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May 26, 2018

"Time to rethink probation and parole"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Larry Krasner and Miriam Krinsky. (Kranser, as many readers surely know, is the District Attorney of Philadelphia and Krinsky is a former federal prosecutor and Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution.) Here are excerpts:

As longtime leaders in criminal justice, we have seen a deeply unsettling trend in the way probation and parole — sometimes called “community corrections” — have become overused and too often serve as a gateway to reincarceration based on the smallest of missteps.  That’s why we recently joined with 45 fellow prosecutors nationwide who believe that community corrections needs to be downsized and made rehabilitative, not only because that will make us safer, but because it will fortify trust in our justice system for millions of Americans.

When community corrections was founded in the 1800s, it was viewed as a highly individualized way to curb the purely punitive sentence of imprisonment with an alternative to incarceration (probation) or a release valve for those who did well during incarceration (parole).  But since 1980, it has grown far beyond what its founders ever could have imagined. The number of people on probation and parole has increased four-fold, peaking at 5 million individuals — or one out of every 53 adults — before declining slightly of late. That is twice as many people as are incarcerated in America, and more people than live in half of all U.S. states.

Often thought of as a grant of mercy or slap on the wrist, parole and probation are a deprivation of liberty and can serve as an unnecessary trip wire back into incarceration. Four out of 10 people entering our prisons and jails were on parole or probation at the time of their reincarceration.  Often that stay behind bars is not for a new arrest, but simply for violating a technical condition of release like missing appointments or drug use....

Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast, and the third-highest community corrections rate in the country. The number and rate of people supervised by parole in Pennsylvania is the highest in the nation — three times the national average.  An astonishing one out of 22 Philadelphians is being supervised by probation or parole....

Several states have tried to reduce both the footprint and harmful outcomes of these practices.  When Arizona gave people “earned discharge” time off their probation terms, the state not only reduced probation violations by 29 percent, but achieved a 21 percent decline in arrests of people on probation, realizing $392 million in averted costs.  When Louisiana capped the amount of time someone could receive for technical violations at between 15 and 45 days, there was a 22 percent decline in returns to incarceration for new arrests, saving over 2,000 beds and $17 million.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams and New York Assembly Member Walter Mosely have filed legislation in their respective states to address this issue.  These proposed reforms would shorten probation and parole terms, grant people 30 days of earned discharge time for every 30 days of success under supervision, and cap the amount of time someone could receive for a technical violation.

These are the kinds of sensible policy changes needed to restore faith in our justice system, reduce the overly expansive scope of community corrections, focus assistance on those people most in need, reward people for good performance, and overall, increase public safety and rehabilitation.  We hope that prosecutors around the nation will rally around the need for reform and use their influence to help chart a more positive pathway for all members of our community.

May 26, 2018 at 06:25 PM | Permalink


Here I describe the practice of parole or probation sharking, in Bucks County, PA. It is one of the wealthiest counties in Pennsylvania. It is being expanded to sex offender registry sharking. All government sharking needs to be criminalized.


Posted by: David Behar | May 26, 2018 9:40:34 PM

I agree it is time to rethink community corrections because it is a major element in our criminal justice system. It is an outcome of sentencing and parole policies that contribute to criminal case overload as well jail and prison crowding. If the public loses confidence in community supervision the consequences can be severe.

The article is from the point of view of prosecutors who work in a very city with a serious crime problem. There are other points of view that we need to know about.

Posted by: John Neff | May 27, 2018 8:05:30 AM

I always roll my eyes when a Judge implies that probation is just the continuation of a sentence and, basically, that the Judge gave you the sentence initially but suspended it as an act of clemency. Basically, you had the chance and now you have to serve the full sentence. The reason this falls flat is Judges don't sentence that way, they sentence with probation as part of the expected package. In fact, in Virginia, post-release supervision of some kind is mandatory in all felony cases. A defendant isn't allowed to say "I'll take more jail time instead of probation."

Posted by: Erik M | May 30, 2018 2:39:50 PM

As a former prisoner and prison activist I have written on the subject of "community corrections" being an extension of the prison industrial complex into our communities. It is a cheaper form of correctional supervision and hinders parolees return to the community. Politicians hold up community corrections as an alternative to imprisonment.
However many of individuals who are sentenced to sanctions in the community end up being imprisoned anyways because of the restrictions placed upon them. It hinders any effort to rehabilitate and focuses on punishment. I believe this will continue to expand and will have a negative effect on society.

Posted by: Daniel Cahill | Jul 26, 2018 5:00:02 AM

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