What Do Cops Want from Parole and Probation?



What Do Cops Want from Parole and Probation?

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.


Second in a series of articles on parole and probation research and practice

Parole and Probation in DC: When Meeting National Standards Means Little

What Works in Parole and Probation?

Why No One Understands Parole and Probation

Can you be a National Leader in Parole and Probation and be Criticized Simultaneously?

From the Washington Post

“D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier leaves her post in two weeks with high popularity and crime down over her tenure but frustrated by a system that she said allows repeat violent offenders back on the street time after time.

In a far-ranging interview, the chief of nearly 10 years unleashed a blunt rebuke of the myriad local and federal agencies responsible for keeping offenders in check, saying there are too many failures and too little accountability.

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”

The chief talked about the arrest of a man last week who she said was on home detention when his GPS tracking device became inoperable. Police allege the man then went on a crime rampage that started in Maryland and ended in the District. They say it included a robbery, a shooting and a car theft that resulted in a crash that left a bystander critically injured.

Our Series on Parole and Probation in “Crime in America”

I read the article with interest because I was recently (until retirement) the spokesperson for the federal agency providing parole and probation services in Washington, D.C., and an advisor to the federal agency that provided pretrial services.

I did not communicate in any way with my former employers in writing this article.

It will take a bit of explanation to describe the federal role in criminal justice in D.C. (below) but first, my former agencies (not cited by name in the Washington Post article) are the favorites of researchers, the US Department of Justice, advocates, criminologists, national organizations, many conservative Republicans and the Obama administration for meeting national standards for pretrial and parole and probation practices.

What do I mean by national standards? While there is no national accreditation program, it means lower caseloads, great staff training, good technology and information systems, use of GPS tracking, using an objective risk instrument to classify offenders, an aggressive use of programs to address the social needs of offenders, the use of graduated sanctions to deal with misbehavior (instead of a reliance on returns to incarceration), specialized caseloads for those who need it (i.e., women, young offenders, mental health, domestic violence, those with anger management issues) a focus on community input and more. Note that there is no universal consensus as to the crime control effectiveness of parole and probation strategies.

Few parole and probation systems throughout the country come close to the resources offered in Washington, D.C. I will principally focus on the parole and probation function in this article.

Question; can you be a national leader in parole and probation and pretrial services and be harshly criticized simultaneously?


Understand that this discussion is concurrently a D.C. and national debate. The issues are the same if you are addressing Detroit, Dallas or Des Moines. The questions include the fairest and best ways to protect public safety.

In our series on parole and probation agencies (see the first at https://www.crimeinamerica.net/2016/08/29/what-works-in-parole-and-probation/) we state,

Many reporters, citizens or policymakers are surprised to discover that there is a lack of clarity as to any aspect as to what works in the criminal justice system. We don’t have a clear understanding as to what works as to crime control or law enforcement. Why would it be any different for parole and probation?

 Parole and probation is at the heart of a national discussion as to what government should do as to controlling and assisting people on community supervision. We need to understand that, of the seven million people under adult correctional supervision, the vast majority are on community supervision, not in jail, not in prison.

From the US Department of Justice for those leaving prison nationally, two-thirds are rearrested and half go back to prison after three years. Other studies put the rate of recidivism higher due to longer measurement periods. The rate of recidivism for probationers is much lower.

For an endless number of reasons (cost, impact, a kinder, gentler justice system, less of a reliance on prison, reducing recidivism, racial justice) thousands of “experts” and national organizations tell those in community supervision to work smarter, not harder with those caught up in the criminal justice system.

What the Experts Want

“Crime in America” reaches a wide audience and not everyone is exposed to the data and national “expert” opinion but the pressure on reforming parole and probation is immense.

The “experts” want (demand?) that fewer people go to prison for violations and that parole and probation agencies focus on meeting the social needs of people on supervision (you can’t call them criminals anymore, you can’t even call them offenders, some use “justice-involved people” or the often critiqued, “clients”). The federal mandate for plain language takes a back seat to a gentler description of people on supervision.

Parole and probation agencies are supposed to meet the social needs of the offenders/clients/justice-involved individuals through substance abuse, mental health, employment, anger management programming, and graduated sanctions (corrective actions) are supposed to take the place of returns to prison. Supervision is in place to prompt good behavior and program participation.

As to pretrial services, I read no fewer that six articles this week as to how agencies throughout the country are going to lessen or end their reliance on monetary bail and move to a supervision structure similar to what is in Washington, D.C.

