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Michelle S. Phelps and Caitlin Curry

Over the past half-century, the number of adults under criminal justice supervision increased precipitously in some Western countries, with carceral control in the United States reaching an unprecedented scale. While much of the scholarly attention has been focused on the development of mass incarceration, new research focuses on the parallel expansion of mass probation and, more broadly, mass supervision. In the United States, the number of adults on probation and parole supervision increased from one million in 1980 to a peak of nearly 5.1 million in 2007, more than double the number of inmates in local, state, and federal jails and prisons. Estimates from Europe in the late 2000s suggest that there were approximately 3.5 million on community sanctions, compared to 2 million incarcerated. Individuals on these sanctions serve out their initial sentences (or remaining time after release from jail or prison) while residing in the community under the supervision of a probation or parole officer. As scholarship increasingly focuses on the expansion of community supervision, we are learning more about this form of punishment. Probationers and parolees are subject to a variety of conditions, including reporting regularly to their supervising officers, finding and maintaining employment, avoiding drug use and re-arrest, participating in therapeutic programs, and paying fines and fees. Failure to comply with the demands of supervision may result in variety of penalties, up to a return to custody for the entire length of the suspended prison sentence. Thus, while probation and parole are often framed as acts of leniency—allowing individuals to avoid incarceration and/or exit early—they can be experienced as quite punitive. In other words, the official discourses and everyday practices of supervision blend both punitive and rehabilitative elements. The composition of this blend varies significantly across countries, states, local departments, individual officers, and the officer-supervisee relationship. This variation has produced a kaleidoscope of different practices, all under the banner of community supervision.


Geoffrey C. Barnes and Jordan M. Hyatt

Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) is a form of community supervision that employs smaller caseloads, more frequent contacts, and a variety of other mechanisms to increase the level of surveillance and control for those on criminal probation. While this approach has seen successive waves of research interest, the evidence on its effectiveness seems relatively disappointing. Most existing studies have shown that ISP produces very little reduction in recidivism, while also being more costly to deliver. In addition, ISP’s surveillance mechanisms result in more frequent detection of technical violations, leading to a greater use of incarceration. Despite these disappointing findings, however, there is some potential for ISP to be used in a positive way. Recent developments in assessing both the risk of offending and the criminogenic needs of individual probationers, combined with shifts in the philosophical foundations of community supervision, suggest that ISP could prove to be a useful and productive tool when targeted at the most advantageous population of criminal offenders.


Julie Brancale, Thomas G. Blomberg, and William D. Bales

The movements of accused and convicted offenders in many countries around the world are increasingly being monitored with electronic supervision tools. Individuals can be placed on electronic monitoring (EM) by the justice system for numerous reasons and can be of varying risk levels. Currently, individuals are placed on EM as conditions of pretrial release, probation, and parole. EM is a versatile tool designed to aid correctional officers in their supervision of offenders sentenced to confinement or house arrest. There are many forms of EM devices that are designed to limit the freedom and monitor the movements of individuals to ensure they are in compliance with court-mandated restrictions. In general, EM is intended to be an alternative to detention in either jails or prisons and is an intermediate sanction that is more punitive than traditional probation but less punitive than imprisonment. The expanded use of EM in recent years is largely attributable to financial constraints and overcrowding experienced by many jails and prisons. However, the empirical research of the effectiveness and unintended consequences is limited. There are serious concerns that have yet to be addressed about possible net-widening associated with EM use and whether it truly is an effective alternative to incarceration.