Two people talking in a small office

BOSTON – The Crime and Justice Institute, with support from Arnold Ventures, today released a series of new reports examining trends in revocations from community supervision in four states and offering strategies to address one of the main drivers of incarceration.

Community supervision, such as probation and parole, is often viewed as an alternative to incarceration, but many states are struggling with increasing or stagnant revocation rates, which frequently result in people being incarcerated. Of the 1.8 million individuals who exit probation or parole each year, almost half do not successfully complete supervision, with 211,000 people returning to prison or jail.

In 2019, CJI, with support from Arnold Ventures, began a comprehensive assessment of sentencing and community supervision practices in four states: Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and Montana. The goal of this effort was to equip state leaders with the information necessary to adopt and expand evidence-based supervision practices demonstrated to increase public safety and increase the successful transition to communities.

Over 18 months, CJI reviewed a decade’s worth of data from five supervision agencies in the four states, interviewed dozens of stakeholders, reviewed statute and policy, conducted focus groups and surveys to gain input from more than 1,300 agency staff, and reviewed nearly 900 supervision case files. The findings and recommendations are laid out in five state reports (Colorado’s probation and parole operations are addressed in separate reports because of the state’s bifurcated supervision system). A national report highlights themes across the states and recommends strategies that could be applicable to states and supervision agencies throughout the country. Many of the recommendations focus on administrative policy and practice changes; others would require legislative action.

Findings include:

  • Average revocation rates ranged from 25 percent to 47 percent, and were highest for those on post-incarceration supervision and those assessed as high risk
  • Most revocations occur after individuals have served less than a year on supervision
  • Black and Native American individuals are disproportionately revoked
  • Supervision conditions are rarely tailored to individual risks and needs, and supervision officers’ ability to reduce barriers to success is often limited
  • Supervision agencies have made progress in rolling out graduated response policies, but implementation challenges exist that must be addressed to increase the likelihood of positive behavior change
  • Early termination and streamlined discharge for lower-risk individuals is under-used
  • Lack of access to behavioral health treatment, housing, reliable transportation, and financial restraints impede success on supervision

Strategies to increase the number of people who successfully complete supervision include:

  • Removing barriers impacting community supervision by individualizing conditions and narrowing them to only those that support public safety and expanding the use of tools that address barriers to reporting and treatment.
  • Ensuring policies intended to improve outcomes are implemented with fidelity by maintaining and updating matrices, using clear definitions and guidelines for responding to violations, establishing quality assurance processes for evidence-based practices, and providing staff with ongoing coaching and training to ensure proper use of skills.
  • Focusing resources on the initial period of supervision when individuals are most likely to fail and on those individuals assessed as high risk; to better allocate limited resources, agencies may shorten lengthy probation terms, strengthen early termination policies, and create alternative supervision types for low-risk individuals.
  • Ensuring supervision agencies have the tools and resources necessary to effectuate lasting behavior change by assessing gaps in resources, requiring more consistent trainings, and strengthening the quality of treatment provided to the justice-involved population.
  • Developing the infrastructure to support sustainable policies and practices intended to improve outcomes by strengthening organizational culture to support the use of evidence-based practices, improving the collection and reporting of data to inform data-driven decision-making, increasing education and communication related to the use of evidence-based practices, and continued analysis and reflection to fully understand the factors driving outcomes.

Click here to read the reports.