Probation Officers Overlooked in Sentencing Reform Considerations?

According to Gary Fields of The Wall Street Journal, due to changes in federal sentencing guidelines around 14,100 people have been released early from prison and given probation since 2010. As a result of this sentencing reform, the federal probation case load has increased by seven percent.

Fields notes, however, that this rise in cases did not lead to a similar increase in funding to the U.S. Office of Probation.

The growing population of probationers has led to a shortage of probation officers, spurring concerns that the shortage will reduce current probation officers’ effectiveness. For example, in western Oklahoma there are 26 probation officers supervising around 900 individuals.

All are not concerned about how a potential reduction in probation officers’ effectiveness will affect public safety. Fields quotes Jack Levin, the co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, who says this “does not mean that we’re going to see a precipitous crime wave in this country.”

Furthermore, Fields notes that probation officers are trying to maintain and increase their efficiency and effectiveness by using sophisticated tools to monitor their probationers, like receiving mobile alerts when someone fails breathalyzer tests.

As the public monitors government spending on criminal justice, probation is one area in sentencing reform that could be deserving of some of the money saved from reducing prison sentences if the population of probationers continues to grow.

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