NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

For Further Reductions In Crime, Reform Probation System

August 29, 2000

While there has been a truly dramatic decrease in violent crime in the U.S. in recent years, further progress entails reform of the nation's probation system -- which experts describe as in urgent need of repair.

  • Although jails and prisons now hold nearly two million people, more than 3.7 million adults were under supervision of probation officers last year.
  • Nearly two million of those had been convicted of one or more felony crimes -- but were given probation rather than being sent to prison.
  • About 40 percent of all felony probationers are rearrested for fresh felonies within three years of being placed under community supervision.
  • Because record keeping has become so spotty, no one knows how many probationers are no longer reporting to their probation officers -- but in 1990, with a probation population one-third smaller, agencies had lost track of a quarter-million "absconders."

Experts report that few attempts are made to locate absconders. Half of all probationers violate the terms of their sentences -- but only one-fifth go to jail as a result.

One recent study found that in 1998 fewer than one in 20 people who worked for probation agencies ever actually spent time supervising felony probationers on the street.

In many cities, adult probation caseloads have soared to more than 500 per officer. Experts note that we spend only about $200 a year on each probationer -- and society gets what it pays for.

Source: John J. DiIulio (Manhattan Institute) and Joseph P. Tierney (Public/Private Ventures), "An Easy Ride for Felons on Probation," New York Times, August 29, 2000.


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