—This blog was co-authored with Lee Ann Slocum, a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Jurisdictions across the country can learn from efforts to study probation violations in-depth. A new report on probation violations as a driver of jail time in St. Louis County, Missouri shows that expediated probation programs have much to offer and can work to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system.
Probation matters. More people are under probation supervision in America than any other correctional sanction. One in 84 adult U.S. residents is on probation right now, which increases the risk for later imprisonment. As an initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) is seeking to reduce jail populations. So, looking at probation violations is an important step toward doing that. Most of the current research on jail reform has considered the pretrial population, but we know less about individuals returned to jail for a probation technical violation, which includes failure to meet the conditions of probation supervision (e.g., maintaining employment, regular office visits, and routine drug tests).
We looked at the probation revocation process in St. Louis County, an SJC site. Before joining the SJC, the county’s jail population had been either near or over capacity for over a decade. But it has reduced average jail populations by 30% since 2016 through a series of measures.
We looked at how long people who violated probation in St. Louis County were detained in jail, and race differences in jail admission and length of stay trends. We also used a racial equity framework for the study to see if jail reform efforts harmed or helped people of color. As part of this work, we evaluated the county’s Expedited Probation Program (EPP). This program was implemented as part of the SJC reform efforts and is designed to speed up case processing and provide services for people detained on a probation violation.
We found that individuals who are booked into jail for probation violations represent a small part of the total jail population in St. Louis County, but they have substantially longer lengths of stay than other groups. The length of stay for people on probation declined by 33% from 2016 to 2019, from 44 to 30 days. In comparison, the average length of stay for the total jail population remained stable at 23 days in 2016 and 2019.