September 19, 2021 21:29

Top Prosecutors Call for ‘Downsized, Less Punitive’ Probation and Parole

No one should be sent back to prison for a “technical” violation of the terms of probation and parole, a bipartisan group of over 50 current and former District Attorneys and state Attorneys General declared Thursday.

“Far from being an aid to community reintegration as originally designed, community supervision too often serves as a tripwire to imprisonment,” the DAs said in a statement that was also signed by over 90 current and former probation and parole chiefs.

“(It creates) a vicious cycle of reincarceration for people under supervision for administrative rule violations that would rarely lead someone not under supervision into prison.”

The statement was the latest in a wide-ranging campaign led by Executives Transforming Probation and Parole (EXiT) to overhaul the community supervision system.

“As people who run or have run community supervision throughout the country, and other stakeholders concerned with mass supervision, we call for probation and parole to be substantially downsized, less punitive and more hopeful, equitable and restorative.”

Nearly half of America’s incarcerated population  are former prisoners who were returned for probation or parole violations—and a quarter of those were reincarcerated for non-criminal offenses, such as staying out past curfew or missing appointments with parole officers, the statement said.

The community supervision system currently involves more than 4.4 million people—triple the number since 1980—and costs taxpayers $2.8 billion annually.

Noting that the system originated in the 19th century as a “rehabilitative” alternative to keeping offenders behind bars for long periods of time, the statement charged that it “has now become overly burdensome, punitive and a driver of mass incarceration, especially for people of color.”

EXiT, a group led by former probation and parole chiefs, launched its campaign for a “transformation” of community supervision last year, and has steadily been picking up support across party lines.

“A growing wave of 21st century prosecutors recognize that mass supervision doesn’t make communities safer, and fuels cycles of incarceration that cause significant harm to individuals and families,” said Miriam Krinsky, a  former prosecutor who is executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution and helped organize signatories to the statement

The statement was accompanied by the release of a new poll suggesting that the public also agrees with the broad outlines of the campaign.

Broken down by party lines, 73 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans agreed with a statement that the U.S. should reduce the number of people on parole.

The poll, conducted in October by the Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress, represented a sample of 1,164 likely voters. It also found strong bipartisan support for measures  that would give people on supervision the right to vote, and limit probation and parole to a maximum of two years (unless there are circumstances justifying a longer period of supervision).

The statement also called for:

      • Shortening supervision terms and allowing probationers to earn reduced time through good behavior:
      • Reinvesting the savings from a “smaller footprint” of probation and parole in community services;
      • Addressing statutory restrictions “that inhibit successful reentry and reintegration, such as restoring voting rights.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, one of the signers of the statement, said it was “in the public interest to downsize the probation and parole system.”

“These reforms will not only allow folks to get on with their lives as contributing members of our communities; it will save taxpayers millions of dollars,” he said.

Signatories of the statement included most of the country’s so-called “progressive” state or city prosecutors elected on reform platforms. They included Vermont Attorney General Thomas  Donovan Jr.; Dallas County (Tx) District Attorney John Creuzot; Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx; and Los Angeles County District Attorney-elect George Gascon.

Additional signers included: Kings County (Brooklyn), New York District Attorney Eric Gonzalez ; Winnebago County, Wisconsin District Attorney Christian Gossett ;Baltimore City, Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby ; Suffolk County (Boston) District Attorney Rachael Rollins ; New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney Cyrus Vance ; and 13th Judicial Circuit (Tampa), Florida State Attorney Andrew Warren.

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