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The issue of educational entry requirements for police officers has been a perennial one. Since August Vollmer first broached the topic of police education as a serious consideration, there have been opinions on both sides of the subject. A number of presidential commissions have examined the question of a police minimum education requirement, and numerous academic studies have attempted to empirically define predictor variables which correlate higher education and different training methods with police performance. Although progress has been made in training and educating police differently, policy on police training continues to remain an important subject.
Jenna Milani, Ben Bradford, and Jonathan Jackson
The ability of the police to assert social control and reproduce social order depends, crucially, on the capacity to use force to achieve these ends—whether when restraining someone attempting to self-harm or shooting dead an armed terrorist. But what do we know about police use of force in the United States and England and Wales? Why does unjustified police use of force occur? And why do citizens have different views on the acceptability and unacceptability of various forms of police violence?
Gangs have been subjects of extensive empirical research since the 1920s. Scholarly interest in gangs was largely due to gang members’ increased likelihood of engaging in delinquent behavior. Gang members have been involved in criminal activities ranging from drug dealing to theft, property offenses, gun violence, and homicide. In the 1980s, there was nationwide concern about gangs as violent gang-related crimes increased and drew media attention. As a result, important legislation was implemented that made gang membership illegal. These policies were designed to curb gang involvement and de-escalate gang violence. The legislation included civil gang injunctions, the development of gang databases, and the formation and strengthening of gang task force units. Indeed, the policies resulted in an increase of gang unit officers focused on mitigating gang involvement and gang crime. Officer strategies focused on stopping, detaining, and arresting individuals who often fit certain stereotypes. Specifically, officers routinely based gang-related encounters on suspects’ race, age, clothing, gender, and geographic location, focusing mostly on young men of color in economically depressed neighborhoods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of problems and concerns related to aggressive and biased police behavior surfaced, resulting in questionable outcomes of gang suppression. Research suggests that directed patrols and removing leadership might not be effective. Instead, alternate policies should include policing in conjunction with support from community-based nonprofit organizations and research that accounts for gang members’ experiences of law enforcement strategies.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Please check back later for the full article.
Street gangs are prevalent throughout the United States. Recent estimates provided by law enforcement agencies note that there are approximately 30,000 gangs and 850,000 gang members across the United States. The most common crimes street gangs commit are assaults, street-level drug trafficking, robberies, and threats and intimidation. Rival gang members or law-abiding citizens are often the targets of these crimes. Other than crime, the influence of gangs can disrupt the socializing power of schools, families, and communities. These institutions help socialize young people to learn and follow the appropriate rules of a law-abiding society. Gangs also have an impact on the quality of life in neighborhoods and cities. The presence of gangs and gang-related activity induces fear in the local community and imposes a great concern for citizens. To confront these concerns, law enforcement is often considered the first line of defense. Despite the relationship between law enforcement and gangs being tenuous, police officers have special knowledge and access to gang members and at-risk youth, which puts law enforcement in a unique position to help prevent gang membership and respond to and mitigate gang violence.
There are several ways in which law enforcement is involved in confronting gang violence. In the effort to prevent gang violence, law enforcement plays a crucial role monitoring and regulating gang activity and preventing those at risk from joining gangs. Law enforcement can reduce gang violence by implementing gang prevention strategies that either increase awareness or directly attempt to prevent individuals from joining gangs. Awareness programs are wide in focus and attempt to teach youths the skills to resist peer pressure to join a gang. Gang membership prevention programs are narrower in focus and look to identify youths with risk factors for joining gangs. Police help refer at-risk youths to programs where they are offered psychological and substance abuse counseling, tutoring, and employment training, among other services. Law enforcement can also reduce gang violence by implementing activity regulation strategies that provide alternatives to gang membership and that either prevent or suppress gang activity. Gang alternative programs look to get individuals to leave their gangs, and they provide opportunities to prevent the individual from rejoining the gang. Gang activity prevention strategies focus on specific activities, places, or behaviors associated with gang activity. These strategies typically include special laws, mediation, and situational crime prevention strategies. Gang activity suppression strategies are deterrence-based strategies. The main difference between prevention and suppression strategies is that prevention strategies try to make committing gang activity more difficult while suppression prioritizes arrests and imprisonment. Although the effectiveness of these programs varies, law enforcement is better utilized in a prevention capacity rather than an enforcement one. Also, law enforcement should not tackle gang violence alone, but in partnership with other community organizations and stakeholders. These partnerships with community organizations, along with a visible commitment to combating gang violence through prevention and suppression efforts, can build trust and increase police legitimacy in at-risk communities.
