Racial Disparities Still Mar Probation, Parole Despite 14% Decline: Report

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Illustration by AK Rockefeller via Flickr

The number and percentage of people under probation and parole decreased by 14 percent between 2008 and 2018 and by 2 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to a research brief released Thursday by the Columbia Justice Lab.

This marks the 10th consecutive year that the population under community supervision has declined, wrote Kendra Bradner, Vincent Schiraldi, Natasha Mejia, and Evangeline Lopoo.

But, the decline still leaves key flaws in the U.S. probation and parole systems unaddressed, they said.

The authors reached these conclusions by analyzing recently released data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which reported on the number of people on probation and parole in 2017 and 2018.

Although the researchers commended the “observable decline” in the community supervision population, they noted that the U.S. still has high rates of community supervision.

At 4.4 million in 2018, the number of people under supervision is now 3.3 times greater than it was in 1980. When adjusted for population growth, the percentage of adults on probation or parole in 2018 is more than double what it was in 1980, the authors explained.

Not only are the current rates of community supervision high historically, but they are also high when compared to our European counterparts.

In the U.S., there are 1,726 people under supervision out of every 100,000 adults. That figure in Europe is a mere 202, according to the research brief.

Additionally, like in many other components of the U.S. criminal justice system, Black, Latinx, and American Indian and Alaska Native individuals are disproportionately affected by probation and parole.

In 2018, as compared to white people, Black people were 2.6 times more likely to be on probation and 4 times more likely to be on parole.

Meanwhile, Native American or Alaska Native adults were 48 percent more likely to be on probation and 77 percent more likely to be on parole, as compared to white adults.

This data suggests, according to the authors, that “racial disparities in rates of supervision decreased slightly [between 2008 and 2018], but remained significant.”

Importantly, racial disparities also exist in supervision violation charges and outcomes, with Blacks more likely than whites to be charged with probation and parole violations.

Black people are also more likely than white people to be returned to prison for a parole violation, a trend that serves to exacerbate racial disparities in incarceration.

The researchers also found that incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole remains “stubbornly high.”

“A quarter of admissions to state prisons were for non-criminal, technical violations of probation and parole, costing taxpayers $2.8 billion.”

Another cause for concern, from 2008 to 2018, is “the decline in the number of people on probation has failed to keep pace with the decline in arrests, resulting in an increase in the rate of probation, per arrest,” according to the brief.

In other words, while there was a 17 percent reduction in probation from 2008 to 2018, there was a 26 percent reduction in arrests.

This means that the rate of probation per arrest was 12.6 percent higher in 2018 than it was a decade prior.

To address the problems previously mentioned, the authors offered the following recommendations to state and local lawmakers:

      • Revise criminal justice laws and policies the produce and perpetuate racial disparities;
      • Reduce the number of adults on probation and parole;
      • Limit time on supervision to 2 years;
      • Allow adults to reduce their supervision periods through good behavior;
      • Eliminate the costly practice of incarcerating people for non-criminal, technical supervision violations; and
      • Invest in services, supports, and opportunities designed by communities that are affected by mass supervision and incarceration.

Kendra Bradner is director of the Columbia Justice Lab’s Probation and Parole Reform Project, and Vincent Schiraldi is co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and senior research scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work.

Natasha Mejia is a research associate with the Probation and Parole Reform Project, and Evangeline Lopoo is a research associate and project coordinator with the Square One Project.

The full research brief can be accessed here.

Editor’s Note: For additional information on probation and parole, please see The Crime Report’s resource pages on “Probation and Parole” and “Community Supervision.”

See also: Probation and Parole ‘Feed’ Mass Incarceration: Report by Andrea Cipriano, The Crime Report, August 4, 2020

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

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