The measures signed into law Monday include reducing adult felony probation sentences from five years to three years, preventing endless extensions on misdemeanor and felony probation terms, and limiting jail sanctions for technical probation violations. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the 20 bills she signed help make the state “a national leader on criminal justice reform.”
Across the country, states have wide variations in policies and term lengths for probationers that offer opportunities for reform. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ latest report says states can shorten the time individuals are on probation by months, and still see no change in recidivism rates.
Probation and parole are often advertised as “alternatives to incarceration,” but a new report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found they actually drive high numbers of people right back to jail or prison.
More than 300 Alabamans have been charged since 2014 under state law requiring people with more than two felony convictions to register with local sheriff’s offices and carry cards identifying them as repeat felons. One legal expert compared it to the ID cards Jews were required to have in Nazi Germany.
In a letter released Tuesday, the nation’s top probation and parole executives called for “severe” limits on the number of individuals sentenced to probation and parole, or re-arrested for technical violations, in order to reduce the risk of contagion in the larger community.
African Americans are returned to New York State prisons for “technical violations” of parole at five times the rate of whites — one of the reasons why New York is second only to Illinois in the number of people reincarcerated for behavior that otherwise wouldn’t merit criminal sanctions, according to the Columbia University Justice Lab.
Tens of thousands of Americans are sent back to prison each year for offenses as minor as neglecting to tell their probation officer they changed address. A new study argues this is another reason to question a community supervision system that is more concerned with control than rehabilitation.
Some of the country’s leading practitioners and policymakers on corrections will sit down with formerly incarcerated individuals this month to explore new ideas for reform. The Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium, meeting at John Jay College Feb. 20-21, features keynote speakers Leann Bertsch, head of North Dakota’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, chair of the New Jersey Reentry Commission.
Twenty-five years after the state eliminated the practice of releasing prisoners who had served part of their sentence, thousands of inmates could be eligible to get out under bills progressing through the Democratically controlled General Assembly.