United States: the expensive burden of parole, probation unjustly places people in a second prison

While working as a criminal justice reform advocate the past two years, Johnson feared she could be returned to prison for missing an appointment with a supervisor, traveling across state lines without written permission, or committing a paperwork error.

These and other technical violations put tens of thousands of people on probation back behind bars each year.

Though not crimes, they are jailable offenses for someone under community supervision.

Luckily, a recent presidential pardon will end Johnson’s probation sentence. Even before the pardon, Johnson was fortunate to have a case officer who supported her. But millions of people under supervision are far less fortunate.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 4.4 million Americans were on probation or parole in 2018, approximately twice the number of people incarcerated in the United States.

Like Johnson, more than 75% were under supervision for nonviolent offenses, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Since 1990, the number of women on parole or probation has almost doubled to more than 1 million in 2016. And though African Americans make up just 13% of the U.S. adult population, they account for 30% of those on community supervision.

Almost 350,000 ofpeople who exit probation or parole each year return to jail or prison, often for technical violations rather than for committing new crimes. In fact, probation and parole failures account for 45% of state prison admissions nationwide.

Collectively, states spend $2.8 billion annually to incarcerate people for noncriminal rule violations. This is money that could be better used to help people gain the skills and treatment they need to successfully reenter their communities after incarceration, something that has strong public support. A new Morning Consult survey conducted in eight states on behalf of my organization, the REFORM Alliance, found:

►A majority of voters in six of the eight states think it is important to reduce the number of people on probation or parole supervision.

►A plurality of voters in all eight states think the United States spends too much incarcerating people for violating the conditions of their probation or parole.

►At least half of voters in seven of the eight states would be more likely to support a public official who wants to reform the probation and parole system.

Perhaps most important, a majority of voters in all eight states support commonsense probation and parole reforms, such as: decreasing caseloads for probation officers; providing mentorship programs for those on parole or probation; allowing people on probation to report to their supervisors remotely; incentivizing and encouraging supervised people to participate in rehabilitative programs; and investing savings from a smaller supervised population into reentry programs.