Probation Trap

By Christopher Morgan

If you are knowledgeable about the criminal justice system, it is no secret that the current structure makes recidivism inevitable.  The social isolation inmates experience in correctional facilities deprives them of any social and moral skills that would help anyone reintegrate back in society. Another hindrance that encourages recidivism is that formerly incarcerated people are heavily stigmatized. The permanent label that results from incarceration makes future employment for a livable wage nearly impossible. If one lacks basic human needs and social mobility upon return is impractical, a pipeline of previous offenders is systematically created.

Previous offenders are also exploited by the criminal justice system through unreasonable probation sentences.  This was brought to light recently as Meek Mill, a well-known recording artist from Philadelphia, was recently released from a sentence that involved a Technical violation during his absurdly lengthy probation. Ten Years ago, when Meek Mill was at the age of 19, he was arrested for a minor drug and possession of firearm charge. As a result, he served 8-months in jail while sentenced to 2-4 years of probation.  In 2009 he performed outside of the state of Pennsylvania causing the judge to reinstate his probation for an additional 10 years due to a “technical violation”.

A technical violation is misbehavior by a person under court supervision that is not by itself a criminal offense and generally does not result in arrest. The definition itself is ambiguous as it can be committed from a wide-range of activities such as failing to attend a meeting, traveling out of state or by merely coming in contact with a police officer. We at the National Incarceration Association do not condone behavior that violates probation; however, it is extremely harsh for one to be sentenced 10 years of probation for non-violent offenses that are nowhere near the severity of a felony. One in every 52 American adults lives under court supervision. Lengthy probations make it harder for families to handle post-incarceration[1].  For example, Monthly meetings, curfews, court fees, travel restrictions and many more obstacles for a decade is overwhelming.  In 2015 an astonishing 68% of prison admissions in Georgia were probation and parole revocations for new offenses or violations of special conditions (technical violations)1.  Such statistics are largely the result of problems within probation and parole policies.

Sentencing new prison or probation terms for technical violations rather than for illegal behavior undermines the nature of the crime and causes prisons across the nation to overpopulate. The Georgia Probation and Sentencing Subcommittee has recently proposed an incentive-based system for people serving their 1st property or drug misdemeanor offense. Early termination or reduction from probation sentences would occur after 3 years of compliance[2].  Another policy goal for The Georgia Probation and Sentencing Subcommittee is to frontload probation supervision to higher risk populations. More than Half of those admitted for probation and parole revocations were within their first two years of court supervision2. Meaningful engagement during the first two years of one’s court supervision is vital for reducing recidivism. “If these recommendations are adopted, the council predicts approximately 44,000 fewer people on probation over the next five years. This would allow about 140 probation officers supervising low-risk offenders to be reassigned to monitor more high-risk probationers” [3]. The average person only spends 2-5 minutes once a month with their probation officer which is inadequate for higher risk populations2.  Probation needs to function less as a trap and more as a system to improve behavior. The punitive system has potential to have a better impact on reforming society. Governor Nathan Deal formed the The Georgia Probation and Sentencing Subcommittee in 2011 to find alternatives to incarceration for low-risk and nonviolent offenders; however, the future of criminal justice reform in Georgia remains uncertain in this midterm election year.

The National Incarceration Association puts in effort day in and day out to assist the millions of incarcerated people who do not have the privilege of being a well-known recording artist. Meek Mill humbly admits that if he was not well-known, then he would still be in prison. Our constituents grow every day as we want to capitalize on a voting bloc that can change outdated public policy. We all either know someone or have a loved one incarcerated. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system isn’t always just. If you are not in a position of power or wealth, you can be trapped in a cycle that wants to perpetuate your punishment instead of reform your character. We want to bridge the gap between the outside world and the other side of America that is in a constant battle to maintain their basic human rights. Even if you do not know a family damaged by this system, millions of your tax dollars are being funneled to a process that has very little end product. It costs more than $28,000 a year to keep one person in a state prison[4]. An incentive based punitive probation system would be a win-win for society and Georgia’s fiscal plan. For more articles subscribe to our newsletter!

[1]. * CSG Justice Center Analysis of Prison Admissions and Probation Terminations Data (2015)

[2]. *  CSG Analysis of Probation Research file (2016)

[3]. * AJC Georgia Justice reformers: Cut the number of offenders on probation (2017)

[4]. *U.S. Bureau of Prisons (2010)