Five Evidence-Based Policies Can Improve Community Supervision


Community supervision, most commonly probation and parole, is a key component of correctional systems in every state and involves more people than are serving prison or jail sentences. At the end of 2020, almost 3.9 million Americans—or 1 in 66 adults—were on probation or parole in the U.S., compared with nearly 1.8 million in jails and state and federal prisons.1

Community supervision also presents a different set of challenges for policymakers and for the people affected by it than does incarceration. Individuals on probation and parole must earn a living, pay for housing, and care for their families, all while also attending to their own behavioral health needs. And, often, they must manage these responsibilities within the constraints of restrictive supervision rules. Failure to comply with these requirements can mean a return to incarceration, a process that in many states is a leading driver of prison admissions.2

To address the unique challenges of supervision systems, policymakers and other stakeholders need a greater understanding of policies that effectively support behavior change and manage probation populations. The Pew Charitable Trusts set out to help meet that need by reviewing state statutes affecting probation systems in all 50 states—which collectively supervise roughly four times as many people as do parole systems—and identified the extent to which states have adopted five key policies to help strengthen and shrink those systems.3

This review can provide a path for states and agencies seeking to improve their systems; offer better returns on public safety investments; and help lawmakers, practitioners, and advocates move their states toward a more evidence-based approach to community supervision. For each policy, Pew’s team established criteria—generally ranging from no adoption to the most efficient approach as demonstrated by research and current practices in the field—and used those to show each state’s existing strategy for addressing critical probation issues. For more information, see the policy descriptions, methodology (Appendix A), and list of state statutes (Appendix B).

The five policies are part of a larger, comprehensive menu of supervision reforms that Pew and Arnold Ventures released in 2020, “Policy Reforms Can Strengthen Community Supervision: A Framework to Improve Probation and Parole.”4 That framework sought to be broad enough to account for the many differences in probation and parole systems throughout the country, such as that they may operate at a local, county, or state level, and, from state to state, can fall under the authority of the executive or judicial branch.5 But regardless of how a system operates, research suggests that these five policies can help states achieve key community supervision reform goals, including cutting the supervision population so that resources can be prioritized for higher-risk individuals, reducing instances of incarceration for technical revocations, and enabling mobility and employment.

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When I was on probation, the PO made it VERY difficult to find a job. 90% of the jobs I tried to get, she disapproved even when they were willing to hire me knowing about my Felony status.

Pew stinks. Oil money at work.

You know, based on my recent interactions with the public I’ve come to conclude that most of them are very stupid. Evidence is not going to sway these people. They’re too primitive.