By Alex Putterman via CT Insider
Published May 23, 2023
While Connecticut has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation, the state uses probation more aggressively than most of its peers, a pair of new reports show.
As outlined in a paper released Tuesday by the Prison Policy Initiative and the Hartford-based Katal Center, Connecticut currently has more than 30,000 people on probation, nearly 1 percent of the state’s population and more than three times as many people as are in jail or prison. That number has risen over the past two years, after declining for more than a decade, state data shows.
“I don’t know how many folks know in Connecticut that there are 30,000 people on probation and that the use of probation is very, very widespread,” said Gabriel Sayegh, cofounder of the Katal Center, who co-authored the report. “It should be a red flag for all of us, but especially for lawmakers, that a state of this size is using probation at the extent to which it’s currently being used.”
In a separate report examining parole and probation nationwide, the Prison Policy Initiative found that Connecticut incarcerates fewer people per capita than all but seven other states but ranks 20th nationally in its use of probation, ahead of most other Northeast states.
Overall, Connecticut ranks 36th nationally in the share of its population involved in the justice system, ahead of neighbors New York and Massachusetts, among others.
Leah Wang, a Prison Policy Institute research analyst who helped author both recent reports, said a high probation rate can mean a state is granting probation to people who might otherwise be incarcerated — or that it’s imposing probation on people who would otherwise receive no punishment.
Wang argues that while probation may not sound like a significant consequence, it “basically sets people up to fail with dozens and dozens of rules that they have to follow that the rest of us don’t.”
“In theory, we see probation and parole as sort of lenient approaches to incarceration or alternatives to incarceration,” Wang said. “But as most people who have been impacted or work in the field know, they really are just alternative forms of incarceration.”
Over time, probation in Connecticut has seen a roughly similar trend as incarceration: After years of steady decline, the numbers have begun to increase over the past two years, as courts have resumed operations following the COVID-19 pandemic and, some argue, a renewed “tough on crime” attitude has permeated parts of the justice system.
After rising to nearly 57,000 people in 2009, the probation population dipped all the way to 28,340 during the summer of 2021, according to state data. Since then, however, it has risen slightly every quarter, reaching 30,822 as of April 1.
The new report from the Prison Policy Initiative and the Katal Center also considered Connecticut’s much smaller parolee population, which stood at about 2,500 people as of January. More than half of those people are on “special parole,” a particularly strict form of supervision.
In the case of both probation and parole, someone may be sent to prison for a range of violations, including not only criminal offenses but also noncriminal actions such as missing a meeting with a parole officer. According to the report, 49 percent of all parole violations in 2021 were for “technical” offenses, as opposed to new criminal charges.
From August 2021 to July 2022, 36 percent of all prison admissions in Connecticut were for supervision violations, the report found.
“A tool that was initially meant to keep people out of jail, for a lot of people ends up becoming a pathway to jail,” Sayegh said. “The various mechanisms and tripwires that can exist for people can turn into a revolving door from which people can never escape.”
Black and Latino people are far more likely than white people to be on parole or probation, data shows. As of 2021, nearly half of people on parole in Connecticut were Black, even though Black people accounted for only 13 percent of the state population, according to data from the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The groups behind the report say Connecticut should pursue reforms passed in New York, which drastically reduced the number of people incarcerated for technical violations while implementing “earned time credits” for people under state supervision.
Wang noted that Connecticut has taken a reform-minded approach to other aspects of the justice system over the past decade, cutting its incarcerated population by 50 percent from its all-time high, and said she hopes the state will chart a similar path when it comes to probation.
“Connecticut is a state that has been a leader in other areas of criminal justice reform and really is ripe for major change,” she said.