Foundations Announce Partnership to ‘Transform’ Community Supervision

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Illustration by Natasha Mayers via Flickr

Noting that more Americans are now under parole or probation than in prison, two major foundations have formed a partnership aimed at “transforming” the community supervision system.

Amy Solomon, Vice President for Criminal Justice of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and Jake Horowitz, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trusts, said their partnership, which will also include other organizations, was aimed at helping states explore ways to create more equitable alternatives to a system that currently encompasses some 4.5 million Americans.

Community supervision “has flown under the radar for too long and should be a top priority for lawmakers,” Horowitz said at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Smart on Crime Innovations conference on  Sept. 25.

To underline the point, Pew released a study highlighting increasing numbers in the parole and probation worlds. Nearly two percent of the population was on probation or parole in 2016. That’s an increase of 239 percent since 1980. African-Americans are over-represented in that population and the number of women on parole or probation almost doubled since 1990, the study found.

The research also found a correlation between reductions in the population in the correcting probation system and improvement in public safety. In a nine-year time frame, 37 states experienced both a drop in community corrections and a drop in crime rates.

The study’s authors argued corrections reforms “that prioritized scarce supervision and treatment resources for higher-risk individuals, invested in risk-reduction programs, and created incentives for compliance” led to a decrease in crime.

Despite the evidence of a relationship between public safety and corrections, Horowitz argued “we’ve become more punitive,” necessitating reform. Large numbers of those under supervision are sent back to prison because they failed to follow certain technical rules.

Those probationers and parolees subject most often to punishment were convicted of nonviolent crimes and suffer from a substance abuse or mental health problem.

Later, at a “breakout” discussion panel on the issue, Horowitz, Solomon and three other panelists focused on ideas for supervision reform.

Ana Bermúdez, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation said there should be incentives instead of punishments to encourage formerly incarcerated and probation officers to follow rules.

Supervision should be personalized, she said, observing that a ‘one-size fits all’ approach creates a punitive and non-rehabilitative process.

The Pew report highlighted the need for data-driven reform that takes a more rehabilitative approach to solving this issue. With the study’s results, Horowitz urged states to take the reins on reforming the process.

Lauren Sonnenberg is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.

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