Incarceration has long dominated the national conversation on criminal justice, because the U.S. prison population skyrocketed between the 1980s and late 2000s. Starting in 2007, policymakers seeking to protect public safety, improve accountability, and save taxpayer dollars initiated a wave of bipartisan reforms that has reduced the number of people behind bars in many states. Yet this movement has largely overlooked the largest part of the correctional system: community supervision.
Nationwide, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population, including those in state and federal prisons and local jails. The growth and size of the supervised population has undermined the ability of local and state community corrections agencies to carry out their basic responsibilities to provide the best public safety return on investment as well as a measure of accountability. Although research has identified effective supervision and treatment strategies, the system is too overloaded to implement them, so it sends large numbers of probationers and parolees back to prison for new crimes or for failure to follow the rules.
As part of a collaborative effort to improve the nation’s community corrections system, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation analyzed the leading research and identified the most pressing problems and some promising solutions. The available data leave many questions unanswered, but this review reveals key insights and challenges many assumptions about supervision. Among the findings:
Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses.
1 in 55 U.S. adults (nearly 2 percent) was on probation or parole in 2016 (the most recent year for which data are available), a population increase of 239 percent since 1980, though rates vary considerably by state, from 1 in 18 in Georgia to 1 in 168 in New Hampshire.
Between 1999 and 2016, the probation population per crime reported to police rose 24 percent and per arrest rose 28 percent.
African-Americans make up 30 percent of those on community supervision but just 13 percent of the U.S. adult population.
3.5 times as many men as women are on supervision, but the number of women on parole or probation has almost doubled since 1990 to more than 1 million.
More than three-quarters of the 4.5 million Americans on probation or parole were convicted of nonviolent offenses. Continue reading >>>