NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 20, 2009

The financial crisis is forcing probation and parole agencies to reduce or drop prison time for thousands of offenders who violate conditions of their release.  The changes, adopted by at least 5 states last year and under consideration in several others, worry some criminal justice analysts who warn loosening the rules might lead to more crime, says USA Today.

Probation and parole violators account for up to two-thirds of prison admissions each year in some states.  The cost of locking them up for technical violations, such as drug-test failures or missed meetings with officers, is straining local budgets. These budget shortfalls have created an opportunity for greater considerations of alternatives to prison and have prompted some state legislatures to implement policy changes.

Among the policy changes:

  • Kansas is allowing probation and parole officers to decide whether those who violate early release conditions for non-violent offenses should go back to prison; the initiative has helped cut probation revocations by more than 20 percent.
  • Tennessee's Department of Corrections wants accelerated releases for probation and parole violators who are sent back to prison and complete drug-abuse and other counseling programs; the program would cut their prison time from about 17 months to three months.
  • Arizona lawmakers approved a 2008 measure that lets thousands of probationers end their terms early, in the hopes that this will reduce their chances of being sent to prison for conditions of probation violations.

Yet, even supports say the changes present some risks.  "You don't want to have another Willie Horton situation," Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal says of the convicted murderer who committed crimes while on weekend furlough in Massachusetts. "You hope for no bad headlines."

Source: Kevin Johnson, "Budget crunch impacts prison time served," USA Today, February 19, 2009.

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