Regulatory and legal approaches to prostitution are subject to considerable debate among researchers, policymakers, and those tasked with the everyday enforcement of measures intended to control, abate, or otherwise manage the sex industry. Law, policy, and everyday policing practices all contribute to the de jure and de facto organization of the sex industry at the levels of policy formulation, coordination between police, social services, and other socio-institutional forces, and encounters between sex workers and criminal justice professionals. Despite considerable cultural-contextual variations, researchers have ascertained three predominant approaches to regulating prostitution worldwide: criminalization, legalization, and decriminalization. Each of these approaches takes a unique form in the specific cultural context in which local authorities implement them, thereby generating special issues for policing with respect to ideological frameworks and police–sex worker encounters. Taken together, the philosophical and pragmatic concerns raised by policing or otherwise regulating prostitution encompass an extraordinary gamut of deeply human concerns regarding political power, sexual behavior, individual rights, historically rooted inequalities, and state responsibility
Clayton Peoples and James E. Sutton
The state is responsible for maintaining law and order in society and protecting the people. Sometimes it fails to fulfill these responsibilities; in other cases, it actively harms people. There have been many instances of political corruption and state crime throughout history, with impacts that range from economic damage to physical injury to death—sometimes on a massive scale (e.g., economic recession, pollution/poisoning, genocide). The challenge for criminologists, however, is that defining political corruption and state crime can be thorny, as can identifying their perpetrators—who can often be collectives of individuals such as organizations and governments—and their victims. In turn, pinpointing appropriate avenues of controlling these crimes can be difficult. These challenges are exacerbated by power issues and the associated reality that the state is in a position to write or change laws and, in essence, regulate itself. One possible solution is to define political corruption and state crime—as well as their perpetrators and victims—as broadly as possible to include a variety of scenarios that may or may not exhibit violations of criminal law. Likewise, a resolution to the issue of social control would be to move beyond strictly institutional mechanisms of control. Criminological research should further elucidate these issues; it should also, however, move beyond conceptual dilemmas toward (a) better understanding the processes underlying political corruption/state crime and (b) illustrating the broader ramifications of these crimes.
Zelia A. Gallo
The literature on contemporary Western punishment presents us with a number of possible approaches to political ideologies and penality. The first approach requires us to ask what different political ideologies have to say about crime and punishment. This entails a close analysis of the ideologies’ main claims on matters of power, authority, and collective co-existence, to see if and how such claims have played out in the penal sphere. Analyses of social democratic penality serve here as useful case studies for such an approach. Such analyses also illustrate the second approach to questions of political ideology and penality. This approach requires us to ask what impact crime has had upon the fate of different ideologies. Have the changing incidence and changing perceptions of crime come to threaten the legitimacy of dominant ideologies? The third approach is that of critique of ideology: penality is studied as ideology, to discern what it conceals about reality and existing power relations. Here the analysis of contemporary UK offences of dangerousness acts as a case study for such an approach. To the extent that offences of dangerousness are rooted in neoliberalism, the discussion also introduces us to debates concerning neoliberalism and penality, in particular the idea that contemporary punishment expresses both the ascendancy of neoliberal doxa, and the decline of existing macro-ideologies such as social democracy. This decline can be seen as a move toward a post-ideological era, in which crime and punishment have come to replace political visions and utopias. However, recent scholarship on political ideologies argues that the latter are ubiquitous and permanent features of political thinking. This implies that the contemporary era cannot be described as post-ideological. Rather, it is an era in which macro-ideologies such as social democracy—which provided a holistic view of social order and comprehensive ideational resources to construct it—have been replaced by thin ideologies—which offer us narrower visions and ambitions. Examples of such thin ideologies include populism and technocracy. It is then possible to study the link between thin-ideologies and penality, a study that is here exemplified by the analysis of populism and penal populism, and technocracy and epistemic crime control. An analysis of thin ideologies and penality can also be undertaken with a normative project in mind, namely that of identifying within these thin ideologies, possible ideational resources that might be used to imagine a better penal future: one that is more moderate, more democratic, and less punitive.
