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Rethinking and Rewriting Probation Conditions

Many individuals remain entangled in the criminal legal system under the supervision of probation and parole. When these individuals come to these agencies, they often do so without resources, with challenges related to substance use, housing, and mental health, and sometimes with few support networks. Once they enter the door of these agencies, they must navigate several supervision rules which are increasingly more difficult to follow successfully without resources, support, and with behavioral health challenges. When these individuals are unable follow the rules because of their challenges, they can return to jail– further entangling them in the system.

Centering people who remain entangled, particularly under supervision of community corrections agencies, requires meeting them where they are, and understanding their many needs and competing obligations. Importantly, it requires rethinking structures that make it challenging to succeed, building structures that allow people the space and time to change especially with few starting resources, and finding ways to elevate individuals’ assets and strengths.

JSP is working with several jurisdictions, including two districts in Iowa, to critically examine the challenges individuals face when navigating the rules of probation and parole with the goal of helping people finish probation/parole and not return to jail. This work includes reimagining community corrections by removing some rules altogether and rewriting others to allow staff to treat people as unique and complex individuals.

We have four goals related to these projects. Our first goal across these projects includes identifying how the rules of probation/parole impact revocations or returns to jail, and specifically identifying which rules drive disparate racial/ethnic revocations. With this information, our second goal is to develop and replicate the process of working with stakeholders, including representatives from probation departments, judiciaries, prosecution, defense, local and state court administration, and individuals with probation/parole experience to reduce the total number of standard conditions, especially those driving disparate outcomes, and author new rules offering grace and time to change. Lastly, replicating these processes across many jurisdictions, our last goal is to design a model of standard conditions for community corrections which meets people where they are, is culturally responsive, and gives people guidance while also giving them space and grace to change at their own pace.

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