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Should Spend Less Violating Parolees, Probationers

A recent report argues that California's parolees and probationers are proportionally far less of the population arrested for new crimes and, thus, law-enforcement resources should target the overwhelming majority of offenders who aren't under community supervision.

The study, released in 2013 by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, used more than 2.5 million arrest, parole and probation records from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Redlands, Calif. to determine to what extent people under community supervision contribute to the overall volume of arrests in those diverse jurisdictions.

"One of the first questions a police officer asks when arresting someone is 'Are you on probation or parole?' and the answer generally expected is 'yes," the 42-page report says. But researchers discovered that collectively, between January 2008 and June 2011, only one in five arrests in the four cities surveyed involved a probationer or parolee. In San Francisco, people under supervision accounted for only 11% of arrests.

Of 476,054 adults arrested in those four jurisdictions, just 40,476 (8.5%) were parolees; 66,251 (13.9%) were probationers; and 369,327 (77.6%) were under no supervision.

Yet, each year, resources are dedicated to sending 19,000 California probationers to prison for violating the conditions of supervision, accounting for 40% of all new California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) admissions, according to the report. And parolees are four times as likely as probationers to be arrested for violations, even though probationers, the report says, "constitute twice as many arrests for violent, property and drug crimes as parolees."

CDCR has either released or transferred custody of nearly 40,000 low-level offenders to county probation officers (known as "realignment"), in order to comply with a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that CDCR must reduce its population to relieve chronic overcrowding. Incarcerating parolees and probationers for violations of their release conditions does nothing to comply with the court's order.

The arrest data, the study says, "challenge assertions often made that the majority of people arrested are under parole or probation supervision when they come into contact with law enforcement."

One reason police believe this is that, of 120,253 arrests for drug offenses, one in three involved someone on probation or parole, thanks to the "prevalence of substance abuse and mental health disorders among people under parole and probation supervision, and the fact that many of these people do not receive treatment for these needs while in the community."

The report's authors recommended that more resources should be dedicated to evidence-based treatment and supervision for those most at-risk; risk-assessment tools should be implemented by local probation departments and parole officers to determine who is most likely to reoffend; and that information should be shared with law-enforcement agencies. (An end to draconian drug laws would likely help, too.)

To achieve the largest reductions in crime, the report concluded, "resources must effectively target the 80 percent of people arrested (and the places where they are committing crimes) who are not under community supervision."

Source: "The Impact of Probation and Parole Populations on Arrests in Four California Cities," Council of State Governments Justice Center, January 2013.

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