Political violence includes an array of conducts and events that defy unilateral examination. It may be authorized or unauthorized violence, and while the latter is almost always associated with crime, the former is normally deemed an expression of the legitimate monopoly in the use of force characterizing modern societies. There are institutional and anti-institutional forms of political violence, namely violence of the authority and violent expressions of defiance against authority. Both have been the object of analysis by sociologists and criminologists, with some contending that theories of “common” violence should be applied to the analysis of political violence. It is assumed, for example, that both types of violence possess a goal-directed character: achieving results, extracting something of value from others, or exercising justice by punishing wrongdoers. Other analysts, however, link political violence with social conflict derived from collective grievance around inequality and injustice, thus locating this type of violence within the tradition of social movement analysis and the dynamics of collective action. Conflict theory provides a prime framework for this type of analysis, which focuses on contentious issues, organizational matters, and the shaping of identities that lead aggrieved groups to turn to violence. Sociological and criminological theories also offer a rich analytical patrimony that helps focusing on political crime committed by states and their representatives occupying powerful social positions. Many contributions, in this respect, cover atrocities perpetrated by institutional actors and the different forms of conscious, unconscious, personal, cultural, or official denial accompanying such atrocities. The term political crime, therefore, ends up relating to state crime, political and administrative corruption, and a variety of crimes of the elite normally included under the umbrella definition “the crimes of the powerful.” Conversely, when the focus moves onto political violence perpetrated by anti-institutional or non-state actors, the term “terrorism” is usually referred to, a term that is not likely to meet universal acceptance or unquestioned adoption due to the difficulties social scientists find in defining it. In sum, political violence and crime present scholars and practitioners with the same ambiguity that connotes definitions of social behavior and the processes of its criminalization. Such ambiguity becomes clear if, as proposed in the following pages, political violence and crime are examined through multidisciplinary lenses, particularly those offered by social theory, philosophy, and political science, along with criminology.
As we begin to think about the United States as a carceral state, this means that the scale of incarceration practices have grown so great within it that they have a determining effect on the shape of the the society as a whole. In addition to the budgets, routines, and technologies used is the culture of that carceral state, where relationships form between elements of its culture and its politics. In terms of its visual culture, that relationship forms a visuality, a culture and politics of vision that both reflects the state’s carceral qualities and, in turn, helps to structure and organize the society in a carceral manner. Images, architecture, light, presentation and camouflage, surveillance, and the play of sight between groups of people and the world are all materials through which the ideas of a society are worked out, its politics played out, its technology implemented, its rationality or common sense and identities forming. They also shape the politics of freedom and control, where what might be a free, privileged expression to one person could be a dangerous exposure to another, where invisibility or inscrutability may be a resource. In this article, these questions are asked in relation to the history of prison architecture, from premodern times to the present, while considering the multiple discourses that overlap throughout that history: war, enslavement, civil punishment, and freedom struggle, but also a discourse of agency, where subordinated peoples can or cannot resist, or remain hostile to or in difference from the control placed upon them.
