More than five million people are under community supervision—either probation or parole—on any given day in the United States. Success rates among these offenders are not high: more than 40 percent of probationers and more than half of parolees do not complete their supervision terms successfully. In fact, parole violators account for almost 35 percent of admissions to state prisons, and nearly half of local jail inmates were on probation or parole when they were arrested.
High failure rates, the continued rise in prison costs, the release each year of more than 700,000 persons from confinement, and the mounting economic downturn—all of these trends present policy makers and corrections executives with a rare opportunity, even an imperative, to reform probation and parole in ways that will keep communities safe and save scarce public funds. Fortunately, decades of learning in the field and a growing research base has led to a consensus among many corrections professionals about what needs to be done to achieve better results.
That consensus is reflected in the 13 strategies presented here—strategies that can reduce recidivism and hold offenders accountable for their actions while also cutting substance abuse and unemployment, and restoring family bonds. Even modest reductions in recidivism will result in fewer crimes, fewer victims, and budget savings for states and localities. Given the sheer numbers of people on probation and parole and the cost to society of new crimes they commit, solid execution of these strategies by community supervision agencies could dramatically improve public safety and free corrections dollars for other pressing public priorities.