The Atlantic

Why So Few Violent Offenders Are Let Out on Parole

A Q&A with Georgetown University professor Marc Morjé Howard on parole boards’ incentive to keep inmates in jail
Source: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

In recent years, national discussions of criminal-justice reform have largely revolved around non-violent drug-related convictions—as illustrated by the hundreds of federal inmates that Barack Obama granted clemency to at the end of his second term. In a sense, these offenders are low-hanging fruit: They are arguably the most politically palatable inmate demographic, and many lawmakers can champion their cause with limited risk.

The opposite is true for violent offenders, whose release from prison has been taboo since at least the 1988 presidential campaign. Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who committed a series of violent crimes while on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison in 1986, was featured in an ad that year painting Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis as soft-on-crime. Dukakis, who as Massachusetts governor had endorsed the furlough program, lost the election, relegating violent offenders to the fringes of.

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