Probation and Parole Called a ‘Monstrous Drain’ on State Resources

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ankle monitor

Electronic ankle monitors are widely used to monitor individuals on parole or probation. Photo courtesy CPIPR

Probation and parole were envisioned to help reduce the prison population and provide some structure and aid to those re-entering society. However, these systems have metastasized into a monstrous drain on state resources, even as they have damaged the lives of the formerly incarcerated.

Jesse Kelley

Jesse Kelley

By reforming the system of supervision, the criminal justice system can accomplish its goals of seeking justice for victims, while rehabilitating those who have become involved in crime.

Probation and parole serve similar but distinct functions. In both cases, the individual is under state supervision in lieu of detention and must adhere to certain conditions. Yet while probation allows a defendant to be released for a certain length of time in lieu of incarceration, parole involves the release of a prisoner before his or her sentence is completed.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Despite their shared goal of keeping people out of prisons, both systems are creating an additional layer of state-sanctioned control and surveillance, as well as exacerbating rather than inhibiting the cycle of crime in a community.

In Pennsylvania alone, more than a quarter of a million people are supervised by the Board of Parole and Probation.

Indeed, a report by the Columbia Justice Lab listed Pennsylvania as having the third-highest supervision rate in the country, noting that “in Pennsylvania, one out of every 34 adults is under community supervision, a rate 36 percent higher than the national average.”

Given the number of people under supervision, those employed as probation and parole officers have massive caseloads, which decreases the effectiveness of supervision.

*In Pennsylvania, each county probation officer actively supervises 113 people at any given time.

Larger caseloads can increase recidivism rates. In fact, the Journal of Crime and Justice studied how larger caseloads can worsen probation outcomes and found that a larger caseload increased the rate of recidivism by roughly 30 percent.

Aside from these overwhelming caseloads, the extended length of probation and parole does not increase public safety. The risk of an inmate reoffending once released on supervision decreases after the first year. The National Institute of Justice has studied this phenomenon and found that of those prisoners who were re-arrested, more than half — 57 percent — were arrested before the conclusion of the first year.

And in New York, those released early from probation were less likely to be arrested for a new felony in their first unsupervised year than those who were on probation for their full term.

For individuals on probation or parole, it can be difficult to comply with the terms for long periods of time, and violating these terms can result in re-arrest. Generally, a few terms are present in any type of supervision — such as securing or maintaining employment and drug abstinence — but special conditions from a judge can be added to individual cases.

And at times, these conditions can give far too much leeway to a judge’s interpretation of what counts as a violation.

For example, in New Jersey, one judge ordered that probationers “not enter disreputable places or associate with disreputable people.” One client under said condition was arrested in a bar for simply being in that bar and having a drink.

In addition to any criminal fines or court costs, a person on supervision must pay a monthly supervision fee. Failure to pay supervision fees may be viewed as a probation or parole violation, which could result in the court revoking an individual’s parole or probation and imposing a predetermined prison sentence on that individual.

For those who have not committed any infraction other than failing to comply with parole or probation conditions, jail time is all too often the result.

Anthony Williams

Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams

As Pennsylvania State Sen Anthony Williams (D) has said, “Approximately one-third of all beds in state prisons are occupied by people who have violated the conditions of their probation. These are often individuals who pose no real danger to society.”

In an effort to reduce this overwhelming statistic, as well as the other issues that create barriers to effective parole and probation, Sen. Williams introduced a Senate Bill 1067 earlier this year.

The bill — now awaiting a hearing in the state Senate Judiciary Committee — aims to limit the length of probation. Additionally, the legislation would limit a judge’s ability to jail probationers for technical violations that do not threaten public safety and would incentivize good behavior by allowing judges to reduce probation time.

To combat supervision officers’ burdensome caseload and decrease the negative impact of excessive supervision on individuals in the justice system, exploring solutions — like those proposed in SB 1067 — can lead to reforms that ultimately produce positive strides toward greater public safety.

Jesse Kelley is a Criminal Justice policy analyst and Arthur Rizer is Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Policy at R Street.

2 thoughts on “Probation and Parole Called a ‘Monstrous Drain’ on State Resources

  1. For decades, criminal justice reformers have been demanding that the system do what out already does and has always done–provide more “alternatives to incarceration”.

