The Probation and Parole Trap

Probation and parole were designed to be an alternative to incarceration so people can pay their debt to society and be redirected back to work without wasting prison space. But instead, these systems create a series of trap doors that lock people back up – not for committing new crimes, but often for things like showing up a few minutes late for an appointment or crossing city lines to pick up their child for school. They’ve become systems that prepare people for prison, not productivity.

Right now, people under probation or parole make up the vast majority of our criminal justice system, yet the issue has received relatively little attention. We can make smart, common-sense reforms right now and create meaningful pathways to work, wellness and stability for the millions of people who are trapped in this broken system—all while making communities safer and saving taxpayers money.

Our probation and parole programs were originally intended to hold people accountable and serve as an alternative to incarceration. But they have become a leading contributor to jail and prison populations. Essentially, these programs are a set-up for reincarceration.

Since 1980, the nation’s community supervision population has ballooned by almost 240 percent. As of 2016, 1 in 55 U.S. adults (nearly 4.5 million people) are on probation or parole, more than twice the number incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails.

Of the 4.5 million individuals on community supervision nationwide, more than 75% were serving terms of supervision for nonviolent offenses and at least 40% were on probation or parole for relatively minor offenses. This costs taxpayers and communities dearly and places substantial long-term restrictions on individuals who pose little or no threat to society.