When we think of prison, we often think of bars and walls: after all, nearly half of American families have had a loved one confined to a cell. But beyond the roughly 2 million people in American prisons and 9 million cycling annually through U.S. jails,, another 4.5 million people have their liberty restrained outside prison walls. Parole, probation, and other forms of conditional release are often presented as a more lenient alternative to incarceration, but the harsh reality is that these systems are actually substantial drivers of incarceration.
Nationwide, violations of probation or parole (VOPs) make up 45% of state prison admissions, and in 20 states, they make up over half of prison admissions. In addition to entangling people in the criminal legal system unnecessarily, being on community supervision damages social ties and creates and exacerbates poverty, housing insecurity, and poor health. Community supervision requirements set people up to fail, with overwhelming rules that are difficult to follow, long sentences, hyper-surveillance, and incredibly harsh penalties—often including incarceration—for breaking even minor rules.
As Americans grapple with the need to transform our approach to community harm, we must confront the fact that we cannot empty our prisons and jails without addressing the influx of people pushed through community supervision into incarceration.
Click below to read our full overview and check out the numbers.