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Report: Overwhelmed Probation, Parole Systems Result in Recidivism

Although criminal justice reforms have helped reduce overcrowded U.S. prisons and jails, they have not addressed adequately the issues within probation and parole, resulting in overwhelmed community supervision systems and increased recidivism.

These are key findings presented by the Pew Charitable Trusts report released Sept. 25.

“The growth and size of the supervised population has undermined the ability of local and state community corrections agencies to carry out their basic responsibilities to provide the best public safety return on investment as well as a measure of accountability,” the report said. “Although research has identified effective supervision and treatment strategies, the system is too overloaded to implement them, so it sends large numbers of probationers and parolees back to prison for new crimes or for failure to follow the rules.”

Around 4.5 million people were on probation or parole in 2016 (a 239 percent increase since 1980), compared to just over 2.2 million in jails and prisons. In 2016, 27 percent of all persons on parole, and 12 percent of all persons on probation, were re-incarcerated. On average, 350,000 persons who are under a community supervision agreement are re-arrested each year, often due to rule violations rather than for committing a new crime.

Nationwide, one in 55 was under a community supervision release agreement in 2016.

Georgia had the highest number of people (by population) on parole or probation at one in 16 residents, followed by Idaho (one in 33), Ohio and Pennsylvania (both at one in 35), Rhode Island (one in 37), Michigan (one in 40), Minnesota (one in 41), Indiana and Texas (both at one in 43), Arkansas (one in 44) and New Jersey (one in 45).

New Hampshire (at one in 168) and Maine (one in 158) had the lowest number of people (by population) on parole or probation.

“The racial gap resembles that in incarceration: Black adults are about 3.5 times as likely as whites to be supervised, and although African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. adult population, they account for 30 percent of those on probation or parole,” the report said. “In addition, although federal data do not indicate disproportionate representation of Hispanics in community corrections, many states do not report ethnicity data, so Hispanics under supervision are undercounted.”

States that have invested resources into evidence-based practices – such as compliance incentives, customized support and treatment plans, and adjusted revocation practices for technical violations – have seen a drop in both crime rates and the number of persons on probation or parole.

The full report is available here.