The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center announced the release of “The Impact of Probation and Parole Populations on Arrests in Four California Cities.” The study, which was funded by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence and the Rosenberg Foundation, answers one question that to date has been a matter of speculation among law enforcement and corrections officials everywhere: to what extent do people on parole and probation contribute to crime, as measured by arrests?

The Chiefs of the Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento, and San Francisco Police Departments commissioned the analysis in 2010. The 3.5-year timeframe covered in the study, which concluded in June 2011, immediately precedes the implementation of the state’s Public Safety Realignment Act, which commenced in October 2011.

Collecting and analyzing the data required an extraordinary effort spanning 11 independent agencies, including four local police jurisdictions, four county probation agencies, two county sheriffs’ departments, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Researchers at the CSG Justice Center collected and matched more than 2.5 million arrest, parole, and probation records generated between January 1, 2008 and June 11, 2011.

Among the most notable findings in these four jurisdictions:

  • The majority of all adult felony and misdemeanor arrests involved people who were not currently under supervision. People under supervision accounted for only 22 percent of total arrests.
  • Whereas people under probation and parole supervision accounted for one out of every six arrests for violent crimes, they accounted for one out of every three drug arrests.
  • During a 3.5 year period in which total arrests fell by 18 percent, the number of arrests involving individuals under parole supervision declined by 61 percent and by 26 percent for individuals under probation supervision.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck observed, “This study reinforces the importance of police working collaboratively with our other criminal justice partners such as parole and probation in ensuring public safety. Additionally, this study points to the importance of calibrating the appropriate level of supervision and services to individuals on parole or probation to improve their chances of success.  Finally, law enforcement has long recognized that all probationers and parolees are not alike and each poses a different degree of risk to a community.  By working closely with parole and our probation partners, we are best situated to understand those who merit our attention and additional supervision.”

Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia cautioned, however, “There is a small fraction of probationers and parolees who are contributing disproportionately to drug-related crime. Police on the street need information and resources so that they aren’t employing a one-size-fits all approach to this population.”

Rick Braziel, who was the Chief of Police in Sacramento when the study was commissioned and recently retired, said, “When making an arrest, law enforcement officers typically try to determine if an individual is on probation or parole. Our assumption has been that people under probation and parole were driving our arrest activity, but the data suggests otherwise. This new information opens up opportunities for law enforcement agencies, which are grappling with huge budget cuts, to work with partners in probation and parole to be more efficient and targeted in our prevention, intervention, and enforcement efforts.”

Another finding of interest was the extent to which risk assessment results effectively predicted the likelihood of probationers and parolees being rearrested. Said San Francisco Probation Chief Wendy Still, “This study demonstrates that we are a key partner in local government’s efforts to increase community safety. Our strategies to use the latest science to identify the people who are most likely to reoffend and to supervise them intensively are paying dividends.”

“This study challenges long held assumptions that those on parole and probation contribute overwhelmingly to overall crime rates,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “This study also reinforces the effectiveness and importance of the CDCR’s evidence-based strategies for reducing the rate of failure on parole. We will continue to partner with local law enforcement and probation agencies to refine and coordinate risk assessment tools and supervision and treatment strategies to improve public safety.”

“I would like to see this study continued—and ideally expanded to include additional metropolitan areas in the state—to determine how arrest patterns have changed, if at all, since Realignment,” commented George Gascón, who was Chief of Police in San Francisco when the study was commissioned and was subsequently elected District Attorney. “It’s this type of rigorous analysis—not anecdotal observations and experiences—that need to drive discussion in the state about what impact the increased numbers of people on probation supervision is having on arrest activity.”

This study was funded by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence, and the Rosenberg Foundation.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. The Justice Center provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.