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The Pew Public Safety Policy Parole Condition Violation Questions 2007

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When Offenders
Break the Rules
Smart Responses to Parole and Probation Violations
Key Questions for Policy Makers and Practitioners

No. 3 | November 2007

Are condition violations driving state prison


Policy makers and criminal justice practitioners should know
which offenders are driving their state’s prison population and
spending. In particular, they should ask what percentage of
prison admissions are violators – offenders already on probation
or parole who were revoked to prison. They should request two
separate statistics: how many (and what percent) were revoked
for breaking the rules of their release, and how many (and what
percent) were revoked for new criminal conduct.

Are releasing authorities and supervision agencies
well coordinated?


Judges, parole boards and probation and parole supervision
agencies can all have an effect – either positive or negative – on
offender outcomes. They will struggle to adopt a strategic
approach to condition violators until their visions and activities
are well coordinated.

Are the goals of supervision well conceived and
widely accepted?


More and more correctional agencies are recognizing that they
can improve public safety by helping offenders complete their
terms of community supervision without committing new
offenses or claiming new victims. Some, however, still believe
that their job with respect to offenders is to “trail ‘em, nail ‘em
and jail ‘em.” Policy makers and practitioners should ensure
that their offender supervision agencies articulate the goal of
proactive crime prevention, rather than reactive revocation of
supervision. This is a more fiscally-responsible way to protect the
public and hold offenders accountable.

Public Safety Performance Project Q


Smart Responses to Parole and Probation Violations
No. 3 Q November 2007

Are conditions of release and supervision efforts
being appropriately assigned?


The Pew Charitable Trusts
1025 F Street, NW Suite 900
Washington, DC 20004-1409

Launched in 2006 as a project of Pew's
Center on the States, the Public Safety
Performance Project seeks to help states
advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies
and practices in sentencing and corrections
that protect public safety, hold offenders
accountable, and control corrections costs.
The Pew Charitable Trusts applies
the power of knowledge to solve today’s
most challenging problems. Our Pew
Center on the States identifies and
advances effective policy approaches
to critical issues facing states.

Treatment and other services, the conditions and intensity of
supervision, and responses to violations should be tailored by
offenders’ individual risks and needs. Spreading these resources
evenly across an uneven population is a recipe for inefficiency
and, ultimately, more crime and victimization. Heavy-handed
monitoring is appropriate for higher-risk offenders while lowerrisk offenders can be safety managed with a limited set of
conditions and even considered for early discharge. Intensive
interventions for low-risk offenders should be avoided: research
shows they actually tend to raise the risk of recidivism.

Are intermediate sanctions available for offenders
who need more than a slap on the wrist but less
than incarceration?


This document is part of a series of primers
for policy makers about the critical choices
they face in developing strategies to
improve the public safety return on
taxpayer dollars. For more on this topic, see
our companion publications—a public
safety policy brief and a case study of
parole violator reforms in Texas—and visit
our website at

Supervision agencies need a range of community-based services
and sanctions if they are to respond appropriately to offender
needs and behavior. Policy makers should mandate and
sufficiently fund a continuum of options, or graduated sanctions
such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, day
reporting centers, and electronic monitoring. These options allow
probation and parole officers to meet violations with graduated,
cost-effective responses that seek to redirect offender behavior.
Without them, agencies tend to allow violations to accumulate
until they get fed up and then seek revocation to prison.

This document was written by Peggy Burke
in collaboration with Adam Gelb and
Jake Horowitz. Ms. Burke is a Principal
with the Center for Effective Public Policy
where she directs projects in the areas of
offender transition and reentry, responses
to parole and probation violations, court
innovation, offender classification,
sentencing policy, and strategic planning.
Mr. Gelb is Director of, and Mr. Horowitz
is a Senior Associate on, the Public Safety
Performance Project.

This document was peer reviewed by
Judith Sachwald and Dale Parent. Ms.
Sachwald was most recently the Director
of the Maryland Division of Probation and
Parole. Mr. Parent recently retired from
Abt Associates, Inc., where for the past
20 years he conducted research and
planning on sentencing alternatives,
performance-based standards in criminal
justice, and prisoner reentry.
While these experts have screened the
report for methodology and accuracy,
neither they nor their current or former
organizations necessarily endorse its
findings or conclusions.

Are sanctions for violations swift and certain?


When violations do occur, the consequences should be certain
and swift to maximize their deterrent value. Policy makers and
practitioners should work to increase the chances that every
violation will bring a proportionate consequence and to speed
up the time between when a violation is detected and when the
sanction is imposed.

Are supervision agencies making the most of
positive reinforcement?


Research in a wide variety of fields concludes that rewards are
more effective than penalties in shaping behavior. Yet the
overwhelming emphasis in community corrections has been to
punish failure rather than to reward success. Probation and
parole staff can use a range of incentives to boost offenders’
compliance with conditions of supervision and their motivation
to remain crime- and drug-free. Some incentives include

2 Public Safety Performance Project Q

Smart Responses to Parole and Probation Violations
No. 3 Q November 2007

graduation ceremonies, gift certificates, reduction in reporting
or treatment requirements, and early termination of supervision.
Policy makers should know what rewards their agencies are using
and encourage them to explore additional possibilities.

Are quality risk assessment instruments being used


“Agencies without

Policy makers should mandate and fund sound, research-based
assessments of risk and need that equip supervision agencies to
make strategic choices about responses to violations. They
should develop, implement, maintain and evaluate so-called
“third generation” instruments that include both factors that are
unchangeable (like prior criminal record) and that are
changeable (such as substance abuse). Doing so will help to
triage offenders as described above in Question 4.

a continuum of

Is supervisory discretion appropriately structured?

sanctions and


services to address
these situations will
deliver either a slap
on the wrist or


Supervision agencies should issue policies and guidelines for
fashioning responses to probation and parole violations that
take into account the severity of the violation, the risk posed by
the offender, and the cost of the response. To ensure reasonable
consistency across cases and adherence to agency goals and
mission, quality control measures such as requiring senior
administrators to review violation arrest warrants should be
considered and encouraged.

revocation to prison,
neither of which
provides a level of
proportionate to the

Public Safety Performance Project Q




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