Probation and Parole

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Chapter 8
Probation and Parole

Most of the correctional population of the United Statesthose under the supervision of correctional authoritiesare walking about freely. They are people on probation or parole. According to Lauren E. Glaze and Thomas P. Bonczar of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005 (November 2006,, 4.2 million people were on probation, 784,000 were on parole, and 2.2 million were in jail or prison in 2005. For every person behind bars, more than two people convicted of crimes were on the street. Probationers and parolees, however, were still under official supervision, and most had to satisfy requirements placed on them as a condition of freedom or of early release from correctional facilities.

A probationer is someone who has been convicted of a crime and sentencedbut the person's sentence has been suspended on condition that he or she behaves in the manner ordered by the court. Probation sometimes follows a brief period of incarceration; more often it is granted by the court immediately.

A parolee is an individual who has served a part of his or her sentence in jail and prison but, because of good behavior or legislative mandate, has been granted freedom before the sentence is fully served. The sentence remains in effect, however, and the parolee continues to be under the jurisdiction of a parole board. If the person fails to live up to the conditions of the release, the parolee may be confined again.

Glaze and Bonczar indicate that since 1995 the number of people on probation has grown by 35.2%, with an average annual increase of 2.5%. The increase from 2004 to 2005 was 0.5%, less than half the average growth rate. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of people on parole increased from 679,000 to 784,000; this is an increase of 15.4%, with an annual average increase of 1.4%.


Characteristics of Probationers

Glaze and Bonczar report that those released by the courts for probation are deemed to be the least dangerous among those arrested and the most likely to stay clear of the justice system in the future, even though only 59% of those on probation appeared to succeed in 2005. (See Table 8.1.) Whereas all people in prison serve sentences for felonies, only 50% of probationers were felons in 2005; 49% had been sentenced for misdemeanors and the remainder for other infractions. In 1995, 54% had felony sentences and 44% had misdemeanors.

According to Glaze and Bonczar, 76% of those entering probation in 2005 did so without any incarceration; 59% of those leaving probation had completed their probation successfullya far higher percentage than those leaving parole (45%). Among those leaving probation in 2005, whether or not they completed probation successfully, 16% returned to incarceration or were incarcerated for the first time. In contrast, 38% of those leaving parole were put behind bars again for failure to live up to the rules or committing a new offense. The single largest category of serious offense committed by probationers was a drug violation (28%), followed by driving while intoxicated (15%).

In comparing Glaze and Bonczar's data to that in Prisoners in 2005 (November 2006, by Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck of the BJS, a larger proportion of probationers were female (23% versus 7% of state and federal prisoners) and white (55% versus 34.6% of those in prison) in 2005. A smaller proportion of probationers were African-American (30% of probationers versus 39.5% of prisoners) and Hispanic (13% of probationers versus 20.2% of prisoners).

Geographical Distribution

Glaze and Bonczar note that, nationally, 1,858 per 100,000 adults were under probation in 2005, but rates varied considerably from state to state and from region to region. In broad terms populations of probationers paralleled the general population with some differences. The South and Midwest had proportionally more probationers. In the South 2,067 per 100,000 adults were on probation, and in the Midwest the rate was 1,950 per 100,000. (See Table 8.2.) The West (1,546 per 100,000) and Northeast (1,658 per 100,000) had proportionately fewer probationers.

Characteristics of adults on probation, 1995, 2000, and 2005
Male 79% 78% 77%
Female 21 22 23
Race/Hispanic origin
Whitea 53% 54% 55%
Blacka 31 31 30
American Indian/Alaska Nativea  1  1  1
Asian/Native Hawaiian/other
Pacific Islandera   1  1
Status of probation
Direct imposition 48% 56% 57%
Split sentence 15 11 10
Sentence suspended 26 25 22
Imposition suspended  6  7  9
Other  4  1  2
Status of supervision
Active 79% 76% 70%
Inactive  8  9  9
Absconder  9  9 10
Supervised out of state  2  3  2
Residential/other treatment programN/AN/A  1
Warrant statusN/AN/A  6
Other  2  3  2
Type of offense
Felony 54% 52% 50%
Misdemeanor 44 46 49
Other infractions  2  2  1
Most serious offenseb
Sexual assaultN/AN/A  3%
Domestic violenceN/AN/A  6
Other assaultN/AN/A 10
BurglaryN/AN/A  5
Larceny/theftN/AN/A 12
FraudN/AN/A  6
Drug law violationsN/A 24 28
Driving while intoxicated 16 18 15
Minor traffic offensesN/A  6  5
Adults entering probation
Without incarceration 72% 79% 76%
With incarceration 13 16 18
Other types 15  5  6

