Saturday, November 21, 2020

Now is the time for probation and parole reform

Matthew T. Mangino
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November 20, 2020

The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but 20% of the world’s incarcerated people. That is an alarming statistic but the problem in this country is about more than incarceration.

According to EXiT (Executive Transforming Probation and Parole) - a group of former community supervision executives - 4.4 million people are under some form of probation or parole supervision, more than twice as many people as are incarcerated. In the last 40 years, the number of people under community supervision has increased three-fold.

Recently, EXiT and a bipartisan group of over 50 current and former District Attorneys and state Attorneys General issued a statement challenging the efficacy of parole and probation.

Community supervision was created more than a century ago to manage offenders as an alternative to prison or as a supplement to help inmates transition back into the community.

According to The Crime Report, community supervision has now become “overly burdensome, punitive and a driver of mass incarceration, especially for people of color.” For example, while one in 58 adults in America are under probation and parole supervision, that proportion jumps significantly for blacks to one in 23.

“Far from being an aid to community reintegration as originally designed, community supervision too often serves as a tripwire to imprisonment,” the according to the DAs and parole executives who signed-off on the joint statement.

The American people are growing weary of probation and parole. According to recent polling by The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress, “voters want fewer people in jails and prisons, and fewer people subject to surveillance and control by law enforcement. Instead, they want probation and parole, to the extent they are used at all, to serve as true alternatives to incarceration, not additional means of law enforcement control that makes incarceration more likely.”

Rather than supporting people, today’s probation and parole programs set people up to fail and perpetuate cycles of incarceration. For instance, about 16% of New York City’s jail population is composed of people who were there on state parole violations, according to a report by Columbia University Justice Lab, and published by The Appeal.

A report from the Prison Policy Initiative found that as New York had reduced the number of people detained pretrial by double digits over the last four years, “only one population in the jail has increased, also by double digits: persons held in city jails for state parole violations.”

There are increasing burdens for people being supervised through probation and parole. They are often saddled with onerous supervision fees; required to make regular in-person appointments with a probation or parole officer; abstain from alcohol or drug use; and comply with curfews and strict travel restrictions.

Failure to comply with non-criminal conditions of supervision often leads to arrest and time in jail.

According to the joint statement, community supervision creates “a vicious cycle of reincarceration for people under supervision for administrative rule violations that would rarely lead someone not under supervision into prison.”

The residual effects of strict parole enforcement are enormous. About 45 % of people entering prison nationwide were on probation or parole when they were convicted. One in four people entering prison ended up there for failing to comply with supervision rules costing taxpayers $2.8 billion annually.

The prosecutors and parole executives who joined in the statement demanding reform are calling for common sense initiatives including shortening supervision terms, reinvesting the savings in reentry support and rethinking the collateral consequences of crime like housing exclusions, disenfranchisement and ineligibility for government assistance.

Recalibrating probation and parole can reduce incarceration, save money and, most importantly, help former inmates succeed on the streets.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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