Giving Compass’ Take:
• Studies have found inconclusive or contradictory results when analyzing if parole and probation efforts are effectively reducing the number of incarcerated individuals.
• One study in Ohio did find that field visits during probation reduce recidivism. However, researchers found field visits were not as effective in Minnesota. How can donors help tailor best practices for parole officers state-by-state?
• Read more about reaching goals in criminal justice reform.
The unproductive hours parole officers spend driving to see rural clients, the stress and safety risks for officers, and the disruption to clients who have to take time off from work to meet a probation officer — well, all that’s worth it, right?
The truth is, we don’t really know. There has been precious little research and thus hardly any evidence to show that visits work or which visit components succeed, fail or, even worse, are counterproductive. Are unscheduled or scheduled visits better? Should the visits be at home or in the workplace? As bipartisan prison reform efforts reduce mass incarceration and funnel more people into supervised release, already-large caseloads could explode. It is both critical and urgent to get answers to these questions.
A recent study we did for the National Institute of Justice was one of the first efforts to look at home visits, quantitatively and qualitatively, to gauge their effectiveness. The evaluation included data analysis, reviews of officer-visit checklists, interviews, and focus-group discussions. The results are promising but quite preliminary. And they raise as many questions as they answer.
That’s partly because the interaction between the officer and the client is a key factor in the value of a visit, and that interaction is hard to observe and evaluate. Aggravating matters, there’s no consensus definition of a field contact and what it entails. And results varied widely among jurisdictions. Was that because of the different contexts, different practices or a combination of the two?
To try to pierce through this fog, we partnered with the American Probation and Parole Association and community supervision authorities in Ohio and Minnesota. We also sent an online survey to corrections departments in all 50 states. The good news is that, overall, field visits did seem to reduce recidivism. In Ohio, individuals who received at least one field contact had a 47 percent reduction in the odds of returning to prison within two years and a 54 percent reduction in the odds of ever returning.
Read the full article about questions about probation and parole by Sarah Jalbert,Holly Swan, and Walter Campbell at Governing Magazine
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