Popular criminology is a theoretical and conceptual approach within the field of criminology that is used to interrogate popular understandings of crime and criminal justice. In the last decade, popular criminology has most often been associated with analyses of fictional crime film, while in previous decades, popular criminology referred most often to “true crime” literature or, more generally, to popular ideas about crime and justice. While the term has appeared sporadically in the criminological literature for several decades, popular criminology is most closely associated with the work of American criminologist Nicole Rafter. Popular criminology refers in a broad sense to the ideas that ordinary people have about the causes, consequences, and remedies for crime, and the relationship of these ideas to academic discourses about crime. Criminologists who utilize this approach examine popular culture as a source of commonsense ideas and perceptions about crime and criminal justice. Films, television, the Internet, and literature about crime and criminal justice are common sources of popular criminology interrogated by criminologists working in this field. Popular criminology is an analytic tool that can be used to explore the emotional, psychological, and philosophical features of crime and criminal justice that find expression in popular culture. The popular cultural depiction of crime is taken seriously by criminologists working in this tradition and such depictions are placed alongside mainstream criminological theory in an effort to broaden the understanding of the impact of crime and criminal justice on the lives of everyday people. Popular criminology has become solidified as an approach within the broader cultural criminology movement which seeks to examine the interconnections between crime, culture and media.
Graham C. Ousey
Immigration and gentrification are two sources of population change that occur in geographic communities. Immigration refers to the inflow of foreign-born residents, while gentrification involves middle- and upper-income residents moving into poor urban communities. Scholars have speculated that both types of population change may be related to crime rates. The nature of those relationships, however, is debated. Classic criminological perspectives, such as Social Disorganization Theory, suggest that these population changes are likely to result in increased crime rates. More recent perspectives proffer an opposing viewpoint: that immigration and gentrification may lower crime rates. Some research suggests that these opposing arguments may each draw empirical support but under differing social conditions or circumstances. Regarding the effects of immigration on crime, one theory is that immigration is most likely to be a crime-protective factor when it occurs in places where there is a well-established immigrant population base and institutional supports. And immigration may contribute to higher crime rates in places that lack the strong preexisting immigrant population and institutions. Study design variations also appear to impact the findings that researchers investigating the immigration-crime relationship have found, with longitudinal studies more consistently reporting the immigration works to reduce (rather than increase) crime. With respect to gentrification, scholars suggest that its effects on crime are likely to hinge on factors such as the racial composition of the place, the timing or stage at which the gentrification process is observed, or the degree to which gentrifying neighborhoods are surrounded by poor non-gentrifying neighborhoods or by other communities that have already progressed through the gentrification process.
The changing cultural role, visibility, and meaning of pornography, particularly its increased accessibility and the sociocultural reverberations that this is seen to cause, have been lively topics of public debate in most Western countries throughout the new millennium. Concerns are routinely yet passionately voiced, especially over the ubiquity of sexual representations flirting with the codes of pornography in different fields of popular media, as well as children’s exposure to hardcore materials that are seen to grow increasingly extreme and violent. At the same time, the production, distribution, and consumption have undergone notable transformations with the ubiquity of digital cameras and online platforms. Not only is pornography accessible on an unprecedented scale, but also it is available in more diverse shapes and forms than ever. All this has given rise to diverse journalistic and academic diagnoses on the pornification and sexualization of culture, which, despite their notable differences, aim to conceptualize transformations in the visibility of sexually explicit media content and its broader sociocultural resonances.
Predictive policing, also known as crime forecasting, is a set of high technologies aiding the police in solving past crimes and pre-emptively fighting and preventing future ones. With the right deployment of such technologies, law enforcement agencies can combat and control crime more efficiently with time and resources better employed and allocated. The current practices of predictive policing include the integration of various technologies, ranging from predictive crime maps and surveillance cameras to sophisticated computer software and artificial intelligence. Predictive analytics help the police make predictions about where and when future crime is most likely to happen and who will be the perpetrator and who the potential victim. The underpinning logic behind such predictions is the predictability of criminal behavior and crime patterns based on criminological research and theories such as rational choice and deterrence theories, routine activities theory, and broken windows theory.
