Five Evidence-Based Policies Can Improve Community Supervision

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Pew Charitable Trusts on 01/22/2022 by Jake Horowitz

Community supervision, most commonly probation and parole, is a key component of correctional systems in every state and involves more people than are serving prison or jail sentences. At the end of 2020, almost 3.9 million Americans—or 1 in 66 adults—were on probation or parole in the U.S., compared with nearly 1.8 million in jails and state and federal prisons.

Community supervision also presents a different set of challenges for policymakers and for the people affected by it than does incarceration. Individuals on probation and parole must earn a living, pay for housing, and care for their families, all while also attending to their own behavioral health needs. And, often, they must manage these responsibilities within the constraints of restrictive supervision rules. Failure to comply with these requirements can mean a return to incarceration, a process that in many states is a leading driver of prison admissions.

To address the unique challenges of supervision systems, policymakers and other stakeholders need a greater understanding of policies that effectively support behavior change and manage probation populations. The Pew Charitable Trusts set out to help meet that need by reviewing state statutes affecting probation systems in all 50 states—which collectively supervise roughly four times as many people as do parole systems—and identified the extent to which states have adopted five key policies to help strengthen and shrink those systems.

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