Analyzing the Impact of Probation Conditions in Iowa


For individuals on community supervision, the sheer volume of conditions is overwhelming. Jurisdictions often impose a number of conditions that cover a broad range of non-criminal activity, and many conditions can be eliminated without risking public safety. For example, the condition that an individual have no contact with another person who has a criminal record is nearly impossible to follow, considering the multitude of situations (e.g., employment) in which an individual on supervision might interact with others who have criminal records. These conditions place heavy burdens on individuals and may have no direct link to successful behavior change on supervision. Furthermore, conditions are typically written for compliance and not behavioral change. The language used in probation conditions can create a sense of immediate failure and hopelessness which has been anecdotally linked to absconding and revocations.


JSP partnered with Arnold Ventures and two judicial districts in Iowa to conduct a study on the impact of the number and wording of probation conditions. One of the two jurisdictions will reduce the number of conditions while the other jurisdiction will reduce the number of conditions and restructure them to be change-oriented. The revisions to conditions will be developed with input from advisory groups in each site based on the research team’s analysis of each site’s current conditions and probation revocation data. The project research team will evaluate the impact of the reduced and modified conditions. The study aims to:

  1. analyze ways to reduce conditions of probation as a means of reducing revocations while protecting public safety and maintaining accountability;
  2. examine whether and how conditions contribute to racial/ethnic or socioeconomic disparities in probation revocations, and whether reducing or modifying conditions decreases disparities;
  3. determine if change-oriented wording of conditions result in fewer revocations compared to compliance based wording of conditions; and
  4. develop a model of standard conditions of probation for other Iowa Judicial Districts based on the analysis of outcomes.



Our analysis will help the project sites understand how reducing and revising conditions of probation might result in fewer revocations, and fewer disparities in probation revocations. The project will provide useful insight on how the language of probation conditions impacts the success of individuals on supervision, building the case for change-oriented language that humanizes those on supervision and acknowledges that growth is a process. With the findings from our analysis, we will create a replicable model for probation conditions that support individual behavior change, as well as a process for system actors to follow to create supportive, humanizing probation conditions in other jurisdictions throughout Iowa and beyond.


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