Unwarranted: lengthy probation terms drain resources and offer no increase in public safety

As of December 2018, over 3.5 million adults in the U.S. were on probation—a number that has tripled since the 1980s, according to Pew

We go to Pew Charitable Trusts for this week’s study “States Can Shorten Probation and Protect Public Safety,” put together by Jake Horowitz.

  • In 2018, the average probation length was 22.4 months

  • Average probation terms ranged widely across states from nine months in Kansas to 59 in Hawaii.

  • Though the national average was slightly lower in 2018 than it was in 2000, the average length of probation increased in over half of U.S. states.

  • Between 2000 and 2018, probation populations decreased in 15 out of 22 states that reduced their term lengths.

  • Around 75% of states with higher probation populations in 2018 than 2000 increased their term lengths.

  • Data shows that reducing term lengths has a vital role in decreasing the overall probation populations.

  • Early discharge offers incentives to people for following the rules and provisions of their supervision.

  • Early discharge also reduced caseloads so probation agencies can concentrate their resources on individuals with a higher risk of re-offending.

  • Most states have statutes relating to the court’s authority to modify probation terms through terminating, extending or reducing time or changing provisions.

Pew Trust concludes that a major driving factor in the U.S.’s large probation population is long probation terms that offer no public safety benefits. They suggest that probation systems prioritize resources for the first 12-18 months of a probation term and end supervision when it no longer benefits public safety.

Read the whole report here.


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