Table 8.2 shows these data for all fifty states and the District of Columbia in 2005. Texas had the highest number of probationers of any state at the end of 2005 (430,312), followed by Georgia (422,848), California (388,260), Florida (277,831), and Ohio (239,036). Mississippi (17.1%), West Virginia (9.6%), Wyoming (9.2%), and Kentucky (8%) had the greatest increases in probationers in 2005. Rhode Island (3,091 per 100,000 population), Minnesota (2,988), Delaware (2,828), and Texas (2,580) had the highest rates of probationers to population. The states with the fewest probationers per 100,000 adult U.S. residents were New Hampshire (457), West Virginia (533), Utah (578), and Nevada (709).

Characteristics of adults on probation, 1995, 2000, and 2005 [continued]
Note: For every characteristic there were persons of unknown type. Detail may not sum to total because of rounding.
Less than 0.5%.
N/A Not available.
aExcludes persons of Hispanic origin.
bDoes not include all offenses; therefore, will not add to 100%.
cIn 1995 absconder and other unsuccessful statuses were reported among other.
Source: Lauren E. Glaze and Thomas P. Bonczar, "Table 3. Characteristics of Adults on Probation, 2005," in Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, (accessed January 24, 2007)
Adults leaving probation
Successful completions 62%60%59%
Incarceration 211516
    With new sentence  5 3 4
    With the same sentence 13 8 7
Unknown  3 4 5
AbscondercN/A 3 3
Discharge to custody, detainer, or warrantN/A 1 1
Other unsuccessfulcN/A1113
Death  1 1 1
Other 16 9 7

Federal Probation Violations

The BJS reports in the Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004 (December 2006, that probation can be a successful sentencing approach. In fiscal year (FY) 2004, 82.3% of federal probationers successfully completed the terms of their probation. (See Table 8.3.) Of the 15.9% who did violate probation, most had either committed a new crime (5.4% of all probationers) or used drugs (3.1%). Those convicted of violent, weapon, and immigration offenses were more likely to end probation by committing new crimes (8.8%, 8.5%, and 7.7%, respectively) than probationers convicted of property (4.6%) or drug (3.9%) offenses.

Probation Officers

Community corrections has a cost to the communityalthough it is lower than the cost of housing and feeding prisoners and providing them with health care. A major part of that cost is the employment of skilled probation officers to supervise probationers.

According to Ann L. Pastore and Kathleen Maguire of the Utilization of Criminal Justice Statistics Project, in the Source-book of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 (2005,, in 1975 the U.S. government employed 1,377 probation officers to supervise 64,261 federal probationers, a ratio of 1 officer per 47 probationers. (See Table 8.4.) By 2005, 4,585 officers supervised 112,931 probationers, yielding a ratio of almost 25 per officer. The federal government has been expending resources to lower the ratio of probationers to officers. Between 2000 and 2005 the number of probationers increased by 12%, whereas the number of officers increased by 15%.

