State policymakers spent much of the past two years responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, urgent employment and housing needs, and nationwide calls for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd and other acts of racial violence. Yet, amid these overwhelming challenges, a lower-profile issue—probation and parole reform—found traction with legislatures throughout the country.

Since late 2020, at least 20 states have passed measures to update and improve their community supervision systems. That these efforts moved forward during this historic period reflects the scope of the issue: At the end of 2020, almost 3.9 million Americans—or 1 in 66 adults—were on probation or parole, more than double the number in jails and state and federal prisons (1.8 million).

Several of these state reforms focus on three key objectives: reducing the amount of time people stay on probation, changing rules about revoking probation, and lowering or eliminating fees. Those three goals are also highlighted in The Pew Charitable Trusts’ new brief, “Five Evidence-Based Policies Can Improve Community Supervision,” which assesses the extent to which the 50 states have enacted five important data-informed community supervision policies. And those policies, in turn, are part of a larger set of more than 50, advanced in Pew and Arnold Ventures’ 2020 community supervision framework, that state and local officials can use to shrink and strengthen supervision systems.

Reforms aimed at those three goals may also help resolve other large-scale issues that lawmakers are confronting, such as addressing some racial disparities in the criminal legal system, supporting financial stability for vulnerable families, and even managing COVID-19 transmission rates.

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