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Technical Violations While on Parole

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The probation and parole system is designed to aid in the successful reintegration of individuals back into society, and understandably plays a crucial role in the criminal justice system. However, on any given day, around 280,000 people are in prison for violating a condition of probation or parole according to research from the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSGJC). This is nearly 25% of the total prison population in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A technical violation means that a person did not comply with a condition of their supervision (and did not receive a new criminal charge), such as missing a check-in with their supervision officer, failing a drug test, changing their residence without notification, or even being five minutes late arriving home for their curfew. Unlike a new criminal offense, technical violations are considered less severe, but they frequently result in revocation of parole or probation and the individual being sent back to prison. In fact, the recidivism rate in Colorado currently stands at around 45%, of which 19% are technical violations.

Unfortunately, there are several negative impacts of technical violations:

  • Overcrowding of prisons: One of the primary consequences of technical violations is the burden they place on the prison system. The reincarceration of individuals for minor infractions contributes to prison overcrowding, putting a strain on correctional facilities (which are currently experiencing a staffing shortage here in Colorado), and increasing costs for taxpayers
  • Impact to rehabilitation efforts: Oftentimes, individuals with technical violations have ended up violating due to a lack of resources (housing, transportation, job readiness, upskilling opportunities, food access, etc.). When an individual is sent back to prison for technical violations, the rehabilitation and reintegration process is disrupted.
  • Disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Studies have shown that technical violations disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. Such disparities raise questions about fairness and equity within the parole and probation system.
  • Financial and emotional costs: Not only is the individual themselves affected by reincarceration, but the families as well. Emotional strain, lost employment opportunities, and financial burdens all contribute to the cycle of recidivism.

The parole and probation system is a crucial component of the criminal justice system, aimed at balancing public safety with rehabilitation efforts. Addressing technical violations in a more nuanced and compassionate manner can lead to improved outcomes for both returning individuals and society.

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to consider when address technical violations:

  • Graduated sanctions: Implementing a system of graduated sanctions allows parole officers to respond to technical violations proportionately, instead of defaulting to immediate reincarceration. Graduated sanctions can include things like community service, electronic monitoring, increase in reporting or drug testing frequency, or short-term confinement in specialized facilities for rehab/treatment purposes. These types of approaches can encourage positive behavior while addressing the underlying issues that led to the violation. 
  • Treatment and support services: Frequently, technical violations stem from challenges such as substance misuse or mental health issues. By focusing on providing better and more accessibility to treatment and support services, individuals have a better chance of addressing the root causes of their behavior, reducing the likelihood of future violations. The cost of treatment and/or drug testing can often be cost-prohibitive to individuals just returning home. Offering vouchers to pay for such programs/services can be a way to offset costs for individuals on supervision, and can also be an opportunity for incentives and/or parole officer engagement during graduated sanction-oriented case management.
  • Additional training for parole and probation officers: Empowering officers to engage parolees with empathy and understanding can lead to clearer communication with their clients, and a more constructive approach to resolving issues. By nature of their role in the community supervision system, parole and probation officers possess the expertise to utilize assessments and interviewing for engagement toward positive outcomes with parolees. Leaning on reassessment as supervision unfolds and issues arise is just one best practice regarding engaging individuals toward desired change. Breakthrough has demonstrated assistance to supervising officers regarding community engagement, pro-social behavior and community referrals to satisfy any outstanding stability factors that may be impacting a parolee’s ability to satisfy court ordered terms of supervision. 
  • Utilizing technology: Technology clearly plays a vital role in society as a whole; but it could also play a role in monitoring and supporting individuals on parole or probation as well. Smartphone apps or easier access to video-conferencing for check-ins can enhance supervision while also allowing easier access to communication between an individual and their parole/probation officer.

The parole and probation system is a crucial component of the criminal justice system, aimed at balancing public safety with rehabilitation efforts. Addressing technical violations in a more nuanced and compassionate manner can lead to improved outcomes for both returning  individuals and society. The alternative approaches suggested above can even lead to a more effective and just parole and probation system. The state of Pennsylvania recently passed a bill completely overhauling the parole and probation system.

Ultimately, the criminal justice system must evolve to foster positive change and reduce recidivism rate, allowing individuals a genuine opportunity for a successful reintegration into society. Breakthrough makes it a priority to partner with the CDOC and other system partners to work towards a decreased recidivism rate and increased success for individuals returning to their communities.

At Breakthrough, we work every day to show that people are more than their past, and that they can redefine their futures for the better. In fact, 94% of our participants remain free after their release, further showing how access to programs and services during their reintegration can lead to successful outcomes and a decrease in technical violations and recidivism.

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