Across the country, there are an estimated 4.5 million people on probation or parole. Of this population, about 30 percent of people are Black, despite Black people comprising only about 13 percent of the total population of the United States.
Probation is a court-imposed sentence that is viewed as an alternative to sending someone to jail or prison. While on probation, a person must abide by extensive rules, called “conditions of probation,” which may include a curfew, steady employment, and frequent visits to their probation officer.
People on parole are similarly required to follow an extensive set of rules, but parole, the conditional release from incarceration before the full completion of their sentence, occurs after someone is released from prison, rather than instead of prison.
For both probation and parole, a violation of a condition of supervision can result in the person being incarcerated in jail or prison or an extension of the length of their community supervision. Such violations can include:
- Not answering a phone call from a parole or probation officer
- Violating curfew, even if for a legitimate reason (e.g., working a double shift)
- Moving without notifying the parole or probation officer
Often touted as alternatives to incarceration, parole and probation are actually tools that feed mass incarceration. Rather than increasing a person’s likelihood of success, probation and parole can interfere with a person’s ability to gain and maintain steady employment, enroll in school, and break free from the cycle of crime and incarceration. A recent report found that “most people locked up for supervision violations were not convicted of new offenses—rather, they were incarcerated for breaking the rules of their supervision.“
A study found most people that recommit a crime will do so within the first two years of supervised release. Capping probation and parole terms so that they do not exceed two years would make sense both because it would confine the sentence to the period of time when a person is more likely to reoffend and because it would prevent long parole and probation terms from feeding mass incarceration.
Use our tool to call on your legislators to shrink the criminal legal system by ending mandatory minimums. Your elected state officials control a large portion of what causes mass incarceration PLUS they can determine how this system operates. Changing state laws and policies can reduce the number of people who go into the criminal legal system and mitigate the harms of those already involved with the system. Tell lawmakers you demand action.