    Now the cat’s out of the bag. Incarceration in our country IS an alternative sanction. More than 80% (in some states) of our corrections population is under community supervision (alternatives) rather than locked up. The reason “diversion” programs haven’t diverted anyone or hardly anyone from prison is precisely due to this fact. The people that qualify for diversion programs would have ended up on probation in their absence.

    It seems it’s time for reformers to modify the narrative. What’s wrong with the justice system is not that we incarcerate too many (or at least that’s only one component of the elemental problem). The problem is that we supervise too many and at too much cost.

    The fact that regular or standard probation costs relatively nothing compared to most newly minted “alternative” sanctions is completely ignored. The goal of maintaining low supervision rates rather than on maintaining safer communities must not be challenged. But the fact remains that public safety should be the goal of the system and must be the measure of its value to the community at large.

    Reducing recidivism and incarceration is very easy. Simple don’t send anyone to prison until they kill at least 3 people. Yes, this is a rather ridiculous statement but it illustrates a point. In order to understand the purpose of the system, we first have to abandon the punishment vs rehabilitation, more prisons vs fewer prisons, nonsense that perpetuates the never-ending debate.

    Maybe that’s the hardest task of all but we must try.

  2. Women Against Registry advocates for the families who have loved ones on the sex offender registry.
    More about the issue:
    According to the NCMEC map there are over 904,000 men, women and children (as young as 8 and 10 in some states) required to register and the “crimes” range from urinating in public (indecent exposure), sexting, incest, mooning, exposure, false accusations by a soon-to-be ex-wife, angry girlfriend, or spiteful student, viewing abusive OR suggestive images of anyone 18 years old or younger, playing doctor, prostitution, solicitation, Romeo and Juliet consensual sexual dating relationships, rape, endangering the welfare of a child, the old bait-n-switch internet stings (taking sometimes 12 months before a person steps over the line) guys on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disabilities and many others.

    If you multiply the number on the registry by 2 or 3 family members you can clearly see there are well over 3 million wives, children, moms, aunts, girlfriends, grandmothers and other family members who experience the collateral damage of being murdered, harassed, threatened, children beaten, have signs placed in their yards, homes set on fire, vehicles damaged, asked to leave their churches and other organizations, children passed over for educational opportunities, have flyers distributed around their neighborhood, wives lose their jobs when someone learns they are married to a registrant….all these things occur when these people try to hold their family together and provide the three things that professionals indicate are needed for successful reintegration; a job, a place to live and a “positive” support system.

    The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crime Statistics – ‘Frightening and High’ (Debunks the 80% recidivism rate cited by now SCOTUS Justice Kennedy)

    It is very important that you read the abstract below and then the full 12 page essay by Ira Mark and Tara Ellman.
    ABSTRACT This brief essay reveals that the sources relied upon by the Supreme Court in Smith v. Doe, a heavily cited constitutional decision on sex offender registries, in fact provide no support at all for the facts about sex offender re-offense rates that the Court treats as central to its constitutional conclusions. This misreading of the social science was abetted in part by the Solicitor General’s misrepresentations in the amicus brief it filed in this case. The false “facts” stated in the opinion have since been relied upon repeatedly by other courts in their own constitutional decisions, thus infecting an entire field of law as well as policy making by legislative bodies. Recent decisions by the Pennsylvania and California supreme courts establish principles that would support major judicial reforms of sex offender registries, if they were applied to the facts. This paper appeared in Constitutional Commentary Fall, 2015. Google ‘Frightening and High Essay’

    A study reviewing sex crimes as reported to police revealed that:
    a) 93% of child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser;
    b) 34.2% were family members;
    c) 58.7% were acquaintances;
    d) Only 7% of the perpetrators of child victims were strangers;
    e) 40% of sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home;
    f) 20% take place in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative (Jill Levenson, PhD, Lynn University)

    There is a tremendous need to fund programs like “Stop It Now” that teaches about grooming behaviors and other things at age-appropriate levels in their Circles of Safety.

    Our question to the public, when does redemption begin?

    Lastly, our country is proud to be ‘the incarceration nation’ with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated. That fixes everything, right? Principles of Restorative Justice; restore the victim, restore the offender AND restore the community.

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