Thus we have people representing dozens (hundreds?) of prestigious national organizations who feel that parole and probation and pretrial services in Washington, D.C. are models for the country in their use of progressive standards.

There are agencies and community representatives within Washington, D.C. who feel the same way.

Thus the question, if police are unhappy with parole and probation or pretrial operations in D.C. and elsewhere, is the issue within those agencies, or within organizations throughout the country demanding change?

If those agencies do not meet national standards (as designated via a collective consensus) and something goes wrong, wouldn’t the media be the first to ask why supervision agencies are not adhering to the advice of the US Department of Justice and others?

So What’s Going On?

So why do we have a widely admired departing chief of police stating, “a blunt rebuke of the myriad local and federal agencies responsible for keeping offenders in check, saying there are too many failures and too little accountability.

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders… “It is beyond broken.” (Washington Post).

So what is it? Is the criminal justice system in D.C. a widely admired national leader or a system that is beyond broken?

Is there any better examination as to why parole and probation is so misunderstood both in D.C. and throughout the United States?

 D.C. Agencies Federalized

Local criminal justice agencies were federalized in to relieve Washington, D.C. of supposed “state” fiscal responsibilities. Thus the majority of D.C.’s criminal justice system is federal in nature with the police, the jail and youth services under D.C. control. Everything else is federal, including the courts, prosecutor (US Attorney), pretrial and parole and probation and more. Those convicted of D.C. crimes go to federal prisons.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to these agencies by Congress thus providing some of the best trained, equipped and paid entities having exemplary information systems and technologies, the lowest caseloads and best funded social programs in the US criminal justice system. The D.C. federal criminal justice agencies are the envy of their peers throughout the country. They collectively interact (federal and local) through the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. They testify before the D.C. City Council. They meet with the mayor and chief of police.

So again, we ask, what is it? Is the criminal justice system (federalized agencies) in D.C. a widely praised national leader or a system that is beyond broken?

A National Debate

As stated, the principal focus of this article is parole and probation. It’s difficult to comprehensively address all agencies involved; parole and probation wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the Washington Post article.

In our opinion, the situation in D.C. is part of a much larger national debate over repeat offenders. Crime is going up in D.C and cities throughout the country. Crime is rising nationally (see https://www.crimeinamerica.net/crime-rates-united-states/) and the same people filtering into and out of the criminal justice system frustrate cops.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier tells the Washington Post she is frustrated by a system that she said allows repeat violent offenders back on the street time after time.

Yes, D.C. officials want complete control of the justice system, but they willingly gave that up years ago for the federalization of local agencies and the funding and efficiencies that came with it.

Some will suggest that the federalization of justice agencies saved D.C. from a period of increasing crime and brought stability to the city when it was desperately needed.

But in the final analysis, this is a debate over what people want parole and probation agencies to be.

Are they designed to be law enforcement entities that are willing and able to crack down on criminals through jail or prison when they misbehave? If so, better get ready to send hundreds of thousands of additional people to incarceration throughout the nation.

Or are they social service agencies that are there to “work smarter-not harder,” and to humanely meet the pressing social needs of people to keep them from prison and to reduce criminality and the taxpayer burden?

We can’t do both, especially as it pertains to repeat offenders (most are-especially the formerly incarcerated) with a history of violent behavior (more than you realize). There are many who fall into the violent category via arrest and criminal history, regardless as to prosecution or a finding of guilt (i.e., you can viciously beat your wife or neighbor but they refuse to testify).

What we are addressing in D.C. and throughout the nation is a battle for the heart and soul of the criminal justice system. It’s obvious that meeting national standards means little when crime is increasing and citizens are demanding solutions from law enforcement.

Washington Post: “The pressure — police, police, police,” Lanier said. “Go do something about it.

 As long as people turn to the police for solutions to increasing crime, law enforcement is going to focus on repeat offenders and a perceived lack of accountability. It’s a conversation happening throughout the country. It will be a rare chief of police who doesn’t question why repeat offenders are allowed to be in our communities when the truth is that we live with them daily.

Washington Post article at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/lanier-exits-with-rebuke-of-the-districts-criminal-justice-system/2016/09/05/

Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com. Media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

My book: “Amazon Hot New Release”- “A Must Have Book,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization available at Amazon





  1. Probation & parole officers have authority for unannounced home visits & search for guns without a warrant of their caseloads. Why is this not happening in Chicago??

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