Probation and Parole - Probation, Supervised Release, Parole

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Any society that depends on only two sentencing options—confinement or nothing at all—is unsafe and unjust. We need a full array of effective sentencing tools that actually suit our various sentencing purposes.

—Michael Smith, Vera Institute of Justice

Most of the correctional population of the United States—those under the supervision of correctional authorities—are walking about freely. They are people on probation or people on parole. According to Lauren E. Glaze and Seri Palla in Probation and Parole in the United States, 2003 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2004), 4,024,087 people were on probation, 774,588 were on parole, and 2.1 million were in jail or prison in 2003. For every person behind bars, more than two people convicted of crimes were on the street, 70%, all told. Probationers and parolees, however, were nonetheless under official supervision, and most had to satisfy requirements placed on them as a condition of freedom or of early release from correctional facilities. Table 8.1 shows the number of adults under correctional supervision by region and jurisdiction, as of December 31, 2003.

A probationer is someone who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced—but the person's sentence has been suspended on condition that he or she behaves in the manner ordered by the court. Probation sometimes follows a brief period of incarceration; more often it is granted by the court immediately.

A parolee is an individual who has served a part of his or her sentence in jail and prison but, because of good behavior or by legislative mandate, has been granted freedom before the sentence is fully served. The sentence remains in effect, however, and the parolee continues to be under the jurisdiction of a parole board. If the person fails to live up to the conditions of the release, the parolee may be confined again.

The number of persons on probation has grown from 1.1 million in 1980 to four million in 2003. (See Figure 8.1.) Since 1995, according to Probation and Parole in the United States, 2003, the number of persons on probation has grown by 32.4%, with an average annual increase of 2.9%. (See Table 8.2.) The increase from 2002 to 2003 was 1.2%, less than half the average growth rate. During the 1980–2003 period, those on parole increased from 220,000 to 774,000. Since 1995, the number of persons on parole increased by 14%, with an annual average increase of 1.7%. (See Table 8.3.)

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