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.
Agenda 2005: A Guide to the Issues by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Criminal Justice Policy in Delaware: Options for Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Caesar Rodney Institute
Criminal Justice Policy in New Mexico: Keys to Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety by the Rio Grande Foundation
Five Technological Solutions for Texas’ Correctional and Law Enforcement Challenges by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
How to Avert another Texas Prison Crowding Crisis by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Laying the Foundation for Better Probation by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
The Role of Risk Assessment in Enhancing Public Safety and Efficiency in Texas Corrections published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Smart on Crime: With Prison Costs on the Rise, Ohio Needs Better Policies for Protecting the Public by the Buckeye Institute
Stopping the Revolving Door: Reform of Community Corrections in Wisconsin by The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
Working With Conviction: Criminal Offenses as Barriers to Entering Licensed Occupations in Texas by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Work Release: Con Job or Big Payoff for Texas? by the Texas Public Policy Foundation
Ken Blackwell: “When Father’s Day cards go to jail”
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 […]:: Read More
Right on Crime signatories applaud findings of report “Max Out: The Rise in Prison Inmates Released Without Supervision”
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TIME Magazine: “This Is the One Thing the Right and Left Are Working Together On In Congress”
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Louisiana looks to Texas to get right on crime
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New poll shows that American support for drug treatment vs. incarceration is on the rise
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.:: Read More
Marc Levin, Right on Crime, featured in Texas Monthly
Right on Crime featured in Texas Monthly:: Read More
A Second Act for Criminal Justice: Panel at TPPF’s PO2014
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.:: Read More
Chuck DeVore discusses CA reforms with the LaDona Harvey Show
Following his testimony before California’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, Chuck DeVore sat down with KOGO’s LaDona Harvey out of San Digeo to reiterate the prison reform successes of Texas and tell why he believes The Golden State would benefit from following in the footsteps of Right On Crime. Click here to listen to […]:: Read More
Marc Levin’s research cited in TX Tribune’s ‘TribCast’
During this week’s edition of The Texas Tribune‘s political podcast ‘TribCast,’ ROC policy director Marc Levin’s research regarding cost of incarceration vs. rehabilitation is discussed as the contributors talk about Governor Perry’s marijuana decriminalization remarks. Click here to listen to the podcast.:: Read More
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