The quoted portion of the title of this post is part of the title of this huge new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union fully titled “Revoked: How Probation and Parole Feed Mass Incarceration in the United States.” This important 200+ page report includes these passages in its “summary”:
Probation, parole, and other forms of supervision are marketed as alternatives to incarceration in the United States. Supervision, it is claimed, will keep people out of prison and help them get back on their feet.
Throughout the past 50 years, the use of probation (a sentence often imposed just after conviction) and parole (served after incarceration) has soared alongside jail and prison populations. As of 2016, the last year for which supervision data is available, 2.2 million people were incarcerated in United States jails and prisons, but more than twice as many, 4.5 million people — or one in every 55 — were under supervision. Supervision rates vary vastly by state, from one in every 168 people in New Hampshire, to one in every 18 in Georgia.
Over the past several decades,arbitrary and overly harsh supervision regimes have led people back into US jails and prisons — feeding mass incarceration. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in the late 1970s, 16 percent of US state and federal prison admissions stemmed from violations of parole and some types of probation. This number climbed to a high of 36 percent in 2008, and, in 2018, the last year for which data is available, was 28 percent. A different set of data for the previous year from the Council of State Governments, which includes all types of probation violations — but is limited to state prison populations — shows that 45 percent of all US state prison admissions stemmed from probation and parole violations. These figures do not include people locked up for supervision violations in jails, for which there is little nationwide data. Black and brown people are both disproportionately subjected to supervision and incarcerated for violations.
This report documents how and why supervision winds up landing many people in jail and prison — feeding mass incarceration rather than curtailing it. The extent of the problem varies among states, and in recent years multiple jurisdictions have enacted reforms to limit incarceration for supervision violations. This report focuses on three states where our initial research indicated that — despite some reforms — the issue remains particularly acute: Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Drawing on data provided by or obtained from these states, presented here for the first time, and interviews with 164 people incarcerated for supervision violations, family members, government officials, practitioners, advocates, and experts, we document the tripwires in these states leading to incarceration. These include burdensome conditions imposed without providing resources; violations for minor slip-ups; lengthy incarceration while alleged violations are adjudicated; flawed procedures; and disproportionately harsh sentences for violations. The report shows that, nationwide,most people locked up for supervision violations were not convicted of new offenses — rather, they were incarcerated for breaking the rules of their supervision, such as for using drugs or alcohol, failing to report address changes, or not following the rules of supervision-mandated programs. Of those who were incarcerated for new offenses, in our focus states, many were for conduct like possessing drugs; public order offenses such as disorderly conduct or resisting arrest; misdemeanor assaultive conduct; or shoplifting….
The root causes of these violations, the report documents, are often a lack of resources and services, unmet health needs, and racial bias.The report also draws attention to marked racial disparities in who is subjected to supervision and how authorities enforce it. In practice, supervision in many parts of the US has become a system to control and warehouse people who are struggling with an array of economic and health-related challenges, without offering meaningful solutions to those underlying problems.