In a recent report unveiled by the Prison Policy Initiative it was revealed that Indiana stands fifth in the nation for its heavy reliance on probation, contributing significantly to the state’s overall use of mass punishment where it ranks eighth.
The United States, with an incarceration population of nearly 1.9 million, is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of imprisoned individuals. Nonetheless, the count of Americans subjected to probation or parole outnumbers this figure, standing at approximately 3.7 million. This freshly released ‘Punishment Beyond Prisons’ report sheds light on the probation and parole statistics at the state level, specifically highlighting Indiana‘s prominent role in this sector.
Within the Hoosier State, nearly 49,000 individuals are incarcerated, slightly more than half of whom are confined to state prisons. An additional 39% find themselves in local jails, while the remainder primarily inhabit federal institutions. However, these figures are overshadowed by the number of Indiana citizens on probation, which is estimated at 96,000. A further 5,500 are on parole, a mode of supervised release followed by a prison sentence.
Probation is often used as an alternative to incarceration, allowing eligible individuals to remain within their communities, provided they meet specific criteria. These requirements may encompass regular meetings with a probation officer, donning an electronic monitor, payment of fines or fees, or participation in specialized programs. Parole, on the other hand, is a form of supervised release after serving prison time.
Despite the intended positive implications of probation and parole, the report indicates that these forms of community supervision frequently set individuals up for failure due to the high stakes involved. Violation of community supervision often leads to incarceration, blurring the line between these two systems which are traditionally viewed as distinct.
In a national comparison, Indiana holds the eighth rank for mass punishment, which incorporates incarceration, parole, and probation. When it comes to probation alone, Indiana is the fifth in the nation, though it doesn’t feature in the top ten for incarceration rates.
The study emphasizes that the systems of incarceration and community supervision are deeply intertwined, with compliance to numerous high-stake rules often being so unmanageable that experts refer to community supervision systems as a ‘deprivation of liberty in their own right’. The report also revealed that nearly 44% of individuals exiting parole or probation at a national level in 2021 did so upon completion of their supervision terms. In Indiana, this figure stands higher at 58%.
The report advocates for alternative punitive methods such as community service or drug treatment programs for minor offenses, as opposed to imprisonment. It further criticizes the widespread reliance on fines and fees, suggesting that individuals under community supervision often require social services rather than monetary penalties.
The authors of the report underscored the potential for parole and probation to prevent, rather than merely delay, incarceration. They proposed that state lawmakers must commit to transforming the current system, so those released to supervision find themselves in the care of state and community-based social service agencies, rather than in their effective custody.
The report also highlights the considerable reduction of New York City’s probation population by 60% from 1996 to 2014, a period during which violent crime rates fell by 57%.
Despite the fact that the overall population under community supervision has shrunk by 19% over the past 15 years, the report notes that this reduction is primarily driven by California and Pennsylvania, while other states like Arkansas and Kentucky continue to grow.
In comparison to the organization’s previous probation and parole report from 2018, there has been a notable shift in Indiana’s incarceration and supervision statistics. An additional 2,000 Hoosiers find themselves incarcerated, while there is a significant decrease in the number of Hoosiers under probation and parole, with the figures declining by 9,000 and 2,500 respectively.
In the onset year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the utilization of probation saw a 7% dip. Researchers speculate that this decline could be attributed to a successful completion of parole terms by individuals, leading to an exit from supervision. Alternatively, it could be a result of states revoking parole, coupled with a decreased willingness of parole boards to grant parole to prisoners.
The report emphasizes that fluctuations in probation and parole populations do not inherently carry negative implications. An increase might imply that states are effectively transitioning people out of prison environments, whereas a decrease could signify a successful lowering of barriers towards the completion of a supervision term.
There is a range of improvements that states could consider implementing, such as setting a maximum limit on the duration of probation or parole terms and opting for more non-prison responses to violations. However, it is crucial to consider that an increase in these populations could also denote that more individuals are being placed under supervision who may not have been previously, or that people are being subjected to extended supervision terms.
Despite the suggested improvements, Indiana has shown a certain resistance towards prison reform. This was made evident when a bill aimed at expanding “compassionate release” for elderly and infirm prisoners was dismissed following objections from a key senator. This reluctance towards reform was further exemplified in a 2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative, which awarded Indiana’s parole system an F-, primarily due to the state’s absence of discretionary parole.
Various other attempts to reform probation or parole, and even sentencing, have unfortunately met a similar fate, dying without the opportunity for a committee hearing. Only two bills related to parole or probation managed to pass into law: one underscored that time served behind bars would not contribute towards parole for violent offenders, while the other permitted a study of electronic monitoring and home detention.