NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wisconsin Study On Privatizing Probation And Parole

April 15, 1999

Probation and parole account for nearly four of five offenders under correctional supervision in the United States. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, these programs reflect inadequate financing, ineffective management and a lack of accountability, says a study from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

One consequence is high levels of criminal recidivism, says researcher George Mitchell.

  • Nationally, between 37 percent and 40 percent of felony defendants were on probation, parole or pretrial release when they committed their current crime.
  • These offenders account for about 14.5 million crimes a year, at a cost to victims of nearly $133.5 billion.
  • In Wisconsin, recidivism accounts for about 196,000 crimes a year, costing victims about $1.2 billion.

Even 10 percent less recidivism in Wisconsin by those on probation, parole and pretrial release would mean nearly 20,000 fewer crimes a year, saving citizens $122 million annually and offsetting about 88 percent of the cost of community corrections.

Although no state has privatized its probation and parole system, Mitchell says there is evidence that private contractors could improve its performance.

  • For example, Connecticut's Office of Alternative Sanctions (OAS) contracts with private, nonprofit organizations to operate its programs.
  • A recent U.S. Justice Department report says that "shedding the bureaucracy . . . allowed OAS to start and expand programming almost immediately, when it could have taken years had the programs been state operations."
  • Furthermore, a 1998 Florida study found statistically significantly less recidivism among private prison releasees compared to a similar group of releasees from public prison.

Mitchell notes that Wisconsin only spends 2.2 percent of its budget for community corrections to treat alcohol and drug addiction, domestic violence and sexual dysfunction, despite research that suggests such programs are effective.

Source: George Mitchell, "Privatizing Parole and Probation in Wisconsin: The Path to Fewer Prisons," WPRI Report, April 1999, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, P.O. Box 487 Thiensville, Wis.53092, (414) 241-0514.


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