Currently many jurisdictions in the United States have deployed or have been experimenting with various predictive policing technologies. The most widely adopted applications include CompStat, PredPol, HunchLab, Strategic Subject List (SSL), Beware, Domain Awareness System (DAS), and Palantir. The realization of these predictive policing analytics systems relies heavily on the technological assistance provided by data collection and integration software, facial/vehicle identification and tracking tools, and surveillance technologies that keep tabs on individual activities both in the physical environment and in the digital world. Some examples of these assisting technologies include Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), Next-Generation Identification (NGI) System, the Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), next-generation police body-worn cameras (BWC) with facial recognition and tracking functions, aerial cameras and unmanned aircraft systems, DeepFace, Persistent Surveillance Systems, Stingrays/D(i)RT-Box/International Mobile Subscriber Identity Catcher, SnapTrends that monitors and analyzes feeds on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Picasa, Flickr, and YouTube.
This new fashion of using predictive analytics in policing has elicited extensive doubt and criticism since its invention. Whereas scholarly evaluation research shows mixed findings about how effectively predictive policing actually works to help reduce crime, other concerns center around legal and civil rights issues (including privacy protection and the legitimacy of mass surveillance), inequality (stratified surveillance), cost-effectiveness of the technologies, militarization of the police and its implications (such as worsened relationship and weakened trust between the police and the public), and epistemological challenges to understanding crime. To make the best use of the technologies and avoid their pitfalls at the same time, policymakers need to consider the hotly debated controversies raised in the evolution of predictive policing.
Arlen Egley, Jr.
Street gang activity has garnered academic and public attention for many decades. Compared with other youth groups, street gangs contribute disproportionately to crime and violence, though the vast majority of crime and violence in the United States is unrelated to gang activity. A distinctive aspect in the study of gangs is the multiple dimensions in which gangs are situated. Depending on the research interest, gang activity may be construed as an independent variable (as a cause) or a dependent variable (as an effect). Moreover, gang activity simultaneously represents multiple levels of analysis: the individual level (gang member), the group level (gang), and the macro level (neighborhoods and broader geographical places in which gangs form and transform). These multiple dimensions present a wide variety of research streams in which to study gangs. Where and why gang activity emerges, when and why individuals join and leave gangs, the wide-ranging diversity in gang structure and organization are but a few of the many areas gang scholars have focused on in order to describe and explain gangs and gang members. Some research areas, such as the association between gang membership and criminal offending and the risk factors for gang joining, have been researched quite extensively. Other areas, such as the nature and extent of gang migration outside larger cities and desistance processes from the gang, have not received or have only recently begun to receive intensive and consistent scholarly attention. Definitional matters are also paramount and inextricably linked to understanding gang activity. How should we define “street gangs,” how should “gang membership” be defined and determined, when and how should a crime be designated as “gang related”? These definitional issues have sparked considerable and sometimes heated debates, and consensus remains elusive. It is important to be mindful of these various dimensions, streams, and issues as we continue our efforts to describe and document street gangs and enhance our understanding of gang processes. Successful strategies for the response to and reduction of street gang activity are contingent on them.
Iain Coyne and Marilyn Campbell
The knowledge base on bullying within school and working contexts has matured to the extent that researchers and practitioners are developing a deeper understanding of this complex social relationship problem. Although controversies still exist, evidence to date provides estimates of the prevalence of bullying, risk factors for bullying, antecedents of bullying, and theoretical models explaining bullying behavior and experience. There is little doubt that bullying in all its forms can have severe negative impacts on those involved in the bullying situation. As a result, it is important to establish coherent and evidence-based approaches to preventing bullying behavior in schools and workplaces.
