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Jeremy Travis Back-End Sentencing: A Practice in Search of a Rationale TH E P H E N O M E N O N OF BACK-END S EN T E N C IN G — TH E PRACTICE OF SEN D ing people back to prison for violations of the term s of their parole supervision—has grown significantly over recent years and now occu­ pies a prom inent role in the new realities of incarceration and prisoner reentry (Travis and Christiansen 2006; Travis 2005; Travis and Lawrence, 2002a). In 1980, approximately 27,000 people were sent to back to prison for violating the term s of their parole. By 2000, that num ber had grown to over 200,000. America now sends m ore people to prison for parole violations than were sent to prison in 1980 for any reason, including com m itm ents on new convictions and parole violations. The growth in back-end sentencing has far outstripped the overall growth in incarcer­ ation in America. The per capita rate of incarceration increased slightly m ore than fourfold betw een 1973 and 2000; over the same period of time, the growth in incarcerations for parole violations grew sevenfold. A nother perspective on back-end sentencing illustrates the im pact of the robust practice of parole revocation on America’s prisons. In 1980, 18 percent of all prison admissions were individuals who were being returned on parole violations; by 2000, that num ber had increased to 34 percent. The new reality that one in three people coming in the front door of our prisons had relatively recently left through the back door underscores the im portance of the efforts now under way to rethink the efficacy and purposes of parole supervision (Petersilia, 2003). social research Vol 74 : No 2 : Summer 2007 631 THE NEXUS BETWEEN PAROLE REVOCATION AND SENTENCING Some may criticize the use o f the word “sentencing” to describe the revo­ cation ofparole for violation of the conditions of supervision. Sentencing, they would say, is the act of imposing sanctions for criminal behavior, proven in a court following a trial or plea of guilty. W hat happens in the parole violation context, the critique might continue, is merely the continuing application of that original sentence. In other words, the process of adjudicating the violation of term s of parole release, includ­ ing a return to prison in some cases, is part of the original sentence. The defendant knew—and everyone else knew—at the time of sentence that following the release from prison, he would be subjected to a term of supervision, w ith conditions, and failure to abide by those conditions could result in a removal from the community and deprivation of liberty. Certainly it is unassailable to assert that the process of adjudicat­ ing parole violations is recognized as flowing from the original convic­ tion and sentence. Stated differently, the only reason that the form er prisoner is subjected to this process is because ofthe original conviction and sentence. But the conceptual and operational similarities between the two systems are, to me, so compelling that I see every reason—and believe there should be no hesitation—to call the process of adjudicat­ ing parole violations a form of sentencing. In both systems, we use the enforcem ent agencies of the state (police or parole) to detect violations of rules (criminal laws or condi­ tions of supervision), arrest and detain those suspected of those infrac­ tions (defendants or parole violators), bring cases and suspects before a neutral adjudicative entity (judge or hearing officer), provide an oppor­ tunity for determ inations o f fact through adversarial process (with some distinctions between the systems), determ ine guilt (with differing levels of proof) and impose sanctions for violations of those rules, up to and including the deprivation of liberty. In the case of the process of adjudicating parole violations and revoking parolee liberty, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we should call it w hat it is: a system of sentencing. 632 social research ASSESSING THE LACK OF ATTENTION TO BACK-END SENTENCING This analysis raises an obvious question...


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