Parole release decision-making is one of the most important tasks of criminal justice systems. It affects public safety and the allocation of correctional funds. In recent years, interest in high-quality parole decision-making has grown significantly. Paroling authorities are under considerable pressure and are subject to substantial public scrutiny as they strive to reach high-quality parole decisions that ensure public safety.
In 2004, the Legal DecisionMaking Lab at Carleton University in Toronto, Ontario, began to develop and refine a parole release decision-making tool. This tool, the Structured Decisionmaking Framework, acts as a road map or guide to help parole board members reach consistent, transparent and defensible, high-quality release decisions. It acknowledges the professional expertise and extensive experience of parole board members by using a structured approach that guides paroling authorities through the process of making parole decisions. Parole board members consider offender information demonstrated to be closely linked to post-release performance. Given this grounding, the framework can help paroling authorities incorporate or enhance the use of evidence-based practice in their decisionmaking. In the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) publication Analysis of the Use of the Structured Decisionmaking Framework in Three States, the authors Ralph Serin and Renee Gobeil describe the tool in this way:
The Structured Decisionmaking Framework (1) was created to help parole board members minimize the effect of peripheral factors and reach more evidence-based parole decisions, before and after release, with the parameters of parole legislation and policy in mind. The framework was intended to meet three primary goals:
Address criticisms regarding inconsistency and seemingly arbitrary decisionmaking in parole outcomes.
Apply the substantial body of research on recidivism and parole outcomes to parole decisionmaking by ensuring that only relevant factors are considered in reaching parole decisions.
Increase in the transparency and defensibility of individual decisions, both for the benefit of offenders and for the sake of appeals or investigations.
Further, the framework, as part of an evidence-based, policy-driven, decisionmaking approach, can enhance public safety, contribute to the appropriate management of limited public resources, and insulate decisionmakers in situations where paroled offenders re-offend.