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San Francisco — More than 60 probation and parole chiefs from across the nation, along with several major national associations representing the probation and parole field, today announced the launch of EXiT: Executives Transforming Probation & Parole, to significantly reduce the number of men and women under community supervision, make it less punitive, and more equitable, restorative, and hopeful.

EXiT will bring to bear the experience of system executives who have led changes within their own agencies to address challenges facing probation and parole and believe the field should go further toward transformation. 

EXiT is organizing their colleagues running community supervision across the nation around their Statement on the Future of Probation and Parole in the United States. It lays out the challenges in probation and parole today, principles for the field, and a call to action. The full statement is below.

Former New York City Probation Commissioner and EXiT Co-Chair Vincent Schiraldi said, Community supervision is the largest and most ignored part of America’s criminal justice system. While there are important examples of improvements throughout the country, in too many ways, the system is still broken. That’s why, today, more than 60 probation and parole chiefs are taking the highly unusual step of speaking up and urging that the systems we run get smaller, less punitive, and more reintegrative.”

Speaking at a press conference at the American Probation and Parole Association annual conference in San Francisco, Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia University Justice Lab and a senior research scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work, said, Mass supervision as it is currently constituted must end. It is time to return to our rehabilitative roots, rightsize probation and parole, and restore hope and help.”

Maricopa County, Arizona Chief Probation Officer and EXiT Co-Chair Barbara Broderick said, Probation and parole chiefs have little control over who comes in their front door — those decisions are made by other systems, at sentencing or release. But we do control many aspects of supervision, and that gives us the power to lead the transformation we want to see.” 

Broderick continued, We can share what’s worked, and what we’ve learned through experience — that people rebuilding their lives after contact with the justice system need hope and support to be successful, not just have someone looking over their shoulder for failure.”

EXiT’s statement of principles makes clear that by returning justice and fairness to probation & parole, communities across the nation will be safer, fairer, and more effective.

As numerous states around the country have already shown, we can significantly reduce the footprint of community supervision while increasing public safety and well-being. Probation and parole should practice procedural justice — treating people under supervision and their families with fairness and dignity. We must support the transformation of our field to focus on supporting people’s success on probation and parole. 

EXiT’s plan is to support executives, policymakers, and advocates to substantially reduce the number of people under supervision and focus resources on those who need the most help. They will do so through rapid response, targeted technical assistance; testimony at hearings and public convenings; public communications and messaging; and thought leadership by developing and disseminating cutting-edge policies and practices. 

EXiT’s launch comes at a moment ripe for the transformation they seek. 

Though rates of supervision (as with other forms of correctional control) have decreased since their peak in 2007, there are still more than twice as many men and women on probation or parole as there are incarcerated in the U.S.: 4.5 million people as of the most recent available national numbers. That’s more people than the population in 25 states. This works out to 1 in 55 adult Americans who are on probation or parole, and this is not evenly distributed — 1 in 23 Black men and women are under supervision. In many places, probation and parole supervision has become a driver of incarceration rather than an alternative to it — nationally, 1 in 4 people who entered prisons in 2017 were incarcerated for technical, non-criminal supervision violations, costing $2.8 billion. 

Data like this led EXiT members to state:

Probation and parole have grown far too large because people are being supervised who should not be and are being kept on supervision for far too long. For those under community supervision, it is often too punitive and focused on suppression, surveillance, and control, rather than well-being and growth. 

The Statement on the Future of Probation and Parole presents several calls to action to address mass supervision, which can be summarized as return, reduce, and restore: 

RETURN probation & parole to their original purpose: to help and support men and women to stay in or return to the community

  • Tailor conditions of probation and parole to the needs and goals of each individual
  • Conditions should never be imposed unless they specifically relate to the person’s offense behavior
  • Establish reasonable probation and parole terms that are not unnecessarily long (generally no longer than 18 months), and are measured by a balance of an individual’s goals and public safety concerns
  • Eliminate supervision fees. If fees are levied, they should always be within the person’s ability to pay and the person should have the option of performing reasonable community service as an alternative.