In contrast, the development and evaluation of bullying interventions has not received the same level of support. Both in school and working contexts, there are examples of preventative approaches, but either these are espoused and not directly evaluated, or, where evaluations exist, data is limited in providing definitive answers to the success of an approach. An increasingly dominant voice advocates the creation of policies and laws for preventing workplace bullying. However, the usefulness of policies and laws on their own in reducing bullying is questionable—especially if they are developed with a quick-fix mentality. Trying to prevent such a complex social phenomenon requires an integrated program of actions necessitating significant investment over a prolonged period of time. Stakeholder engagement is paramount to any intervention. Ultimately, schools and workplaces need to try to develop a culture of dignity, fairness, respect, and conflict management which pervades the institution. Challenges remain on how to create such interventions, whether they are effective, and what impact societal values will have on the success of bullying prevention strategies.
The variables impacting how one experiences imprisonment are far ranging. George Jackson (1994), a pivotal character in American penal history, wrote that, “[b]lackmen born in the [United States] and fortunate enough to live past the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison” (p. 4). Ruth Wyner (2002), incarcerated 40 years after Jackson under vastly different circumstances, describes a very different sort of bleakness associated with her incarceration:
One evening, just before I settled down to try to sleep, I allowed myself to remember my daughter in a way that I usually suppressed: remembering and feeling all the love that I had for her, every bit. A huge chasm grew inside me, dark and raw, and my throat constricted as I felt enveloped by the sadness. This was what was inside of me when I allowed myself to touch it.
Such personal experiences of incarceration offer a window into how prisons function, or often more correctly, fail to function, from the point of view of the prisoner. These perspectives are vitally important to a fulsome understanding of incarceration because prisoners and their experiences paint a picture of confinement that is patently different from those described by penal officials and governments.
There are numerous issues that shape the experiences of confinement, both historically and in the present day, a list longer than can be adequately addressed in this entry. Still, there are key concerns that recur in the literature and in ongoing debates about incarceration. Included here are human rights abuses, overcrowding, the overuse of solitary confinement, the situation of women prisoners, the incarceration of indigenous peoples, and health, especially mental health concerns.
Ashley T. Rubin
Prisons are government-sanctioned facilities designed for the long-term confinement of adults as punishment for serious offenses. This definition of prisons, frequently belied by actual practice but an accurate representation of the prison as an ideal type, emerged relatively late in human history. For most of Western history, incarceration played a minor role in punishment and was often reserved for elites or political offenders; however, it was rarely considered a punishment in its own right for most offenders. The notion of the prison as a place of punishment emerged gradually, according to most accounts, over the 17th through 19th centuries. Although there were several precursors to penal incarceration, the most influential was the 17th-century Dutch workhouse, the first formal uses of penal incarceration in a prison as a distinct institution began with the American proto-prison in late 18th century and evolved into the modern prison in the early to mid-19th century. These modern prisons proved influential around the world. In late-19th-century America, however, the modern prison experienced a series of re-imaginings or iterations beginning with a proliferation of different forms, including distinctive forms of Southern punishment (convict leasing, chain gangs, and plantation-style prisons), specialized prisons across the country (women’s prisons, adult reformatories, and maximum-security prisons), and efforts to reduce reliance on prisons (drawing on innovations from Australia and Ireland). This flurry of activity was followed by a period of serial re-creation in the 20th century in the form of the big-house prison, the correctional institution, and the warehouse prison, including its subtype: the supermaximum-security prison. In this recent period, American prisons have once again become models copied by other countries.
Dawn K. Cecil
Popular culture has the ability to entertain and, on some level, educate. People’s perceptions and understanding of an issue can be influenced by the images and messages contained within common representations. According to social constructionism, the further a subject is removed from our day-to-day lives, the more important second-hand knowledge becomes in shaping perceptions. Prisons are a prime example. These institutions are not a part of most people’s lives; therefore, they must rely on information gathered from other sources to come to an understanding of these complex social institutions. Many turn to popular prison imagery to be entertained and in doing so they may be taking away lessons about imprisonment. By relying on the mediated experiences provided by representations of prison in popular culture, they are likely to have an incomplete and, perhaps, inaccurate perception of institutional life.
