Aug 18, 2014
People of color are overrepresented in the probation and parole population, yet relatively little attention has been paid to disparate treatment and outcomes at this stage of the justice system. This report presents findings from an expert panel that explored ways to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the handling of technical violations of probation and parole — violations that, while not criminal, can be an important driver of incarceration.
Racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive in the U.S. criminal justice system. These disparities often compound as an individual progresses through each stage of the justice system, beginning with police contact and continuing through prosecution and correctional control. Not surprisingly, people of color are overrepresented in the probation and parole population, yet relatively little attention has been paid to disparate treatment and outcomes at this stage.
Probation and parole staff and other system actors exercise considerable discretion in responding to technical violations. Technical violations are instances of noncompliance with the conditions of supervision — such as failing to report to the supervising officer, leaving the jurisdiction without permission, and testing positive on a drug test—that, while not criminal, can lead to severe consequences for justice-involved individuals. The spectrum of responses to technical violations can range from a warning all the way up to a recommendation to revoke supervision. Evidence suggests that technical violations are an important driver of incarceration.
The handling of technical violations may be influenced by a variety of factors, including officer judgment and jurisdictional policy, and there is evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in how they are handled. Ultimately, disparities in the processing of technical violations can exacerbate and perpetuate existing disparities in incarceration and undermine the legitimacy of the justice system. This report presents findings and recommendations from an expert panel that explored challenges and opportunities associated with reducing disparities at the technical violation decision point.