Some of the nation’s leading probation and parole administrators called Monday for a 50 percent cut in the number of individuals under community supervision, arguing that the current system is a financial burden on communities that has resulted in “unnecessarily depriving millions of Americans of their liberty without improving public safety.”
The officials endorsed a pair of reports released by the Justice Lab at Columbia University—one on the national landscape of community supervision and the other focused on New York—showing that the number of adults in the community corrections system had increased fourfold since 1980 to nearly five million.
The first report, “Too Big to Succeed,” charged that the lack of financial support to supervise individuals on probation and parole forced community corrections officers to “default to the most available option they have for those who violate the terms of their supervision—prison,” and therefore constituted a major driver of mass incarceration.
“Probation and parole have grown far beyond what anyone could have imagined when they were created in the 1800s,” said Vincent Schiraldi, senior research scientist at the Columbia Justice Lab and author of both reports.
“Instead of serving as alternatives to incarceration, they actually contribute to mass incarceration by creating trip-wires to revocation and reincarceration.”
The study by Schiraldi, who has served as New York City Probation Commissioner and director of juvenile corrections for Washington, DC, showed that more than a third of individuals in jail and nearly a quarter of those in prison in the mid-2000s were on probation when they were arrested. A significant number—about a quarter—had been sent back to jail for “technical violations,” which could include minor transgressions like failing to show up for an appointment with a probation officer.
Schiraldi cited research that also documented systemic racial inequities in the system: one in 12 African males is under parole or probation.
Meanwhile, in New York City, the number of individuals jailed for technical violations of parole has increased by 10 percent—even as the city’s overall jail population has been decreasing, according to the second report. The report added that for every ten successful parole completions in New York State in 2015, another 9 were recincarcerated while on parole, “ranking New York State 9th nationally in parole failure.”
Endorsing both reports, 20 of the country’s top supervision officials said a 50 per cent reduction in individuals on community supervision should be accompanied by a reduction in probation and parole fines, with the savings used to increase support for programs and counseling.
“The ability to focus on those more in need of supervision and support is critical to reducing unnecessary incarceration and supervision,” said Ana M. Bermudez, New York City Probation Commissioner.”
The report noted that several jurisdictions around the country had already begun effective reforms to their probation and parole systems. Over 18 states participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative had shorted supervision periods using incentives for good behavior.
Both reports were released at a New York City press conference Monday.