Probation and parole were designed as alternatives to time in prison, but they often end up having the opposite effect.
Nationwide, 45% of admissions to state prisons are the result of probation or parole violations, Governing reports. Sometimes these violations are serious, but most involve technicalities, such as botched paperwork, curfew violations or missing a drug test, according to a report released Tuesday by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center.
“Many states have made recidivism reduction a public safety priority,” says Megan Quattlebaum, the center’s director, “but the harsh reality is that supervision fails nearly as often as it succeeds.”
States spend $9.3 billion a year incarcerating people for parole or probation violations, according to CSG. About a third of that, $2.8 billion, is spent locking people up for technical violations. That doesn’t include the cost of housing inmates in local jails.
“We’ve had data on individual states but never a complete national picture,” says Adam Gelb, founder and director of the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonprofit group.
Many states have changed their sentencing laws and reentry programs to cut down on prison recidivism over the past decade, but the incarceration of parole and probation violators is just starting to draw wider attention.
“This has been the dirty little secret of the system for decades,” Gelb says. “It’s a huge driver of prison populations and costs.”