Problems in Parole and Community Supervision, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses.”

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found significant problems in the country’s parole and community supervision programs. One in 55 adults in the U.S. were on probation or parole in 2016, and rates vary widely by state, from 1 in 18 in Georgia to 1 in 168 in New Hampshire. The growth in community supervision has outpaced public safety indicators, and 78% of people on probation and parole were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The report suggests policy changes to improve outcomes and points to 37 states that have improved public safety while reducing their supervision population.

“It’s cruel and unusual punishment for individuals trying to turn their lives around and innocent children and other family members who depend on them.”

In 2017, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation suspended nearly 40,000 licenses for nonviolent, non-driving offenses. Maxwell King, CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, say these suspensions trap low-income people in cycles of debt and poverty and increase the costs of enforcement and incarceration. They are collaborating on the Driven to Work campaign, pushing for the passage of House Bill 163 and House Resolution 76, which would remove license suspension as a penalty for nonviolent offenses that are not connected to driving. The reforms passed by a vote of 193-3 in the House in April and supporters anticipate a Senate vote soon.

“It now looks possible — though we’ll need more years of data to confirm — that 2015 and 2016 were replays of 2005 and 2006.”

According to new data from the FBI, rates of murder, violent crime and property crime all fell in 2017. Compared to 2016 data, the violent crime rate fell by .9% and the murder rate decreased 1.4%. Rates of aggravated assault and rape showed slight increases. The recent numbers follow long-term trends of declining crime rates, and suggest a stabilization after increases in violent crime and murder in 2015 and 2016. In a statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray noted that the data would allow law enforcement to “more easily identify crime patterns and trends, understand how and why certain crimes are happening, and find the best way to prevent them.” The underlying data is available here.

“Reforming institutions so that municipal governments rely less on fines and fees may also help improve police effectiveness and improve public safety.”

Researchers from Harvard, the University of Memphis and New York University analyzed data from the Census of Governments and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and found that “police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenues from fees, fines and civilly forfeited assets have significantly lower rates of solving violent and property crimes.” The authors suggested this was due to a shift in resources, where police departments focus on revenue collection rather than investigatory work.

“Georgia has profoundly reshaped its adult and juvenile correctional systems, earning widespread acclaim…”

As Georgia prepares to elect a new governor, the Augusta Chronicle examined the impact of Governor Nathan Deal’s signature criminal justice reforms. Georgia’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform found a decrease in the total prison population, a reduction in racial disparity, and a steep decline in new commitments to the juvenile justice system. In addition, the recidivism rate dropped from 30 percent to 28 percent, and the share of those behind bars who were convicted of violent crimes rose from 57 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2017. The commission recommended additional reforms to the state’s bail system, and the expansion of record-sealing and expungement for those who have completed their sentences.