In a recent review of the literature on prisoner reentry, Brookings Institution Nonresident Fellow Jennifer Doleac summarized the best evidence on how to improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated. One of the most striking findings was that reducing the intensity of community supervision for those on probation or parole is a highly cost-effective strategy.
Several studies of excellent quality and using a variety of interventions and methods all found that we could maintain public safety and possibly even improve it with less supervision—that is, fewer rules about how individuals must spend their time and less enforcement of those rules. Less supervision is less expensive, so we could achieve the same or better outcomes for less money.
Why is intensive supervision so ineffective? Requiring lots of meetings, drug tests, and so on can complicate a client’s life, making it more difficult to get to work or school or care for family members (meetings are often scheduled at inconvenient times and may be far away).
A heavy tether to the criminal justice system can also make it difficult for individuals to move on, psychologically. Knowing that society still considers you a criminal may make it harder to move past that phase of your life. These difficulties may negate the valuable support that probation and parole officers can provide by connecting clients to services and stepping in to help at the first sign of trouble.
It is unclear what the optimal level of supervision is for those on parole or probation, but these studies demonstrate that current supervision levels are too high. We could reduce the requirements of community supervision—for low-risk and high-risk offenders alike—and spend those taxpayer dollars on more valuable services, such as substance abuse treatment or cognitive behavioral therapy. This would be a good first step toward breaking the vicious incarceration cycle.
From The Brookings Insitution.