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Is 'Flash Incarceration' the Best Way to Punish Parolees?

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In an effort to help control the recidivism rates of inmates, states are beginning to adopt the practice of 'flash incarceration.' Flash incarceration is the practice of locking up parole violators for short periods of time for violating the terms of their parole. The periods of time can range from one to ten days, and states like Hawaii, California, and Washington have seen some success with the practice.

While sending a parole violator to jail for a couple nights for returning a positive drug test may sound lenient to some, the fact of the matter is that sometimes a violation will go completely unpunished. Under the flash incarceration practices, every violation is punished with a short term in jail. Also, the punishment is frequently handed out swiftly, without requiring a parole revocation hearing.

Short, Certain Punishments Produce Positive Results

In Washington, the use of flash incarceration has produced positive results. After conducting an analysis on the recidivism rates, it was discovered that flash incarceration created an 84% drop in the likelihood that a parolee would be sent back to prison. This figure comes from a study, cited by the Washington Post, conducted over a 12-month period of time and covering 9,000 offenders. Additionally, the study found that the offenders that were sent back to prison, returned for less serious, rather than more serious offenses.

California has also seen positive results in the counties that have chosen to implement flash incarceration since 2011. Hawaii led the nation by pioneering the practice in 2009 and saw their parolees' positive drug test numbers plummet from 53% to 9% as a result of the program.

Lowering Recidivism Rates Keeps Costs Down for Taxpayers

Considered among the prison system's most difficult problem is the ever growing cost of housing inmates. Because the costs of housing inmates keep growing, programs that focus on rehabilitation are often left unfunded or underfunded; as a result, they are ineffective at preventing ex-convicts from re-offending. 

The study in Washington has shown that lowering recidivism rates is possible by using flash incarceration for individuals on supervised released. Additionally, by lowering the rate at which parolees re-offend, more resources can be put towards rehabilitation rather than simply housing.

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