The ranks of people on probation or parole have swollen to over five million.
Many of these people have their supervision revoked because of new offenses or technical violations. Declared guilty and incarcerated, they cycle back through the corrections system, sometimes for the second or third time. Over one third of state prison admissions are the result of parole failures. One half of the jail population is incarcerated due to probation or parole violations.
Such statistics are largely the result of problems within probation and parole policies. Sentencing new prison terms for noncompliance with technical regulations rather than for illegal behavior undermines the nature of crime, distorts justice, and overcrowds prisons with low-risk offenders. This also drains millions of dollars from diminishing state budgets. One-size-fits-all sanctions that ignore individual needs over-react to failure rather than empower for success. Distributing punishment without any incentives for cooperation also limits probation and parole officers’ ability to influence positive behaviors that contribute to community well-being. Backlogs of paperwork and cumbersome hearing processes often postpone responses to violations, thus weakening sanctions’ deterrent power. In addition, delays in holding offenders accountable potentially threatens public safety.
Prison Fellowship calls for discernment in probation and parole policies.
Prison Fellowship believes that probation and parole policies that are proportionate, outcome-oriented, and swift will steward resources and fulfill our communities’ best interest. Supervision officers and judges should distinguish between criminal violations and technical violations when determining punishments. They should base their decisions on offenders’ unique risks and have a wide variety of intermediate sanctions at their disposal. Probation and parole officers should address the needs that impede offenders’ compliance and also use incentives to increase potential and motivation for success. Furthermore, Prison Fellowship believes that response processes should be streamlined so that officers can quickly deal with violations. Through comprehensive reforms that mimic promising practices in states like Hawaii and Oregon, probation and parole policies can increase offenders’ chances of becoming productive members of safe communities.