Doing Less Time: Some States Cut Back On Probation

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STATELINE on April 26, 2017 by Teresa Wiltz

Georgia is among several states that are looking to reduce the time that offenders spend on probation to help them successfully re-enter society. 

In Georgia, one in 16 adults is on probation. That’s almost four times the national average. And offenders there spend more than twice as long on probation as in the rest of the country, sometimes as long as 20 years or life. Meanwhile, probation officers juggle as many as 400 cases at a time.

The state is looking to change all that.

At the behest of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who has focused his efforts on revising the state’s criminal justice system, Georgia lawmakers passed a probation reform bill in March. The bill would, among other things, shorten probation sentences and reduce the caseloads of probation officers who are spread thin. If Deal signs the bill as expected, the new law will go into effect July 1.

Georgia joins several other states that are looking for ways to reduce the time that offenders spend on probation or parole, as they’ve sought to reduce sentences for lesser crimes, and reduce jail and prison overcrowding. The idea is to ease burdens on probation officers, devote resources to monitoring more dangerous offenders, help offenders re-enter society, and reduce recidivism rates.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, last month signed into law a package of bills that will, among other things, minimize punishments for “technical violations” of probation and allow judges to shorten probation time for good behavior.

Meanwhile, South Dakota, which has worked to update its probation system since 2014, last month enacted a law that allows people convicted of lesser crimes to be discharged from probation after a year for good behavior.

Minnesota lawmakers proposed bills last month that would reduce probation time for certain offenses such as misdemeanors and give courts the power to end probation terms early. Oklahoma and Louisiana have bills pending that would cut the time offenders spend on probation or parole. Since 2012, Alabama and Hawaii have shortened probation terms.