Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Probation Revocation Overview

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In Fall 2013, the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice launched the Probation Revocation Project. The Project was developed against a backdrop of great national interest in the problems that result from mass incarceration and the prospects for rethinking sentencing and related community corrections practices. The focus of the Probation Revocation Project is to research how decisions to revoke probation are made and to provide resources and assistance to those jurisdictions seeking to reform these practices. The project consists of two phases – the Alpha and Beta phases.

Alpha Phase

In the Alpha Phase of the Robina Institute's research of probation revocation practices, the Probation Revocation team is examining and reporting on the range of contemporary probation practices in six jurisdictions. While our central focus on the impact of the revocation decision, the scope of inquiry includes earlier stages of sentencing and probation supervision processes in an effort to understand how each case reaches the point of revocation. Research includes examining the type and number of conditions that are typically imposed on probationers, policies and procedures for violations, viewpoints of probation officers, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probationers, as well as rates of revocation for both criminal and technical violations. 

By publishing the range of practice in a variety of jurisdictions, the project hopes to provide a source of information for probation departments across the nation. This includes identifying practices that result in better outcomes for probationers as well as practices and policies that may have detrimental impacts for probationers.

To date, data collection has been completed in 6 jurisdictions: Bell County (Texas) Community Supervision and Corrections Department; the State of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Probation Services; Matagorda and Wharton County (Texas) Community Supervision and Corrections Department; the New York City Department of Probation; Hennepin County, Minnesota Adult Probation Offices; Ramsey County, Minnesota Adult Probation Offices; and the Minnesota Department of Corrections in Marshall, Minnesota.

The focus of the Probation Revocation Project is to research how decisions to revoke probation are made and to provide resources and assistance to those jurisdictions seeking to reform these practices. 

Beta Phase

The Beta phase of the project moves from a descriptive to an experimental focus by working with jurisdictions who wish to collaborate with project staff on the design and implementation of alternative practices that can potentially improve probation outcomes. These “Beta” sites, featuring six-to-eight diverse jurisdictions, will be the foundation of this phase of the Probation Revocation Project. Participating agencies will work intensively with project researchers and staff to develop sound experimentation, careful process and outcome evaluations, and a commitment of resources necessary to a successful effort. The Beta phase will directly result from the ndings that emerge in the Alpha phase; if practices are identi ed in the Alpha phase that result in poorer probationer outcomes, the goal in the Beta phase will be to develop practice changes that could improve those outcomes. In the end, the project expects to make a major contribution to evidence-based practices by identifying and validating practices that promote public safety, increase probationer success, and reduce the reliance on incarceration for probation violators. 

The Beta phase of the project will begin during Summer 2015 in two rural counties in Texas. In both sites, we were able to identify current practices and policies that might be contributing to the violations and revocations rates within each respective county. These ndings emerged from the various data points collected and analyzed in the Alpha phase, and any one or more of them could serve as the platform for development of a Beta project. As we progress into this phase of the project, we emphasize that this is a partnership and collaboration with the probation jurisdiction. By analyzing the ndings and developing new models, our work will assist probation agencies in implementing changes to their practice that will reduce revocations and achieve better outcomes for probationers.

Probation Revocation Project Advisory Board

The Probation Revocation Advisory Board (PAB) is comprised of a diverse group of criminal justice professionals, including judges, practitioners, scholars, and other stakeholders in community supervision, who provide guidance, insight, and feedback on the direction of the project. For more information on the Probation Revocation Project and the Advisory Board, visit robinainstitute.umn.edu/areas-expertise/probation-revocation/.