According to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, States Can Shorten Probation and Protect Public Safety, more than 3.5 million, or 1 in 72, adults were on probation in the United States at the end of 2018—the most recent year for which U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data is available—more than triple the number in 1980. Nationwide, on any given day, more people are on probation than in prisons and jails and on parole combined.
At its best, probation—court-ordered correctional supervision in the community—gives people the opportunity to remain with their families, maintain employment, and access services that can reduce their likelihood of reoffending while serving their sentences. But, as previous research by The Pew Charitable Trusts has shown, the growth and size of this population have overloaded local and state agencies and stretched their resources thin, weakening their ability to provide the best return on taxpayers’ public safety investments, support rehabilitation, and ensure a measure of accountability. One key factor driving the size of the probation population is how long individuals remain on supervision.
Although probation was originally conceived as an alternative to incarceration, criminal justice officials, policymakers, and other stakeholders increasingly acknowledge that keeping people on probation longer than is needed to deliver public safety benefits carries unnecessary and unproductive costs and wastes scarce resources. This report aims to help state and local leaders better understand and address the critical issue of probation length by providing essential data and offering policies and practices that can improve outcomes for probation departments and the people they supervise across the U.S.
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