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Purposeful Probation

Welcome back to Policy Wednesday! For our 2nd week, we will be discussing a very important topic in the realm of criminal justice policy: probation.  Probation is the primary alternative to incarceration that our justice system employs.  However, probation sentences are often far too long and harsh, and in fact, probation can often keep people trapped in the prison system cycle due to over-supervision and high re-incarceration rates.  As District Attorney, I hope to reform Mecklenburg’s probation system into one of “Purposeful Probation,” aimed at minimizing the amount of time people spend under state supervision while ensuring that time spent on probation is meaningful and doesn’t lead to re-incarceration.


            Nearly two-thirds of individuals released from prison are re-arrested within three years; many of these arrests are due to probation violations, often the result of intense supervision and enforcement of overly strict rules on how individuals on probation may spend their time. In fact, out of the 600,000 Americans who are re-incarcerated, 26% are re-incarcerated due to technical violations of probation/parole.  These people, without committing any crimes, have been sent back to prison for something as innocuous as a missed appointment with a parole officer. This mass supervision leads to mass incarceration. To its credit, North Carolina implemented the Justice Reinvestment Act, which significantly reduced the number of probation revocations due to technical violations. However, 16% of probation revocations still occur due to technical violations. Probation can often act as a trap in this sense.  Research shows that intense supervision provides no public safety benefit while only putting those on probation at a higher likelihood of re-incarceration. We need a less invasive probation system that seeks to rehabilitate, rather than one that seeks to re-incarcerate.

The Philadelphia Case

            Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Larry Krasner, has implemented policies designed to reduce the amount of time people spend under state supervision, with the goal of reducing the likelihood of re-incarceration.  His policies have been very successful; Philadelphia’s probation/parole population has been cut by a third, while the median length of probation/parole sentences has been cut by a quarter. Importantly, a review of Krasner’s policies showed that there was no increase in crime or recidivism rates, and that as much as $40 million in spending had been freed up to pursue crime prevention policies.

The Future of Probation in Mecklenburg

            When I have prosecutors considering probation for a defendant, I want them to ask: what is the purpose of putting this person on probation? Is the length of the probation excessive? Will probation be therapeutic? Probation needs to be customized and stylized for each individual person; it’s not a one-size-fits all process. We need purposeful probation that is individually tailored. We need less people on probation for less time. As District Attorney, my office will make reducing both the number of people under state supervision, as well as reducing the amount of time spent under supervision, one of our top priorities.