Probation and parole
4.5 million people in the U.S. are under probation and parole (collectively known as "community supervision"). That's nearly twice the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails combined. Yet despite the massive number of people under their control, parole and probation are only recently starting to receive public scrutiny.
It's time they did. Probation and parole systems are frequently plagued with injustices, setting people up to fail with long supervision terms, onerous restrictions, and constant surveillance. Probation, in particular, often ends up channeling people into jail.
Below is our key research on probation and parole:
Our report shows the number of people in every U.S. state who are in prison, in jail, on probation and on parole, ranking states on their total rates of correctional control.
Our analysis finds that Massachusetts' poorest communities are hit hardest by monthly probation fees, which are rooted in harsh, "tough on crime" 1980s rhetoric and make little sense for the state today.
We give every state's parole release system a letter grade. Functioning, fair parole release could help end mass incarceration — but most states are failing.
Our report — a policy handbook for shortening long prison sentences — includes crucial parole reforms, such as instituting "presumptive parole" and ending re-incarceration for technical violations.
- Parole boards approved fewer releases in 2020 than in 2019, despite the raging pandemic, by Tiana Herring, February 03, 2021
Instead of releasing more people to the safety of their homes, parole boards in many states held fewer hearings and granted fewer approvals during the ongoing, deadly pandemic.
- Technical difficulties: D.C. data shows how minor supervision violations contribute to excessive jailing, by Andrea Fenster, October 28, 2020
Using D.C. as a case study, we explain how much non-criminal – and often drug related – “technical” violations of probation and parole contribute to unnecessary jail incarceration.
- What you should know about halfway houses, by Roxanne Daniel and Wendy Sawyer, September 3, 2020
Halfway houses are a major feature of the criminal justice system, but very little data is ever published about them. We compiled a guide to understanding what they are, how they operate, and the rampant problems that characterize them.
- When parole doesn’t mean release: The senseless “program requirements” keeping people behind bars during a pandemic, by Emily Widra and Wendy Sawyer, May 21, 2020
Parole boards are granting parole contingent on participation in programs that are often not readily available for people behind bars, especially during the pandemic.
- New data: Low incomes - but high fees - for people on probation, by Mack Finkel, April 9, 2019
People on probation are much more likely to be low-income than those who aren't, and steep monthly probation fees put them at risk of being jailed when they can't pay.
- Amidst a pandemic, hundreds are still jailed for technical parole violations in NYC, by Wanda Bertram and Emily Widra, April 24, 2020
As cities attempt to reduce their jail populations, they should pay attention to the lesson of NYC’s slow decarceration: Even releasing "low-level offenders" is a complicated process liable to be bogged down by delays.
- Red states, blue states: What do these mean for people on parole?, by Jorge Renaud, January 2, 2019
Despite the states' reputations, Texas actually appears more progressive than Massachusetts when it comes to parole.
- New reports show probation is down, but still a major driver of incarceration, by Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram, April 26, 2018
New data and analysis show the number of people on probation or parole is edging in the right direction, but states continue to set people up to fail with long supervision terms, onerous restrictions, and constant scrutiny.
- Alternative to incarceration? New report critiques electronic monitoring, by Aleks Kajstura, November 17, 2015
We recap a new report by James Kilgore that tackles the use of electronic monitoring in the context of mass incarceration and the expanding surveillance state.
- Should prosecutors and survivors have a voice in shortening long sentences?, by Jorge Renaud, October 25, 2018
It's become habit to consult prosecutors and victims during the release process. States should break that habit.
- New York State's elderly prison boom: An update, by Maddy Troilo, November 1, 2018
Despite recent positive reforms, New York's elderly prison population continues to grow.
- Probation: The nicest sounding way to grease the skids of mass incarceration, by Peter Wagner, August 11, 2015
Probation shouldn't be ignored: It's used too often and sets up too many people to fail.
- Probation population declines: Good, but not good enough, by Wendy Sawyer, December 21, 2016
After decades of exponential growth, any news that the population under correctional control is decreasing is good news. But this progress is too slow.
People on probation and parole are often required to secure jobs and housing. Unfortunately, our research shows, the stigma of a criminal history can make such basic requirements nearly impossible to meet.
Probation disproportionately impacts women: Three out of four women under correctional control are on probation rather than behind bars. Read more about the criminal justice policy issues that hit women the hardest.
Didn't find what you were looking for? We also curate a database of virtually all the empirical criminal justice research available online. See the section of our Research Library on probation and parole.