ALEC Model Resolution on Improving Community Supervision Policies and Practices


ALEC recognizes the importance of effective community supervision policies that advance public safety and provide accountability while restricting freedom to the least extent necessary for these purposes.  By adopting proven policies and practices that are backed by evidence and data, jurisdictions can maximize the opportunity for supervision systems to be a gateway to success rather than a pathway to prison, while also achieving important outcomes such as reducing recidivism, increasing employment, preserving families, ensuring victims’ needs are met, and reducing costs to taxpayers.

ALEC Model Resolution on Improving Community Supervision Policies and Practices

ALEC Model Resolution on Improving Community Supervision Policies and Practices

WHEREAS, probation dates back to England in the Middle Ages and stemmed from a public desire for alternatives for many offenses to harsh punishments by the King such as flogging and mutilation, and still serves a vital role in every state as an off-ramp from incarceration at a small fraction of the cost to taxpayers;

WHEREAS, parole can be traced back to the early 1800’s in the British empire and serves the important purposes of balancing justice with mercy, allowing for consideration of factors that may not have been fully known or appreciated at the time of sentencing, providing an incentive for good behavior and completion of programs during incarceration, and ensuring accountability and promoting reintegration upon release from prison;

WHEREAS, as of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available, some 4.5 million people, or 1 in 55 American adults, were on probation or parole;

WHEREAS, while every state had parole as of 1975, between 1976 and 2000, some 16 states abolished parole, and no state has either instituted or abolished parole since 2000;

WHEREAS, nearly a third of the 2.3 million people who exit community supervision each year fail to successfully complete their term;

WHEREAS, 37 states experienced drops in both the number of people under community supervision and crime rates from 2007 to 2016, including Texas and South Carolina, which cut their supervision and crime rates by at least 20 percent;

WHEREAS, about half of all prison admissions involve revocations from probation and parole and about 40 percent of these revocations are for technical violations rather than new offenses;

WHEREAS, an overreliance on probation fees to fund supervision can trade-off with other priorities such as victim restitution and child support and create a perverse incentive to keep individuals under supervision longer than necessary who consistently pay their fines but no longer require supervision so that their revenue subsidizes supervision of those who cannot afford to pay but need monitoring;

WHEREAS; research indicates that supervision conditions should be tailored to the individual’s offense, risk factors, and criminogenic needs and conditions should not interfere with pro-social activities such as employment. However, in many cases dozens of cookie-cutter conditions are imposed without such a nexus while, due in part to excessive caseloads that can be 200 or more in some jurisdictions, important conditions for those most at risk of recidivating are not enforced;

WHEREAS, research has found that recidivism is not further reduced and can even be increased by supervising low-risk people[1] and that most recidivism occurs during the first few years after release.[2] Yet, states maintain probation terms as long as 40 years in Minnesota and lifetime parole requirements, such as in Nebraska;

WHEREAS, states and local jurisdictions are increasingly pursuing alternatives to formal probation following adjudication such as police and prosecutor-assisted diversion, particularly in cases involving first-time nonviolent offenses, partly because this may much more expeditiously provide a sufficient intervention to prevent further criminal activity while avoiding collateral consequences of supervision such as a criminal record and monthly fees;

WHEREAS, many states have improved public safety outcomes and lowered costs to taxpayers by taking steps to reduce the number of technical revocations from probation and parole such as the use of graduated sanctions and incentives which have been adopted by 22 states since 2007; immediate referrals to treatment for violations related to mental illness and addiction, and the use of flash incarceration such as a weekend in jail in lieu of revocation;

WHEREAS, since 2007, 18 states have implemented policies allowing individuals on probation to earn time for exemplary performance, thereby providing a positive incentive and enabling limited supervision resources to be reallocated to those remaining on supervision who need ongoing monitoring and treatment. For example, Missouri’s earned time law resulted in those who qualified serving an average of 14 fewer months on probation, but they were no more likely to commit a new offense during the time they otherwise would have been monitored[3];

WHEREAS, incentivizing performance is not only important for people under supervision, but also for systems and this model of linking some probation funding to outcomes has already proven to be effective in the juvenile justice system as demonstrated by the Ohio Reclaim and Illinois Redeploy programs;

WHEREAS, states such as North Carolina and Louisiana have capped the time served for technical probation revocations in certain cases, recognizing that a longer period of incarceration does not increase the odds of success upon release. For example, in 2007, Louisiana capped first-time technical probation revocations in cases not involving violence at 90 days. In fiscal year 2013, five years after this went into effect, Louisiana had reduced time served by an average of 9.2 months, experienced 22 percent fewer new crime revocations, and saved $17.6 million in corrections costs;[4]

RESOLVED, probation and parole are often the right options in lieu of incarceration to advance important objectives such as public safety, accountability, rehabilitation, meeting victims’ needs, employment, and family preservation at a far lower cost than incarceration, but the high number of cases in which people fail on supervision and are revoked to prison indicate that improvements to these systems are essential to reducing recidivism and controlling corrections costs;

FURTHER RESOLVED, states should continue to update community supervision policies and practices to reflect the growing body of research and case studies that demonstrate how smaller, more focused supervision systems with the right incentives, such as those in the ALEC model Swift and Certain Sanctions Act, can achieve higher success rates at a lower cost to taxpayers.

[1] Lowenkamp and Latessa

[2] Binswanger et al.

[3] PEW 2016, 1

[4] PEW 2014

Approved By the ALEC Board of Directors: September 3, 2019