Priority Issues: Adult Probation

I. The Issue

When spending taxpayer money on criminal justice, it is counterproductive and wasteful to enact policies that create more criminals, rather than enacting policies that reduce the incidence of crime. Taxpayers do not always benefit from sending low-risk offenders, especially first-time nonviolent felons, to prison. In prison, the offender is surrounded by other felons and removed from his family and community. Because the offender is unable to work and earn income, he may be unable to pay adequate restitution to the victim of the crime. Moreover, when he is released, he will be forced to transition back to life outside of prison, with the additional stigma of having been sent to prison. If he does not transition effectively, the state will quite possibly have transformed a low-risk nonviolent offender into a career criminal.  In effect, taxpayers will have spent more money to become less safe.

As Mark Earley and Newt Gingrich have noted, “[j]ust as a student’s success isn’t measured by his entry into high school but by his graduation…celebrating taking criminals off the street with little thought to their imminent return to society is foolhardy."

II. The Impact

Probation presents an alternative to incarceration for certain low-risk offenders, and it carries three advantages when implemented appropriately. First, instead of sending the low-risk offender to prison, probation allows him a chance to remain in the community, which keeps family structures together, keeps a potentially productive worker available in the workforce, and allows the offender to be rehabilitated without suffering the stigma of having been in prison.

Secondly, because probation allows an offender to keep a job and earn income, it increases the likelihood that the offender will be able to pay proper restitution to the victim of his crime.

Third, because probation is significantly cheaper than incarceration, it can be a cost-effective form of rehabilitation. In Missouri, for example, incarceration is five times as expensive as probation, and the state has begun notifying judges of the costs of the sentences they administer. Lengthy and expensive sentences are necessary and unavoidable for serious offenders – but not necessarily for low-level, non-violent offenders.  For these individuals, probation may be offered, and it may be conditioned on the offender receiving important services, like regular attendance at drug or psychiatric counseling, which can reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Thus, in some cases, society’s public safety goals may be achieved without the costs of incarcerating, facilitating reentry, and tracking down and re-incarcerating offenders who have become career criminals.

Probation can be made particularly efficient through the use of risk assessments, which are inventories containing questions designed to predict whether the individual will recidivate. The risk factors inquired about may include age, criminal record, employment status, history of substance use, and age of first offense. A risk assessment instrument can be administered when an offender begins probation to determine the appropriate level of supervision.

III. The Conservative Solution

• For low-level drug offenders with no violent prior crimes or sex offenses, in lieu of incarceration consider requiring probation with drug or psychiatric treatment.

• Research and utilize evidence-based best practices, such as risk assessments, to determine which offenders are low-risk for recidivism and thus better served by conditional probation.

• Enhance the use of problem-solving courts, such as drug courts, DWI courts, etc. These courts can provide specialized oversight and victim-offender mediation that present a low-cost alternative to incarceration.

• Give victims the right, upon request, to be informed of relevant proceedings, attend those proceedings, and express a preference to the prosecutor on the type of sentence.

• Institute performance-based funding for probation departments. Local probation departments that are successful should receive additional funds in order to further develop their methods. Other departments will adopt proven successful methods in order to qualify for enhanced funding.

  • Washington Looks Into Conservative Criminal Justice Reforms

    Posted in Adult Probation, Criminal Justice News, Prisons, ROC Blog: January 23, 2015 by Right on Crime

    Winds of change in criminal justice aren’t completely leaving liberal states behind. Washington is also showing interest in Justice Reinvestment. This movement was begun by the Council of State Governments and was predominately adopted by conservative states. This strategy will help overcrowding – currently a problem for Washington – by using inexpensive evidence-based programs that […]

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  • AG Holder Hesitant on Assessments

    Posted in Adult Probation, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons: August 4, 2014 by Derek M. Cohen

    In an exclusive interview granted to Time Magazine, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed strong concerns about the equity of empirical risk assessments used to determine how a sentence will be carried out.  His concern is that “static” risk factors (those that are largely unchangeable through rehabilitation like educational attainment and employment history) unduly influence these […]

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  • Ken Blackwell: “When Father’s Day cards go to jail”

    Posted in Adult Probation, Law Enforcement, Prisons, ROC Blog: June 15, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Right on Crime signatory and senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council Ken Blackwell writes in USA Today: “Given the heavy toll incarcerating a parent takes on most kids, it makes sense to place lower-level offenders under mandatory supervision in the community, allowing them to remain connected to family, gainfully employed and […]

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  • Right on Crime signatories applaud findings of report “Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision”

    Posted in Adult Probation, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons, ROC Blog: June 4, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Right on Crime signatories applaud findings of report “Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision” Austin, TX — Responding to a new national report showing high rates of prison inmates being released without supervision, Right on Crime signatories today called for policies that ensure offenders receive post-prison supervision and support. The report, […]

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  • TIME Magazine: “This Is the One Thing the Right and Left Are Working Together On In Congress”

    Posted in Adult Probation, Law Enforcement, Priority Issues, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas, The Criminal Justice Challenge: May 7, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Grover Norquist co-authors piece on criminal justice reform for TIME Magazine.

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  • Louisiana looks to Texas to get right on crime

    Posted in Adult Probation, Georgia, Louisiana, Parole and Re-Entry, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse, Texas: April 18, 2014 by Right on Crime

    “The Pelican Institute points out that Louisiana is out of step, even with conservative states like Texas and Georgia, which have moved away from prison terms for nonviolent offenders to emphasize rehabilitation. Click here to read more.

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  • Mississippi HB 585: Recommendations of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force

    Posted in Adult Probation, Law Enforcement, Mississippi, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Substance Abuse: April 8, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Why does Mississippi need HB585? Mississippi’s prison population has grown by 17 percent in the last decade, topping 22,600 inmates last year. The state now has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, trailing only Louisiana. Without action, these trends will continue and Mississippi prisons will need to house 1,990 more inmates by 2024 – […]

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  • New poll shows that American support for drug treatment vs. incarceration is on the rise

    Posted in Adult Probation, Audio, Parole and Re-Entry, ROC Blog, Substance Abuse: April 3, 2014 by Right on Crime

    A survey by Pew Research Center shows that the public is skeptical of sending non-violent drug offenders to prison — and finds that the majority prefer offenders be treated by way of rehabilitative programs. Marc Levin sits down with NPR News to discuss the issue. Click here to read more from The Crime Report.

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  • Marc Levin, Right on Crime, featured in Texas Monthly

    Posted in Adult Probation, Parole and Re-Entry, Priority Issues, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas, The Criminal Justice Challenge, Victims: March 12, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Right on Crime featured in Texas Monthly

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  • A Second Act for Criminal Justice: Panel at TPPF’s PO2014

    Posted in Adult Probation, Audio and Video, Law Enforcement, Parole and Re-Entry, Prisons, ROC Blog, State Initiatives, Texas: February 17, 2014 by Right on Crime

    Adam Gelb, Director of Public Safety Performance Project at Pew Charitable Trusts, The Honorable Bill Hammond, President and CEO of Texas Association of Business, and Representatives Abel Hererro and Tan Parker of the Texas House of Representatives discuss adult corrections in the Lone Star State.

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