Emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that more fundamental reforms in the community supervision system are feasible, says a leading advocacy organization,
Jessica Jackson, chief advocacy officer at the Reform Alliance, said the pandemic has led to offenders being able to remotely check-in with probation officers over the phone.
“This allows more time for rehabilitation,” she told the opening session of the 2020 Innovations Conference Tuesday, arguing that such measures should continue once the threat of coronavirus infections eases.
Angel Sanchez, a recent law graduate and formerly incarcerated/ supervised activist, said COVID-19 has also exposed how government resources have been wasted on maintaining a system of probation and parole that ends up sending more individuals back behind bars for “technical violations” rather than criminal behavior.
“Irrationality is built into the system,” she said, noting that it creates “perpetual criminalization” for offenders.
“It’s such a trap that people get caught up in because it’s structured essentially to only function to return people to jail and prison and to penalize them when they’re not walking a perfect line,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez added that he did not feel supported by his probation officer or the system when he was under supervision. He was not helped when looking for employment or housing.
He said that the system’s rehabilitative efforts are often the first to get cut from the budget, leaving offenders in a vicious cycle of criminalization he referred to as “postponed purgatory.”
Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and law professor at George Mason University who heads the nonpartisan think tank R Street Institute, said community supervision should support individuals released from detention rather than supervise them.
“If you want to end mass incarceration, you really have to do something about the way community supervision works in this country because it is a mass driver,” he said.
He said we need to change the culture of policing so that they are helpers rather than enforcers.
“When I was a police officer, I never once thought about the actual ramifications on that person’s life when I popped them for parole and it’s easy to do as a cop,” Rizer said.
Jackson proposed a reinvestment of funds allocated for community supervision to paying for more mental health and addiction counseling services.
This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Tayler Green