New Report Charges Problems with ‘Insidiously Designed’ Probation and Parole  

By Michael McCutcheon

NORTHAMPTON, MA – A new report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) reveals that although there are about 1.9 million people incarcerated in the U.S., the number jumps to 5.5 million people either incarcerated or involved in release supervision programs such as probation or parole and that the “insidiously designed” programs extends incarceration.

Leah Wang, the author of the report, stated, “Probation and parole are often talked about as a more ‘lenient’ approach than incarceration, but these programs are insidiously designed to extend the reach of mass punishment beyond the prison walls.”

The Prison Policy Initiative report claims about 3.7 million people are on probation or parole, 2.9 million on probation and about 800,000 people on parole.

Image from Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) report

The report charges, “the overuse of probation and parole, along with mass incarceration, has ensnared a staggering 5.5 million people in a system of mass punishment and correctional control.”

When it comes to the forms of correctional control itself, states vary wildly in their use of community supervision, according to the report, noting, “Massachusetts and Utah have nearly identical rates of overall correctional control, but 68 percent of people in Massachusetts’ punishment systems are on probation, and only 28 percent are incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails.”

The report added, “In Utah, on the other hand, only 39 percent are on probation, and a much larger share (46 percent) are incarcerated.”

There are numerous other examples of variations between states, the report reveals, including Minnesota, that has a larger share of its population under some form of correctional control than Alabama, even though an Alabama resident is far more likely to be incarcerated than their Minnesotan equivalent.

“Probation and parole are important tools that can reduce the number of people in prisons and jails,” the report reads. “However, too often, community supervision sets people up to fail, by forcing them to comply with vague and wide-ranging rules and fees, and failure to comply can mean going to jail or prison.

“These ‘failures’ are so common that less than half (44 percent) of people who ‘exited’ parole or probation in 2021 did so after successfully completing their supervision terms, many of the rest were reincarcerated for ‘technical violations,’ such as missing a check-in or nonpayment of fees – things that are not crimes in any other circumstance.”

Image from Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) report

“Instead of burdening people with onerous requirements that make it more – not less – difficult for them to build stable lives,” said Wang, “state and local leaders should focus on connecting people with the services and supports that help them meet their social, economic, and health needs.”

The report notes there have been numerous successful reforms that have reduced incarceration rates and the durations of both probation and parole.

For instance, said the report, California instituted new time limits on the terms of probation, which the report projects will save the state $2.1 billion. And, New York passed legislation that should reduce incarceration for noncriminal, “technical” offenses of parole.

Additional reforms are ongoing, and the report suggested more reforms will follow the states that have, at least in part, addressed the issues of probation and parole.

About The Author

Michael is a senior at CSU Long Beach majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice. After graduating with a BS, Michael plans to attend grad school and receive his Masters with a thesis on interrogation techniques.

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