The Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled “Changes in Sentencing Policy Raise Pressure on Probation Officers” on July 6, 2016 noting that there were two principal effects of recent moves on sentencing and correctional reform: higher parole and probation populations were taxing the existing infrastructure of supervised control outside of incarceration, and some officials were increasingly concerned about the potential for higher recidivism, consequently.
“The current push for shorter prison sentences is putting more work on the [probation] force, federal officials say, and raising concerns that critical details might be missed that could prevent relapses among a high-risk population …
“Since 2010, 14,100 people have been freed early because of changes in sentencing law and policies, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the federal probation case load has increased 7% since 2010. In the same period, the budget of the U.S. Office of Probation and Pretrial Services Office rose 0.5% to $902 million.”
Even so, the percentage of federal felons who had their probation revoked dropped 2% to 27% in 2015 vs. 2010. This is due in part to changes in risk assessment methodologies, taking into account a broader set of metrics, more prevalent in their application in the federal system. It may also be due to less active supervision.
“But probation officials say the drop is due chiefly to the fact that there are fewer officers, relative to the number of ex-inmates, to spot violations, so more offenders remain free.”
The flipside of this problem is that underfunded state probation and parole systems may contribute to prison overcrowding, even as there is growing bipartisan pressure to reduce the size of the population behind bars.
The Council for State Government’s Justice Center released a report, highlighted in this article on testimony from CSG staff in Arkansas.
“From 2009 to 2015, the number of parole violators being sentenced to prison in ADC [Arkansas Department of Corrections] facilities increased by nearly 137 percent – making parole and probation violators nearly half of all admissions to Arkansas prisons.
“Researchers suggest much of the parole violations have to do with the caseloads parole and probation officers are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Data presented showed on average, ACC [Arkansas Community Corrections] caseworkers have as many as 120 individuals to look after – compared to data from North Carolina where the caseload is nearly half.”
Much depends on jurisdictional context. But, in both cases, technology can help.
Technology like the services American Prison Data Systems, PBC offers can help in several ways.
One, by providing a mobile device connected to a wireless network, the parole or probation agency can monitor their charges remotely, potentially expanding the scale at which an individual officer can operate efficiently, while intervening less directly and obtrusively in the life of the former offender.
Two, in using the educational and rehabilitative content and services, the former offender can continue the progress they made while incarcerated (or, as an alternative to incarceration).
Three, the behavioral data that the service generates about the way in which the parolee or probationer is using the American Prison Data Systems, PBC service can help to update risk assessment engines in real-time, with data that is agnostic to the individual’s race, zip code, prior criminal history, or other charged inputs.