There are evidence-based programs, says Adam Gelb, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project. Gelb claims that probation departments can cut recidivism by 30 percent if they use the latest tools, which include sophisticated risk assessment of probationers, cognitive behavioral therapies, swift and certain sanctions, and rewards to probationers who comply with their conditions. But Gelb says those tools are interpreted differently in each jurisdiction.
Gelb also says that not all criminologists agree on the tools. Some say the emphasis should be on providing offenders decent jobs and homes. Others say addressing impulse control and anti-social attitudes will do more to keep offenders from committing new crimes.
“There is no uniformity of opinion on some of the major issues here,” Gelb says.
“Probation is an incredibly understudied part of our criminal justice system,” says Insha Rahman, senior planner at the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York city-based nonprofit “committed to ending mass incarceration,” according to its website.
In 2008 the Vera Institute consulted with Multnomah County on probation practices. The Institute’ s 2008 report said probation officials here should consider a spectrum of swift and certain sanctions for probationers who don’t comply with their conditions, including more community service. Pew has also consulted locally on ways to reduce incarceration, as has the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which currently is funding a county effort aimed at reducing the local jail population.