness of this parole regulation.
Third, most of the people that the releasee is forbidden to associate with are family members, the same people that the release needs for support and reintegration into mainstream society. The irony is that while parole institutions explicitly forbid their parolees from associating with felons, they also tend to refer newly released prisoners to community based organizations that are mainly run and staffed by former felons making for a very awkward situation. A person who is an ex-felon but who is no longer under court supervision is still not an approved companion for a parolee under court supervision, affecting both. The argument that a parolee who associates with other felons is more likely to fall back into criminal activity is given greater weight over the well being of the parolee. Unfortunately the lack of connections is a significant stressor that impacts the ability of the release to reintegrate into society.
The bottom line is that, due to circumstances beyond their control, the greatest majority of individuals on probation or parole will end up breaking the rule against association with fellow felons, often repeatedly.
Moreover, it is cruel that this restriction comes at the end of incarceration, at a time when relationships are of critical importance to the parolee.
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