The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in April that, as of December 31, 2016, an estimated 4,537,100 adults were under community supervision—probation or parole—in the United States, a slight decrease of 1.1 percent from the prior year.Danielle Kaeble, Probation and Parole in the United States, 2016 (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018). Also see “Too Big To Succeed: The Impact of the Growth of Community Corrections and What Should Be Done about It” Columbia University Justice Lab, January 29, 2018, 1.
Technical violations of parole or probation can be drivers of incarceration for conduct as minor as being late to a check-in or facing new criminal charges for low-level offenses.See for example Sara Satinsky, Logan Harris, Lili Farhang, and Gus Alexander, Excessive Revocations: The Health Impacts of Locking People up without a New Conviction in Wisconsin (Oakland, CA: Human Impact Partners, 2016), 22 (listing reasons people are held in custody in the state for breaking rules of supervision without a new criminal conviction).
In Wisconsin, for example, technical violations of parole or probation supervision send thousands of people to jail or prison each year, costing taxpayers an estimated $147 million.Ibid., 4; and David Dahmer, “Wisconsin’s Crimeless Revocation Problem,” Madison365.com, September 10, 2018.
This may be changing: Wisconsin’s new governor-elect Tony Evers campaigned on a platform that included eliminating the practice, which the state terms “crimeless revocation,” calling it “dumb on crime.”“Criminal Justice Reform,” TonyEvers.com; and Patrick Marley, “Democrats Running For Governor Call For Slashing Prison Population,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 5, 2018.
But excessive revocation of parole or probation isn’t just a Wisconsin problem. Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years of prison for a violation of probation after an arrest for popping wheelies on a motorbike, a charge that was later dropped.Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Meek Mill’s Release Matters More Than You Think,” Rolling Stone, May 3, 2018; and "Rapper Meek Mill Sentenced to Up to Four Years in Jail,” Guardian, November 7, 2017. He was released in April after serving five months, after much public outcry about the injustice of his case.Thompson, “Meek Mill’s Release,” 2018. But Mills’s is just one story among hundreds of thousands. Pennsylvania’s rate of probation supervision is 19 percent higher than the national average, and Pennsylvanians are more than three times more likely to be under parole supervision than adults in the rest of the country.Vincent Schiraldi, The Pennsylvania Corrections Story (New York: Columbia University Justice Lab, 2018).