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5 Reasons Why

5 Reasons To Limit Community Supervision in Response to COVID-19

Now more than ever, we need to rethink probation and parole, which is responsible for driving nearly half of all people into state prisons. 

Inmates prepare to deep clean a cell pod to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the San Diego County Jail. Community supervision is a major driver of incarceration, and correctional facilities have become hotbeds for the virus. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons is a public health emergency. Even as COVID cases plateau in some states, they continue to rise in prisons. Now more than ever, we need to rethink community supervision, which is responsible for driving nearly half of all people into state prisons. 

Here are 5 reasons why changing supervision policies — and most importantly, reducing the number of people on probation and parole in the first place — is more urgent than ever.

#1 Probation and parole funnel people into jails and prisons; we need to reverse this flow to reduce the number of people exposed to the virus in correctional facilities.

#2 Continued supervision unnecessarily risks the health of millions of people — those serving probation or parole terms, community corrections staff, all of their families, and communities at-large. 

#3 Standard supervision practices are a barrier to success for many people, and eliminating these conditions is good for public health and public safety.

#4 Onerous fines and fees exacerbate racial disparities and increase the burden already faced by communities struggling with high unemployment and other economic hardships.

#5 State and local governments will be facing severe revenue shortfalls, and corrections agencies must be ready for cuts to already stretched thin budgets. 

  • Taxpayers spend $9.3 billion to imprison people for violations of supervision every year, and nearly $3 billion on prison costs for technical violations alone. As states are forced to find budget savings, eliminating revocations and incarceration for rules violations is an obvious place to start. 
  • While rates of substance use, misuse, and dependence are two to three times higher for people on probation and parole, fewer than half receive treatment while on supervision. This large treatment gap limits the effectiveness of supervision and scarce budget dollars should be focused on improving access to behavioral health programs. 
  • With inevitable budget cuts, supervision agencies should eliminate supervision for anyone who is identified as low risk and focus on supporting people who are reintegrating from jail and prison. With record unemployment and an unprecedented job market, supporting these individuals in the community and making sure they have access to safe housing and basic necessities should be the priority for the foreseeable future.