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Parole and probation sends hundreds of thousands of people back to prison

About a quarter of people behind bars in the U.S. on any given day are there for violating parole or probation, often times because of technical violations such as missing supervision appointments or failing a drug test, according to new data collected by The Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG).

Data: The Council of State Governments Justice Center; Table: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: Probation and parole are alternatives to incarceration that are designed to help lower the prison population and allow people to more easily integrate back into their communities. But perfectly following the rules of parole and probation can prove difficult, and many violators end up back in prison.

In 20 states, more than half of prison admissions are for parole or probation violations.

  • "What it becomes after a certain period of time is a bunch of trip wires for people to fall over," reform advocate and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner told Axios on HBO..
  • There are times when people who have violated parole and probation should be detained, but it happens too often and for "very minor things," he said.

By the numbers: In 2018, there were an estimated 4.5 million adults under probation or parole — that's 1 in 55 American adults, according to study by Pew Charitable Trusts. Hundreds of thousands of those people end up back in jail or prison each year.

And it's expensive. Probation and parole violations cost state prisons $9.3 billion every year, according to the CSG study.

  • That doesn't include the costs of arresting and incarcerating offenders in local jails before they are sent to a state prison.
  • $2.8 billion of the cost is for technical violations of parole or probation, rather than someone committing a new offense while under supervision.
  • In Missouri, more than half of state prison admissions in 2017 were for technical parole or probation violations. Missouri has the 10th highest incarceration rate in the world, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.