Adults on probation, by region and jurisdiction, 2005
Region and jurisdictionProbation population, 1/1/20052005Probation population, 12/31/05Percent change, 2005Number on probation per 100,000 adult residents, 12/31/05
    U.S. total4,143,4662,228,3002,209,7004,162,536 0.5%1,858
State4,114,8642,216,2002,195,3004,135,817 0.51,846
Connecticuta54,06728,25026,24556,072 3.72,092
Massachusettsa163,71984,34382,697165,365 1.03,350
New Hampshire4,2853,4403,1104,615   *457
New Jersey143,31545,13649,360139,0912.92,117
New York124,85334,64440,472119,0254.7810
Pennsylvaniaa, b167,36667,30067,100167,561 0.11,741
Rhode Islanda26,0855,4105,88225,6131.83,091
Midwest958,730609,500594,300973,807 1.6%1,950
Iowa22,40815,82914,83323,404 4.41,018
Kansas14,43919,75519,18415,010 4.0723
Michigana, b176,630130,200128,300178,609 1.12,350
Minnesota113,12170,75266,800117,073 3.52,988
Nebraska17,99415,33014,85618,468 2.61,387
North Dakota3,7492,8082,5973,960 5.6791
Ohioa, b230,758141,300133,000239,036 3.62,745
South Dakota5,3723,1963,2605,3081.2899
Wisconsin53,86525,50524,19555,175 2.41,298
South1,667,198908,800894,6001,681,455 0.9%2,067
Alabamaa36,79914,03911,84338,995 6.01,121
Arkansas28,7718,4356,95830,248 5.11,431
District of Columbiaa7,5857,2167,4147,3872.61,696
Floridaa, b278,606240,000240,800277,8310.32,002
Georgiaa, b, c423,547215,500216,200422,848   **
Kentucky32,61920,80018,30035,230 8.01,100
Louisiana38,23113,77213,69538,308 0.21,133
North Carolina111,53762,15762,068111,626 0.11,693
Oklahomaa, b28,40414,60014,10028,865 1.61,065
South Carolina38,94114,76814,36039,349 1.01,212
Tennessea, b47,09924,80022,60049,302 4.71,072
Texas428,836181,333179,857430,312 0.32,580
Virginiaa43,47027,07824,95945,589 4.9788
West Virginiab6,9773,2002,5007,646 9.6533
Alaska5,5471,0228785,680 2.41,182
Arizonaa, b70,53239,70039,10071,138 0.91,606
Californiaa384,852195,343191,935388,260 0.91,462
Coloradoa, b57,77929,90031,00056,6232.01,613
Hawaiid16,1136,2365,52416,825 4.41,693
Idahoa, e44,57935,71736,58443,712**


The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 created an alternative to parole and probation for federal offenderssupervised releasewhich occurs after an offender's term of imprisonment is completed. Following his or her release, an offender is sentenced to a period of supervision in the community. The act calls for supervised release to follow any term of imprisonment that exceeds one year or if required by a specific statute. The court may also order supervised release to follow imprisonment in any other case. Offenders on supervised release are supervised by probation officers. The BJS notes in the Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004 that in FY 2004, 77,332 (or 70%) of federal offenders under community supervision were serving a term of supervised release. Most offenders sentenced to supervised release (41,681, or 54%) were convicted for drug offenses. Only 4,805 (or 6%) had been convicted of violent offenses.

Adults on probation, by region and jurisdiction, 2005 [continued]
Region and jurisdictionProbation population, 1/1/20052005Probation population, 12/31/05Percent change, 2005Number on probation per 100,000 adult residents, 12/31/05
Note: Because of nonresponse or incomplete data, the probation population for some jurisdictions on December 31, 2005, does not equal the population on January 1, plus entries, minus exits.
*Not calculated.
aSome oral data are estimated.
bData for entries and exits were estimated for nonreporting agencies.
cCounts include private agency cases and may overstate the number under supervision.
dDue to a change in the state agency's record keeping procedures, data are not comparable to previous reports.
eCounts include estimates for misdemeanors based on admissions.
Source: Lauren E. Glaze and Thomas P. Bonczar, "Table 2. Adults on Probation, 2005," in Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, (accessed January 24, 2007)
Montanaa, b7,6344,5003,9008,2337.81,121
New Mexicoa, b17,7258,5007,50018,7065.51,287
Washingtona, b, d111,19366,90073,800104,2936.22,155

Table 8.5 shows that in FY 2004, 32,930 offenders terminated their supervised release. Most (62.1%) had not violated the terms of their release and successfully completed their sentence. Some 13.7% had violated their supervised release by committing a new crime and 7.2% had used drugs.

