Justice Experts Appeal for Smaller Probation Footprint During Pandemic

A large group of community supervision leaders have appealed to criminal and juvenile justice systems to dramatically reduce the scope of probation operations as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Too many people are placed under supervision who pose little public safety risk and are supervised for excessive supervision periods beyond what is indicated by best practices,” said a policy statement from Executives Transforming Probation & Parole (EXiT), a group that includes nearly 40 current and former probation commissioners. “This would be concerning under any circumstances. But it is especially problematic with the current COVID-19 emergency.”

EXiT outlined five specific things that community corrections departments should do to downsize during this emergency:

  • Limit or get rid of office visits, and for low-risk people under supervision, rely on phone calls or online checks.
    “In many places this medically vulnerable population is still being compelled, under threat of incarceration, to sit in waiting rooms with other medically vulnerable parolees/probationers, under threat of incarceration if they miss their appointments,” said Vinny Schiraldi, former head of probation in New York City, in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “This is the exact opposite of social distancing.”
  • Suspend or severely limit the revocation of probation or parole for technical violations during the crisis. “Research has not found an association between technical violations and favorable public safety or rehabilitative outcomes,” according to EXiT’s policy statement.
  • Start using stricter criteria in determining who needs to enter probation or parole. This involves more scrutiny at intake to gauge true risk to public safety, and, EXiT recommends, anyone in compliance with probation for two years should be considered for immediate discharge.
  • Reducing the length of probation and parole terms to between 18 and 24 months, the period of time in which research shows most re-offending occurs.
  • Training supervision staff to communicate clearly about health precautions to take with probationers and parolees.

The statement is signed by a wide swath of current and former probation leaders from blue and red states, and is endorsed by the National Association of Probation Executives.

Last week, Schiraldi told The Chronicle that in addition to probation reduction, juvenile justice systems should consider a lower reliance on juvenile detention before trial.

“I’d be asking, do we really need to detain them?” said Schiraldi. “Half of them are in and out in two days. These are medically vulnerable young people. There’s not always access to soap/water. Sometimes they’re doubled up, two to a cell.”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1214 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.