What will happen to probation and parole in 2015?

Here are some predictions on what's to come in probation and parole in the coming year


Another year ends! The holiday season is the time to look forward and apply past experience to future planning. Realistic planning can be done in 5-year time spans and requires some predictions made with uncertain information. So let’s predict.

Probation and parole is a government funded program and subject to the politics of the times. The conservatives look to be in control in a majority of the jurisdiction so for my first prediction, I expect to see very little increase in funding over the next five years.

Parole is on the way out: Funding of the parole board is an expense that cannot be justified. As parolees increase their presence in the news-worthy crime stories, the public perception is that parole is a failure. The federal government’s elimination of parole provides a roadmap for states to lay the groundwork to transfer parole to the courts. No increase funding will be due the probation departments because they already handle the parolees. This is a win/win for the politicians who can publicly announce the cost savings and invest the funds in some other pet program.

Caseloads need to go down: Faced with increasing caseloads and no increase in funding or manpower, agencies will look for ways to decrease the workload. A trend is spreading across the country: Marijuana use and possession is considered to not be criminal behavior. The Affordable Care Act mandates medical coverage for everyone. Practitioners will declare drug use a medical issue covered under ACA and not an appropriate use of criminal justice funds. Probation agencies will stop enforcing probation rules against the use and possession of controlled drugs. Active supervision of clients convicted of possession and/or use of controlled drugs will cease. Any clients placed on supervision by courts will be assigned administrative status and referred to treatment centers.

Less money for treatment programs: The past decades have created a cadre of probation field officers that are cynical of all the government-funded programs based on a theory that intervention plan A will reduce recidivism. Many suspect that the programs are merely mechanisms for so called “treatment specialists” to create paychecks for themselves. The overcrowded prisons and high number of probation and parole violations all add to this feeling of no confidence in the what works programs. With the political change across the country, there is a good chance that this cynicism will become more vocal and the grants will start to dry up or disappear altogether. The field is still waiting on a solid benchmark definition of recidivism. The private sector will find this situation encouraging and produce more for profit private corrections programs.

Technology for the field: For agents in the field, a tablet computer will replace the pen and notepad. The tablets will be tough, military-tested machines with all the software needed to communicate with other officers, headquarters, law enforcement and the courts by voice, email, file transfer, photos, and videos. The need to be a skilled typist will be replaced by voice activated word processing and digital signatures. This will eliminate the need for an office and secretarial staff, and may also reduce the number of non-field based supervisory personnel. A headquarters unit will be in constant contact with all agents. Two agent field units assigned per mobile unit automatically provides redundancy to overcome failures of equipment.

Built in artificial intelligence software may also be added to the agent’s toolbox. This may provide advice or warnings based on criminogenic factors of a particular client.

Another piece of technology that the field should expect will be so called ‘smart guns,’ with and without communication capabilities. Manufacturers will be looking for a way to introduce these weapons into the law enforcement community. Using probation officers to break ground makes sense with lower risk of the use of deadly force and less chance of negative headlines. Once accepted as standard issue for the probation force, the weapons will be introduced to other segments of law enforcement.

Body cameras are also on the horizon. One big reason for the cameras and the smart guns are the rising costs of liability insurance. Static and dashboard cameras have already proved their worth, so body cameras are the next logical step.

Some lucky agencies will see the introduction of electric/hybrid vehicles, probably as some kind of test platform for manufacturers so the cost of the fleet will be lowered.

Electronic monitors will continue to disappoint: Electronic monitors are now and will continue to be found wanting. The monitors will never be able to prevent crime which is a big disappointment to all stake holders. They will to be able to gather evidence of criminal behavior; however, use of such evidence in criminal proceedings will remain problematic for courts and prosecutors for some time to come.

Field work is dangerous: Field work is becoming more dangerous every year. Expect injuries and death to strike more often as field work deals with increasing risky behavior, dangerous chemicals, terrorism, weapons, and explosives. Officer survival training will continue to be a matter for individuals to pursue. Agencies will not receive training funding that will come close to filling the need.

Plenty to think about and I have not mentioned legislation and sentencing reform. Let’s hear what you see happening over the next five years!

Have a safe and happy holiday season. You are good at what you do and it is appreciated! 

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