Taking a cue from a bourgeoning efforts to transform juvenile probation supervision, a group of justice reformers and agency leaders from across the country hopes to lower the nation’s reliance on adult probation and parole to provide what some call “mass supervision.”
Comprised of more than 50 current and former probation and parole chiefs, EXiT: Executives Transforming Probation and Parole is designed to shrink a major gateway to incarceration. According to 2016 numbers, there are about 4.5 million Americans on probation or parole, more than double the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails. Violations of probation and parole are major drivers of incarceration — nearly one in four people in state prisons are incarcerated due to a supervision violation at a cost of $2.5 billion, according to a report from the Council of State Governments.
Joining forces with many probation and parole leaders are several criminal justice reform leaders, including Van Jones, CNN commentator and founder of the REFORM alliance. The effort has the support of Arnold Ventures, Galaxy Gives and the Tikkun Olam Foundation.
Vincent Schiraldi, part of the EXiT group and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab, calls this a good time to re-examine the role of probation and parole in the criminal justice system, programs that were originally designed as ways to avoid incarceration and boost rehabilitation.
“Right now, it’s too big to succeed,” said Schiraldi, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. “We need to make it smaller, make it tighter, make it more focused and more rehabilitative. With the savings we would garner from not sending those people to prison, we can pay for all sorts of programs.”
Examining the role of mass supervision is now receiving a growing amount of scrutiny. In 2017, rapper Meek Mill’s high-profile story of lock-up after a probation violation sparked a conversation about criminal justice reform that included celebrities from the world of sports and entertainment. Earlier this year, Patriots owner Robert Kraft joined with Mill and Jay-Z to launch an initiative that seeks to address the growth of parole and probation. In 2017, a brief from the Pew Charitable Trusts in collaboration with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation gathered important data and noted several state practices that have been successful in reducing the probation and parole rolls, which has led to $392 million in averted costs.
According to Schiraldi, examining the issue of mass supervision is now where mass incarceration was 10 years ago. But in promoting reform, the effort also hopes to take a page from recent juvenile probation reform efforts. In 2018, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report detailing how research on adolescent brain development has led to changes in practice, including a shift away from traditional, surveillance-oriented probation efforts. Los Angeles County, home to the largest county-run juvenile justice system in the country, is now contemplating leaving behind probation entirely, in favor of other departments with a greater health focus.
“I think in both corrections and probation, the juvenile side is ahead of the adult side,” Schiraldi said. “Juvenile incarceration rates have dropped by more than half since their peak, whereas adult prisons have dropped only a little bit.”
Schiraldi lauded the work of the Casey Foundation in bringing many juvenile probation leaders and prompting conversations about avenues for reform.
“We hope that EXiT will be that vehicle for larger probation and parole systems,” he said.
On Monday, at a meeting of the American Probation and Parole Association Annual Training Institute in San Francisco, Schiraldi and Barbara Broderick, chief probation officer for Maricopa County in Arizona, will field questions about the initiative. Jones and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón will also answer questions.
The Chronicle of Social Change will livestream the event, starting at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time Monday.