Traditional approaches to probation are failing young adults, making them more likely to get caught up in lifetime criminal behavior, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
A study by the coalition, an advocacy nonprofit for justice issues in Texas, found that just 18 percent of young Texans between the ages of 17-21 were able to successfully complete probation, and nearly 7,000 who had their probation revoked were sent to prison or jail during 2017.
The figures are “heartbreaking when one considers the missed opportunities to alter the course for a generation of young adults who might otherwise have moved beyond criminal justice system involvement and led productive lives,” said the report.
Standard probation practices that work for older adults don’t work with younger adults, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) said.
“Those practices deprive younger defendants of the rehabilitative benefit of probation and set them up for failure,” said Doug Smith, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition and a co-author of the report.
The report, entitled “Young Adults and Community Supervision,” called for a “developmentally appropriate approach” that would recognize the special challenges faced by young adults, who are still not yet mature enough to recognize the consequences of their acts and are more susceptible to peer influences.
“Young men and women involved in the criminal justice system often face higher environmental exposure to criminal behavior than older adults, while simultaneously lacking the ability to process long-term consequences,” said the authors.
Young adults aged 18-25 make up less than 10 percent of the total U.S. population, but represent approximately 29 percent of all arrests, 26 percent of people on probation, and 21 percent of all people admitted into adult prison, the study said.
The report’s other co-authors were Joshua Cuddy, policy associate with the TCJC; and Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney with the coalition.
The authors went on to note that young people of color are disproportionately represented in these figures. Nationally, for every white man sentenced to prison in 2012, there were six African American men and three Hispanic/Latino men imprisoned. Similarly, for every white man aged 18 to 19 sent to prison, nine African American men and three Hispanic/Latino men of the same age were imprisoned.
Addressing these imbalances requires strategies that allow more young adults to be given alternatives through a “community supervision system that is both cost-effective and able to reduce intersection with the criminal justice system,” the report said.
The study added that the cost of the broken probation system in Texas should be an added spur to reform. Sending young people with probation revocations has cost the state over $130 million, while if they had remained on standard probation like their younger peers, the cost would be just 44.5 million.
The report’s recommendations to Texas policymakers include:
- Developing community-based collaborations and programming that deter young adults from prison;
- Reducing high supervision fees, including by allowing participation in rehabilitative programming to satisfy financial obligations;
- Providing more technical assistance for probation departments to implement best practices;
- Assigning shorter probation terms for low-risk defendants and emphasizing early termination for higher-risk defendants who successfully complete rehabilitative programming; and
- Prioritzing vocational and life skills training.
- The report is the first in a planned series of studies for the TCJC’s “One Size FAILS All” campaign, aimed at proving better outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized populations who become entangled in Texas’ criminal justice system.
A complete copy of the report is available here.
Readers’ comments are welcome.