Justice and Due Process

Probationers Are Struggling More Than They Used To

The Justice Reinvestment Act (JRI) was passed in 2015 with the goal of reducing the number of people incarcerated in Utah. This included a push to supervise more people in the community through probation and parole.

In one way, JRI has been successful: the prison population has dropped in real terms, and the number of people sentenced directly to prison has dropped. However, increasing the number of people supervised in the community has presented its own challenges as illustrated in a recent report on JRI. 

One challenge has been the number of probationers who are assessed as “high risk” or “intensive risk.” In 2015, only 44 percent of probationers were in this category; in 2022 it was 67 percent. Even though probation agents and parole officers may have the same number of cases to supervise, their weighted caseload has increased significantly. This makes it difficult to provide the level of supervision necessary to keep the public safe and help offenders succeed. 

Probationers are also struggling more than they used to. When a probationer violates his probation, he is brought before the court in an “order to show cause” hearing (OSC). A judge reviews the violation and may impose a jail sentence or even revoke probation entirely, ordering the person to serve out the remainder of his sentence in jail or prison. In 2015, there were 6,571 OSCs; in 2022, there were 10,306. As one might expect, more OSCs means more jail sentences: in 2015, 4,061 jail sentences resulted from OSCs. That increased to 5,877 in 2022. 

This has resulted in a revolving door problem. Even if offenders are initially supervised in the community, many end up serving several stints in jail or serving out their sentence in prison. Nearly two-thirds of 2022 prison admissions were people who had their parole revoked. 

The goal of limiting the number of people incarcerated has merit: incarceration is a drain on society and should be a last resort. However, the number of people who are not successful with community supervision indicates that work remains to be done.