The impact of security threat group designation on discretionary parole release decisions



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The authority and legitimacy of the U.S. paroling system has varied throughout history. Under indeterminate sentencing, parole boards were given high levels of discretion that fostered disparity. As a result, prior research on the influence of parole release predictors has issued varying findings. Further, due to variations in authority and legitimacy, recent research has neglected to consider contemporary predictors of the paroling decision. For example, one factor that has been relatively overlooked in contemporary discretionary parole decisionmaking is security threat group (STG) designation. This factor is potentially a modern predictor of parole decisionmaking because STGs were not prevalent in the U.S. penal system until after the popularity of discretionary parole release declined. Relying on data collected from 21 of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PADOC) state prisons, the purpose of this study is to understand the role of STG designation in the discretionary parole release decision. The sample comprised 1,602 randomly selected prisoners eligible for discretionary parole release over a six-month period within the 21 prisons. Information on STG designation was obtained from the official records of each prison’s internal security department. Results from logistic regression analyses found that STG designated prisoners were 40.5% less likely to be granted parole, even after controlling for historically relevant factors, including age, race, offense severity, criminal history, institutional behavior, prison program participation, time incarcerated, and parole guideline score. These findings pose specific implications for parole guidelines as decisionmakers are likely relying on contemporary factors that are not included in decision guidelines.



Discretionary release, Parole board, Prison gangs, Security threat groups, Parole decision making