    REDUCE the population of men and women on probation and parole to just those who need supervision
  • Divert from probation and parole, individuals for whom the purposes of sentencing can be achieved without supervision, prioritizing services, and supports above surveillance and supervision
  • Eliminate incarceration for technical violations and reduce reincarceration for low-level new offenses by those under supervision
  • Eradicate racial disparities in supervision, revocations, and sentencing recommendations.

    RESTORE HOPE for people under supervision, the people who work in the system, and the communities where they all live
  • Allow people on probation to earn time off supervision through good behavior and by achieving certain milestones, like high school graduation, program completion, enrollment in college, and job retention
  • Capture the savings from reducing the number of people under supervision and reducing incarceration for violations and reinvest them into smaller caseloads, evidence-based practices and enhanced community-led services and supports
  • Expand and improve community services, supports, and opportunities provided to people on probation and parole
  • Seek, hear, and honor the voices of community members, families, and justice-involved individuals as equal partners in system reform
  • Support probation and parole staff as a cornerstone of systemic change. Staff should be heard, supported and appropriately trained to embrace the principles of procedural justice
  • Address the statutory restrictions that inhibit reentry into the community, such as restoration of voting rights, access to college funding, driving privileges, and safe housing.

EXiT is staffed by the Columbia University Justice Lab. Its work is made possible through generous support from Arnold Ventures, Galaxy Gives, and the Tikkun Olam Foundation, Inc. 

The press conference was livestreamed by the Chronicle of Social Change. The video also is available for viewing at chron​i​cle​of​so​cialchange​.org.

Leaders from several corners of the criminal justice policy space have weighed in on the announcement: 

Van Jones, founder and CEO of the REFORM Alliance, said, To have probation and parole chiefs from across the United States step up today and say that their systems need major reforms is a giant leap forward in the campaign to reduce the vast numbers of men and women trapped in punitive and unnecessary supervision.”

More than that, with their acknowledgment that their systems need a major overhaul, the probation & parole chiefs at EXiT also come to us with a simple, manageable, and eloquent plan,” said Jones.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, We need to fundamentally transform our corrections orientation from punishing failure to promoting success. That requires we afford individuals in the community justice system the respect and support they need to live, work, and love.” 

#Cut50 National Director Michael Mendoza, who was discharged from lifetime parole, says, I’m still not free. There are still opportunities that I don’t have access to because of my past convictions and barriers to reintegration.”

Mendoza continued, I wasn’t allowed back to Orange County to be with my family. When my grandmother was in the hospital I was only able to see her once before she died. My mom wanted my help during this family crisis but I could only communicate with her by telephone. It’s an emotional struggle.”

Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice California Director Tinisch Hollis said, Survivors of crime know that fair and effective parole and probation practices work better to stop the cycle of crime. This is good for public safety. Today we are proud to stand with parole and probation chiefs from across the country in calling for new solutions for stopping the revolving door. We want safety first. The old approaches don’t deliver.”

In addition to Broderick and Schiraldi, the EXiT Steering Committee includes: 

  • Ana Bermúdez, commissioner, New York City Department of Probation
  • Adolfo Gonzales, chief probation officer, San Diego County, California
  • Norris Henderson, executive director, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)
  • Marcus Hodges, former president, National Association of Probation Executives (NAPE), & associate director, Washington DC Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)
  • Michael Jacobson, executive director, CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, & former commissioner, New York City Corrections and Department of Probation
  • Brian Lovins, president-elect, APPA, principal, Justice System Partners, & former assistant director, Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department
  • Terri McDonald, chief probation officer, Los Angeles, California
  • David Muhammad, executive director, National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR), and former chief probation officer, Alameda County, California
  • Michael Nail, commissioner, Georgia Department of Community Supervision
  • Wendy Still, chief probation officer, Alameda County, California

The Columbia University Justice Lab’s research papers on Probation & Parole are available at https://​jus​tice​lab​.colum​bia​.edu/​p​r​o​b​a​t​i​o​n​-​p​arole or can be downloaded at no cost from Ama​zon​.com.

The Columbia University Justice Lab (@CUJusticeLab; https://​jus​tice​lab​.colum​bia​.edu) combines original research, policy development, and community engagement to advance criminal justice reform. The Lab works for community-centered justice where incarceration is no longer used as a solution to problems that are rooted in poverty and racial inequality.

Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. It expects all areas of the University to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.