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One in 55 Adults on Probation or Parole, Study Finds

by Rick Anderson

The number of people on probation and parole increased 239 percent from 1980 to 2016, according to a September 2018 report by the Pew Research Center. That spurred a dramatic rise in the per capita rate of people under community supervision, which grew to one out of every 55 adults in the United States – nearly two percent of the adult population. 

Despite a steady 11 percent decline in the community supervision population since reaching its peak in 2007, the 4.5 million people currently on parole or probation is more than double the 2.2 million prisoners serving time in state and federal prisons and local jails. 

The policies, rules and regulations governing supervised release vary widely from state to state, researchers noted, as do the per capita rates. In Georgia, for example, one of every 18 adults is on community supervision, while in New Hampshire the rate is one of every 168.

“This massive scale has too often prevented the community supervision system from effectively delivering on its mission to promote public safety through behavioral change and accountability,” said Jake Horowitz, director of Pew’s public performance project. 

Although roughly half the people on community supervision successfully complete their terms of probation and parole each year, “nearly a third fail for a range of reasons, and almost 350,000 of those individuals return to jail or prison, often for violating the rules rather than committing new crimes,” Horowitz noted.

The Pew study also found that blacks make up 30 percent of people on community supervision but represent just 13 percent of the U.S. adult population. Further, 3.5 times as many men as women are on parole or probation, though the number of women has almost doubled since 1990 to more than 1 million. Lastly, the researchers found, more than three-quarters of the 4.5 million people on community supervision were convicted of nonviolent crimes. 


Sources:, Laura and John Arnold Foundation

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