In the Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004, the BJS reports that in FY 2004 men were more likely to violate the terms of their supervised release than women; only 60% of men successfully completed their supervised release, compared with 74% of women. Of those sentenced to supervised release, the youngest (nineteen- and twenty-year-olds) and the least educated (less than high school) were the most likely to violate the terms of their sentence.


Trends in Parole

Discretionary parole is administered by parole boards. Their members examine prisoners' criminal histories and prison records and decide whether to release prisoners from incarceration. Since the mid-1990s several states have abolished discretionary parole in favor of mandatory parole. Mandatory parole is legislatively imposed at the state level and, with some exceptions, takes away parole boards' discretion. Mandatory parole provisions ensure that sentences for the same crime require incarceration for the same length of time. The prisoner can shorten his or her sentence only by good behaviorbut time off for good behavior is also prohibited in some states. In some jurisdictions parole can only begin after prisoners have served 100% of their minimum sentences. Jeremy Travis and Sarah Lawrence of the Urban Institute report in Beyond the Prison Gates: The State of Parole in America (November 2002, that the share of discretionary prison releases decreased from 65% in 1976 to 24% by 1999.

Travis and Lawrence indicate that even though states rely more and more on mandatory release dates to decide when to release prisoners, states have different prison release methods. Some states have cut back on parole supervision, releasing more prisoners directly to the community. Other states have aggressively enforced the conditions of parole, leading to the identification of more parole violations. In these states more parolees are being sent back to prison. States handle different types of offenses differently. Some allow victims or prosecutors to participate in release decisions; others do not. Many states still rely heavily on parole boards to make release decisions, whereas others no longer use parole boards and have mandatory release policies for all their prisoners.

According to Travis and Lawrence, most parole agencies now use drug testing to determine whether a parolee has kept his or her promise to remain drug free. In a number of states parole officers are being permitted to carry weapons. Furthermore, parolees in several jurisdictions are required to wear electronic bracelets so that officials can monitor their movement.

Glaze and Bonczar note that in 1995, 50% of adults who entered parole did so under discretionary parole; by 2005 discretionary paroles made up only 31% of the total. In 1995 mandatory parole accounted for 45% of all paroles; by 2005, 51% of those paroled were under a mandatory parole.