Early images of prison were limited, however, today there is an abundance. The first popular prison imagery came in the form of Hollywood films, which gave audience members a glimpse of the prison routine, while following the journey of a new inmate. While these movies are the most iconic images of prison, in today’s media landscape representations of prison life can be found in a variety of places. Most often they are depicted in entertainment and infotainment-type programming on television, but can also be seen in documentary films and represented in various other aspects of popular culture, including music and cartoons. There is a growing body of literature that discusses these depictions. This research examines the accuracy of the portrayals and identifies underlying messages about crime and punishment, which provides vital information on how people come to understand prison in a media culture. Stereotypes and caricatures abound; however, one can also find important messages about prisoners, prison life, and ultimately the role of prison in society. Overwhelmingly people are subjected to images of violent men and women locked up, where their violent behavior continues, which ultimately sends a message that prison is a social necessity. Examining these popular representations of prison allows us to begin to understand the potential impact this imagery has on people’s perceptions of these institutions in modern society.
Stephen T. Holmes, Ross Wolf, and Bryan M. Holmes
Private and public policing agencies share a rich history. Each was set up, designed, and organized to address specific problems, whether street crime or corporate security. Each organization type has its strengths and weaknesses depending on its environment and the types of duties assigned. However, it is only in the early 21st century that city government actors have begun to look at private police agencies as a way to supplement traditional policing services at a lower cost. The extant literature is replete with articles detailing the scope, nature, and legal authority of private police agencies, but little real-world experimentation has been done where private police agencies have been used to supplement police services in diverse high-crime neighborhoods. This article examines the history of both public and private police agencies and then details the results of an experiment in Orange County, Florida, where the sheriff contracted with one of the world’s largest private police agencies to patrol and provide additional police services to two communities in need. The results can be generalized to communities that are most in need of police services.
David E. Olson
Despite all the attention paid to the growing prison populations in the United States since the early 1990s, it remains, as it has throughout recent history, that probation accounts for the largest portion of those under the custody of the criminal justice system. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that at the end of 2015, there were more than 3.7 million adults under the supervision of U.S. probation authorities, compared to 1.5 million in prison, 870,000 on parole, and 728,000 in local jails. And while probation is not often thought about within the context of “mass incarceration” in the United States, probation directly impacts prison and jail populations in two specific ways. First, a sentence of probation for a felony offense is the most frequent alternative to a prison sentence. Second, the revocation of probation can directly lead to the imposition of a sentence to prison or jail, depending on the nature of the original conviction offense. During 2015, in the United States, it is estimated that 12% of all probationers exiting supervision were incarcerated due to probation revocation, which translates to an estimate of more than 233,000 probationers annually.
Probation revocation means that the sentencing court has determined that a violation of the conditions of probation have occurred, and because of this, the original probation sentence is no longer appropriate. As a result of a probation sentence being revoked, the sentencing court imposes a different (usually more serious) sanction on the offender. Often, those on probation for a felony offense who have their probation revoked are sentenced to prison, leading to their admission to prison. Indeed, given this link, scholars and practitioners have identified reducing probation revocation as one strategy to reducing prison populations, and jurisdictions often focus on reducing probation revocations as a means to lowering their commitments to prison. Probation revocation can result from either new arrests or violations of technical aspects of the sentence, such as missed appointments or non-compliance with treatment orders. However, whether or not a probation sentence is revoked as a result of these violations varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This variation in the use of probation revocation as a response to violations of probation illustrates the localized nature of revocation proceedings, and attempts to reduce these disparities have taken many forms. These efforts to reduce the impact of probation revocations on prison admissions have ranged from providing local jurisdictions with financial incentives to respond to revocation-eligible violations with sanctions other than incarceration, to legislative efforts to prohibit sentences to prison as a response to probation revocations stemming from technical violations or instances where public safety is not threatened.