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How Philly, the Nation’s Most Supervised Big City, Cut Its Probation Numbers by a Third

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Samantha Melamed - April 19, 2021

Three years ago, a national study of probation and parole called out Pennsylvania as a stark outlier. The Columbia University Justice Lab found that Pennsylvania was the third-most supervised state in the country. And Philadelphia, where one in 22 adults was under supervision, was the nation’s most supervised big city.

That came at a high cost, as many on probation find it creates obstacles to maintaining housing, education, and employment — as well as trip wires that can send them back to jail, even if they don’t commit a new crime.

On Monday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is set to release a report marking a milestone: Since 2018, the number of people under county supervision has declined by one-third, from 42,000 people to 28,000. The analysis credits policies introduced by District Attorney Larry Krasner, who instructed prosecutors, in most cases, not to seek supervision beyond 36 months for felonies or 12 months for misdemeanors.

Following that change, the average supervision term declined by about 10 months, with no measurable impact on recidivism, the report says. The policy also reduced racial disparities in sentencing: Previously, Black defendants were kept on probation on average 10.8 months longer than white defendants. Now, the average difference is 5.2 months, according to the report.

“It’s an enormous improvement in a city that has at times been the most over-supervised big city in the United States,” Krasner said. “That way, our probation officers don’t have double the caseloads national industry standards indicate they should have, and they can focus on the most dangerous and serious offenders.”

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