The NCSL Blog


By Alison Lawrence

One in 55 U.S. adults is under some form of probation or parole supervision.

GavelA new report sheds light on why it might be time to start rethinking how people on community supervision are managed.

Over the last decade more than 30 states have adopted bipartisan, data-driven prison reforms designed to control corrections costs, protect public safety and hold offenders accountable. The results are telling. The total state imprisonment rate has dropped by 11 percent while crime rates continue to decline.

Overburdened community corrections systems are not keeping up with the progress being made in prison reform. While rates of probation and parole vary from state to state (see 50-state map below), research is clear on which strategies are best to meet the goals of reducing recidivism, increasing public safety and cutting spending:

  • Use of a validated risk and needs assessment helps tailor supervision based on an offender’s risk of reoffending and treatment needs. More than one-third of states have recently adopted laws directing the use of assessments. This and other recent enhancements to offender supervision are in NCSL’s report on sentencing and corrections legislative trends.
  • Swift, certain and proportionate sanctions for breaking supervision rules along with rewards for compliance. South Carolina experienced a 46 percent drop in the number of revocations to jail or prison following adoption of a 2010 law that required training on and implementation of graduated sanctions. See NCSL’s report on state responses to probation and parole violations for a discussion of how other states are dealing with offenders who break probation and parole rules.
  • Access to and availability of cognitive behavioral and other evidenced-based treatment. States have created dedicated funding streams to ensure needed therapy is available. A recent NCSL report on mental health for justice-involved individuals examines how states are supporting treatment and services for those involved with the justice system.
  • Allocation of resources based on risk. States have adopted policies that require higher-risk offenders be supervised more closely and participate in more intensive treatment while directing agencies to decrease or even eliminate supervision for those with the lowest-risk. Read more about these strategies in NCSL’s managing corrections costs and state sentencing systems reports.

Map from PewThe new report Probation and Parole Systems Marked by High Stakes, Missed Opportunities was prepared under a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to improve the effectiveness of community corrections.

To learn more, see NCSL State Legislatures magazine's Q&A with legislators leading the reform, oOr visit NCSL’s sentencing and corrections homepage for the latest research.

Alison Lawrence specializes in sentencing and corrections for NCSL.  

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.