Outcomes of probation supervision, by offense, October 1, 2003September 30, 2004
Most serious offense of convictionNumber of probation terminationsPercent of probation supervisions terminating with
No violationTechnical violationsaNew crimebAdministrative case closures
Drug useFugitive statusOther
    All offenses15,721 82.3% 3.1%2.2% 5.2% 5.4% 1.8%
Felonies8,251 84.9% 2.8%1.7% 4.4% 4.5% 1.7%
Violent offenses171 69.6% 1.8%5.8%11.7% 8.8% 2.3%
    Assault48 64.6 4.28.316.7 6.3 0.0
    Robbery63 79.4 0.01.6 3.211.1 4.8
    Sexual abusec41 53.7 2.47.324.4 9.8 2.4
    Threats against the President5       
Property offenses4,461 84.9% 2.6%1.8% 4.2% 4.6% 1.8%
    Fraudulent3,634 86.3% 2.1%1.8 % 3.7% 4.4% 1.6%
        Embezzlement346 93.4 0.90.9 2.9 1.7 0.3
        Fraudc2,759 87.6 1.81.3 3.2 4.2 1.8
        Forgery76 73.7 5.35.3 5.3 9.2 1.3
        Counterfeiting453 74.6 4.65.3 7.3 6.6 1.5
    Other827 79.1% 4.8%1.8% 6.2% 5.3% 2.8%
        Burglary23 56.513.00.021.7 8.7 0.0
        Larcenyc676 77.8 5.31.9 6.2 5.9 2.8
        Motor vehicle theft41 87.8 2.42.4 7.3 0.0 0.0
        Arson and explosives24 87.5 0.00.0 0.0 0.012.5
        Transportation of stolen property49 95.9 0.00.0 2.0 0.0 2.0
        Other property offensesc14 78.6 0.07.1 0.014.3 0.0
Drug offenses1,418 85.0% 3.9%1.5% 4.7% 3.9% 0.9%
    Trafficking1,284 85.3 3.41.6 4.8 4.1 0.8
    Possession and other drug offenses134 82.8 9.00.0 3.7 2.2 2.2
Public-order offenses1,431 89.9% 1.5%1.0% 3.4% 2.4% 1.9%
    Regulatory604 88.7% 2.6%1.7% 3.8% 2.0% 1.2%
        Antitrust11100.0 0.00.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
        Food and drug32 87.5 3.10.0 3.1 3.1 3.1
        Transportation26 88.5 3.83.8 0.0 3.8 0.0
        Civil rights8       
        Communications37 97.3 0.00.0 2.7 0.0 0.0
        Custom laws27 81.5 0.03.714.8 0.0 0.0
        Postal laws46 82.6 4.32.2 4.3 2.2 4.3
        Other regulatory offenses416 88.7 2.91.7 3.6 2.2 1.0
    Other827 90.8% 0.6%0.5% 3.0% 2.7% 2.4%
        Tax law violationsc270 94.1 0.00.0 1.1 2.2 2.6
        Bribery79 97.5 0.00.0 1.3 0.0 1.3
        Perjury, contempt, and intimidation60 86.7 1.71.7 5.0 1.7 3.3
        National defense3       
        Escape27 92.6 0.00.0 3.7 0.0 3.7
        Racketeering and extortion158 93.0 0.60.0 2.5 0.6 3.2
        Gambling35 97.1 0.00.0 0.0 2.9 0.0
        Nonviolent sex offenses60 81.7 1.70.0 1.710.0 5.0
        Obscene materialc10       
        Wildlife21 85.7 0.04.8 0.0 9.5 0.0
        Environmental12 91.7 0.00.0 0.0 0.0 8.3
        All other offenses92 78.3 4.3 0.0
Weapon offenses390 76.2% 5.4%1.0% 6.7% 8.5% 2.3%
Immigration offenses323 84.8% 2.2%2.2% 1.9% 7.7% 1.2%

Characteristics of Parolees

According to Glaze and Bonczar, there were 784,408 federal and state parolees in the United States in 2005. (See Table 8.6.) Most (693,197) were paroled under state jurisdiction, whereas 91,211 had been paroled under federal jurisdiction. The number of state parolees grew by 1.6% from 2004 to 2005, which was higher than the average annual increase of 1.4% since 1995. The number of parolees has increased by 104,987, or 15.4%, since 1995.

In 2005, 12% of parolees were women; this percentage had not changed since 2000, but it had increased from 1995, when 10% of parolees were women. (See Table 8.7.) In 1995, 34% of parolees were white, 45% were African-American, and 21% were Hispanic. Ten years later the proportion of whites had grown substantially, and a higher proportion of parolees were white (41%) in 2005 than black (40%) or Hispanic (18%). Only 1% of parolees were Native American or Alaskan Native, and another 1% were Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian. In general, the gender and racial/ethnic distribution of parolees more closely matched that of the prison population than that of people on probation.

Table 8.7 also shows that 83% of parolees were under the active supervision of parole officers in 2005. Of parolees leaving parole, only 45% had successfully completed the terms of their parole. As a group, parolees are more serious offenders than probationers, given that 94% have been sentenced to one year or more of prison for felonies.

