Leading state corrections chiefs say a new report showing that 45 percent of prison admissions nationwide are driven by violations of parole or probation is forcing them to rethink their approach to community supervision.
The report released Tuesday by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center represents the first state-by-state analysis of the issue. According to the report, the high numbers of individuals sent back behind bars either for new crimes or simply for breaking supervision rules adds a huge burden for taxpayers and conflicts with the goal of reducing recidivism.
“This has forced us to look at our rules,” said John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Wetzel noted that the CSG report showed Pennsylvania spent over $100 million on tracking parole violators.
”If we need to spend $100 million to ensure that the citizens of Pennsylvania were safe we would do that,” he said in a conference call in advance the report’s release.
“But the reality of it is that often times, these technical parole violations—when they result in incarceration—really lead to further crime and further violations.”
The report, Confined and Costly: How Supervision Violations are Filling Prisons and Burdening Budgets, found that 25 percent of prison admission nationally were the result of technical violations such as failed drug tests or missed curfews.
“No one thinks people should be sent to prison for a missed curfew or faulty paperwork, and yet this report shows these kinds of minor technical violations are contributing significantly to state prison populations,” said Julienne James, director of criminal justice for Arnold Ventures, which provided funding for the analysis.
“This should serve as a wakeup call that our probation and parole systems are not healthy, not functioning as intended, and need to be reformed.
In Tuesday’s conference call, Anne Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said her state plans to implement this month a “behavior matrix” which refines the tools used by community supervision authorities to assess whether a given violation merits a return to prison.
“(The CSG ) report is really going to help us get our story out there.”
In Missouri more than half of prison admissions are due to technical violations, Precythe said.
Taxpayers are footing a huge bill, according to the report, froim a practice that, on any given day, leaves nearly 280,000 people in prison as a result of supervision violations—and costs over $9 billion annually.
For a copy of the report, including a tool that allows numbers to be broken down by state, please click here.
For a different view, please click here.
TCR News Intern Brian Demo contributed to this summary.