Over 30 states have enacted policy reforms to reduce the amount of people returned to prison for technical violations, through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), according to a report from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Pew Public Safety Performance Project.
Technical violations refer to instances where one fails to follow the rules of one’s probation or parole. Such rules can include maintaining employment, paying fees, and attending appointments with officers, the report explained.
Nearly one in four admissions to state prisons are the result of technical violations, according to a 2019 report by the Council of State Government. Technical revocations account for $2.8 billion in annual incarceration costs.
JRI is a partnership between by Pew, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, state governments, and technical assistance providers. Through this partnership, 35 states have enacted policies to increase the success of supervision (parole or probation), and provide alternatives to technical revocation.
States’ policies generally fall into categories including tailoring supervision strategies toward behavioral change for people most likely to reoffend, capping the incarceration time for technical violations, administrative responses to violations, and providing positive incentives for those under supervision, the report stated.
For example, North Carolina’s 2011 Justice Reinvestment Act requires probation officers to assess those they are supervising by their likelihood of reoffending and supervise them accordingly. It set a caseload goal of no more the 60 high-and-moderate-risk individuals for each officer. These requirements, along with other reforms, contributed to a 50 percent decline in revocations and 21 percent decline in overall incarceration, according to the report.
Some states developed centers where those who broke the terms of their supervision could be sent to instead of prison. In Texas, those who committed technical violations were sent to intermediate sanction centers where they received services related to the known needs of those who displayed high levels of criminal behavior. People generally stayed for an average of 60 days in these centers. This reduced parole revocations in the state by 25 percent, the report found.
There is strong public support for reducing technical revocations. In a 2016 Maryland Public Opinion Poll, the majority of voters did not believe should be sent to prison for the remainder of these sentence for technical violations.
Thus, Pew recommended continuing these types of initiatives. The full report is available here.
Maria Trovato is a TCR news intern.