Outcomes of probation supervision, by offense, October 1, 2003September 30, 2004 [continued]
Most serious offense of convictionNumber of probation terminationsPercent of probation supervisions terminating with
No violationTechnical violationsaNew crimebAdministrative case closures
Drug useFugitive statusOther
Note: Offenses for 57 felony offenders could not be classified.
Too few cases to obtain statistically reliable data.
aSupervision terminated with incarceration or removal to inactive status for violation of supervision conditions other than charges for new offenses.
bSupervision terminated with incarceration or removal to inactive status after arrest for a "major" or "minor" offense.
cIn this table "murder" includes nonnegligent manslaughter; "sexual abuse" includes only violent sex offenses; "fraud" excludes tax fraud; "larceny" excludes transportation of stolen property; "other property offenses" excludes fraudulent property offenses and includes destruction of property and trespassing; "tax law violations" includes tax fraud; "obscene material" denotes the mail or transport thereof; "misdemeanors" includes misdemeanors, petty offenses, and unknown offense levels; and "drug possession" also includes other drug misdemeanors.
Source: "Table 7.3. Outcomes of Probation Supervision, by Offense, October 1, 2003September 30, 2004," in Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed January 24, 2007)
Misdemeanorsc7,47079.4%3.4%2.8%6.0% 6.4%1.9%
Fraudulent property offense53790. 2.81.1
Larceny71779. 6.80.8
Drug possessionc1,44675. 6.31.8
Immigration misdemeanors94973.
Traffic offenses2,03981. 5.02.9
Other misdemeanors1,78280. 5.12.5
Persons under the supervision of the federal probation system and number of authorized probation officers, 19752005
Number of persons under supervisionNumber of probation officers
Source: Ann L. Pastore and Kathleen Maguire, editors, "Table 6.7.2005. Persons under Supervision of the Federal Probation System and Authorized Probation Officers," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003, 31st ed., U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005, (accessed February 16, 2007)
199489,103   NA
199585,822   NA

Parole Geography

Glaze and Bonczar report that at the end of 2005 California had the largest number of parolees (111,743), and Maine had the smallest number (32). (See Table 8.6.) The District of Columbia had the highest number (1,214) of parolees per 100,000 adult residents, followed by Pennsylvania (787), Arkansas (782), and Oregon (766). The U.S. average was 350 per 100,000 population; this figure includes people on parole under federal jurisdiction. Besides California, Texas (101,916) and Pennsylvania (75,732) had the largest numbers of parolees. The number of parolees increased significantly in several states, including Arkansas (22.7%), North Dakota (16.7%), West Virginia (16.4%), and New Mexico (16.1%). The parole populations decreased in several states, including Nebraska (16.7%), Hawaii (7.7%), and Massachusetts (7.1%). Overall, the West had the greatest increase in parolees (3.2%) in 2005, whereas the Northeast had a decline of 1.4%.

Parole Violation and Rearrest Trends

The overall success rate for parolees has remained fairly stable for several years. As shown in Table 8.7, 45% of individuals on parole completed their sentences successfully in both 1995 and 2005.

In the Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004, the BJS notes that the success rate for federal parolees was higher than the national average. In FY 2004, 49.3% of federal parolees completed their sentences successfully. The success rate for those who had committed violent offenses was 36.6%, whereas for those who had committed property offenses it was 55.1%. More than half (60.4%) of drug offenders successfully completed their parole sentences.

Outcomes of supervised release, by offense, October 1, 2003September 30, 2004
Most serious offense of convictionNumber of supervised release terminationsPercent of supervised releases terminating with
No violationTechnical violationsaNew crimebAdministrative case closures
Drug useFugitive statusOther
    All offenses32,930 62.1% 7.2% 5.5% 9.5%13.7% 1.9%
Felonies32,284 62.0% 7.2% 5.5% 9.5%13.8% 1.9%
Violent offenses2,486 42.8%10.1%10.0%16.5%18.2% 2.5%
    Murderc121 46.3 4.110.725.610.7 2.5
    Negligent manslaughter4      
    Assault319 43.9 5.311.021.017.9 0.9
    Robbery1,802 42.512.0 9.714.219.0 2.7
    Sexual abusec189 40.2 5.313.224.914.3 2.1
    Kidnapping35 57.1 2.9 2.911.420.0 5.7
    Threats against the President16 25.0 0.0 0.018.837.518.8
Property offenses7,462 67.7% 4.9% 5.2% 9.5%11.0% 1.7%
    Fraudulent6,171 70.8% 4.1% 4.3% 8.8%10.4% 1.6%
        Embezzlement667 85.2 1.3 2.1 5.1 5.4 0.9