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The Operation Status and Improvement Plan of the Parole System
The Operation Status and Improvement Plan of the Parole System
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December 01, 2019


For this study, the author investigated Korea’s parole system and its operational status, along with a perception survey on inmates and in-depth interviews with parole experts. Based on the findings, the author discusses the following issues with the current parole system and practices, and proposes the policy directions to guide future improvements of the system. Firstly, this paper discusses whether paroles should be a judicial measure. Some argue that a parole requires a judge’s decision because it changes the original sentence and it is substantively similar to a suspension of sentence. However, under the current law, a correctional institution can choose how to execute a sentence determined by a court, and a parole represents a replacement of a sentence with a community treatment, which is a weaker form of detention. Then, there exists little ground for arguing that a parole should be subject to judicial control. However, even if we do not make paroles a judicial measure, we still need to find a way to protect inmate’s rights under the current procedures. In particular, we must find a way to ensure fairness and equity of the parole review procedures. Therefore, improvements of the parole system should seek to ensure procedural fairness and equity and protect inmates’ rights. Secondly, this paper looks into the revitalization of paroles as a means to address the overpopulation of prisons. Parole plays an important role in addressing the overpopulation of correctional facilities. However, mitigating overpopulation and controlling prison capacity are not the main functions of the parole system. They are mere side effects. Therefore, measures to revitalize paroles should focus on achieving the ultimate goals of criminal policies, rather than resolving the overpopulation issue. In other words, the main goal of paroles should lie in building a safer society by ensuring appropriate punishment and prevent recidivism of criminals. Thirdly, this paper addresses the gap between formal eligibility requirements under the law and their actual application in the field. Even though the Criminal Act of Korea stipulates that an inmate may be considered for parole if he/she serves at least a third of the sentence, a survey found that 99.9 percent of parolees over the last decade were granted paroles after serving 70 percent or more of their terms. As an alternative, we may consider replacing the uniform formal requirements under the current law with more detailed eligibility requirements that vary depending on sentences. Based on these policy directions, this paper proposes the following measures to improve the operation of the parole system. 1) The formal eligibility requirements under the current Criminal Act dictate that all parolees should serve at least a third of their sentences. In practice, the current Parole Guidelines imposes restrictions on certain crimes by, for example, excluding them from eligibility reviews. The nature, type, unlawfulness, and liability of criminals are determined during court proceedings. Therefore, rather than considering these elements during the parole review process, we need to consider varying the statutory eligibility requirements based on sentences. As for the substantive requirements for paroles, “good behaviors” and “repentance” are abstract and subjective terms with obscure meanings. To address this issue, we need to define more concrete and detailed substantive requirements under the criminal laws. 2) Under the current law, applying for a parole eligibility review falls under the responsibility of the warden. However, in practice, the Classification Treatment Committee determine which inmates to recommend for paroles. One of the possible alternatives is to allow for ex-officio parole reviews depending on sentences or whether the inmate is a first offender, and allow inmates to apply for a parole review under certain circumstances. 3) An inmate may be denied parole in two different stages of the process. He/she may be excluded from a parole eligibility review in the first place, or his/her application may be rejected during a review by the Parole Committee. The issue here is that an inmate has no way of filing an appeal even if he/she is denied parole. A victim’s right to appeal a parole decision in the United Kingdom may not be feasible in Korea under the current state. However, we do need to provide inmates with a way to appeal a decision to deny parole. Under the current Enforcement Rules of the Criminal Act, only wardens may apply for parole eligibility reviews. However, inmates need to be able to file applications as well. In addition, the law should provide for procedures to appeal rejections by the Parole Review Committee. In sum, we need to consider providing for appeal or objection procedures in different stages of the parole process. 4) Under the current law, the Parole Review Committee and the Probation Review Committee share many similarities in terms of their personnel and structures. In addition, for adult inmates reviewed by each committee, the items and content of investigations are quite similar and largely overlap between the two review committees. This has been a source of controversy over the fairness and efficiency of the procedures. In addition, adult inmates and juvenile inmates go through different parole review systems, with the former subjected to mandatory probation. Many of the matters considered during a parole review overlap with the matters considered during a probation review. Institutional improvements are urgently required to address these structural and efficiency issues with the parole review system. 5) The current system restricts parole depending on the titles and natures of crimes, regardless of inmates’ willingness for rehabilitation. We need to depart from this practice and improve the parole review rules so that the Parole Review Committee can decide whether to restrict parole case by case. Ultimately, we need to do away with the uniform restriction of paroles so that inmates showing marked signs of repentance can be granted paroles. In the short term, we need to adjust the criteria for non-eligible crimes. However, as we also need to consider the need to protect the society from crimes and maintain security, the adjustment should be informed by a detailed review of the safety net. 6) Risk of recidivism works as one of the key criteria for parole reviews. In practice, the risk is determined by the Correctional Recidivism Prediction Index, or Co-Repi. How well an inmate does in the prison may be unrelated to reduced risk of recidivism. Therefore, the system to address risk of recidivism should pay more attention to dynamic elements related to possibility of improvement, such as recovery of family relationships, restitution and compensation, correction of distorted thoughts, reduced criminality, and sincere repentance, rather than the elements regarding inmates’ prison life such as work performance, acquisition of certificates, and period without disciplinary measures. 7) For long-term inmates, it takes considerable time to grow the ability to cope with their life outside prison. Various social adaptation programs are required to reduce the impact of re-entry into society. Therefore, we need to increase the time of social adaptation training for parolees-to-be, and ensure that those programs provide them with what they need to return to society. In addition, continuous education and training are required to ensure that they can find their places as members of society. 8) Parole policies in other countries focus on effectively preventing recidivism by combining paroles with probation and community treatments. Therefore, to help inmates’ return to society, we need to ensure sufficient exchange of information and relationship building between those responsible for in-facility treatment and those responsible for community treatment. In addition, the government needs to work with the private sector to build a sustainable support system to prepare inmates for their return to society both in prison and after their release.

Jeongyeon Kim

Criminal Law&Policy, Criminal Justice Reform

Research Fellow

Jeongyeon Kim's picture

Research Interest (Major)


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Reforms for the Criminal Justice System based on Fairness and Human Rights(II): Reforms for the Appeal and the Revision in the Criminal Procedure

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Unlawful Practice of Law in Korea (Ⅰ): Status and Countermeasures of Unlawful Practice of Law Broker

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