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Prison Policy Initiative Shines Spotlight on Probation and Parole Data

A recent study by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) places its emphasis not on the number of people incarcerated in the United States, but rather on an often-ignored figure – how many individuals are on probation and parole. The June 2016 study indicates that even some states that have reduced their incarceration rates still have high rates of community supervision.

PPI’s research contains “data on all of the kinds of correctional control: federal prison, state prison, local jails, juvenile incarceration, civil commitment, Indian Country jails, parole and ... probation.” Of all of those categories, none is more important than probation, as 56% of people under correctional control are on probation.

This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that probationers are still at risk of being sent to prison or jail. As the study notes, “Unnecessarily onerous probation and parole conditions can funnel more people into incarceration. National statistics show that among those exiting probation and parole in 2014, over a third failed to successfully complete their supervision.”

Another reason the number of people on community supervision is significant is because maintaining high rates of probation and parole is costly and diverts resources from other public services.

Unsurprisingly, states with higher incarceration rates generally have higher numbers of people on probation and parole; the state of Georgia, according to PPI, is an outlier, with “more than double every other states’ rate of probation and greater than every other states’ total rates of correctional control.” Georgia uses privatized probation services, which creates a profit-incentive to collect fees and fines from probationers, and to jail them if they fail to pay. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.40; Jan. 2014, p.18].

Some states have relatively low incarceration rates but high rates of probation, such as Rhode Island, Minnesota and Maryland. After Georgia, Idaho had the second-highest overall rate of correctional control, while the District of Columbia had the third-highest rate. The state with the lowest overall rate of correctional control? Maine.

The study concludes that correctional population statistics, including the number of people on parole and probation, are important in understanding that mass incarceration does not just encompass prisons and jails, but also extends to many types of community supervision, too. Therefore, those populations must be included in discussions of how to reduce the scope of our nation’s criminal justice system.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3.86 million people were on probation and 856,000 were on parole as of yearend 2014, while around 1 in every 36 adults (or 2.8% of the adult population in the U.S.) was under some form of correctional control at that time.

Sources: “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State,” Prison Policy Initiative (June 1, 2016);;

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