Probation Reform Recommendations
The following recommendations would help Delaware reimagine its probation system to create impactful, measurable change.
1. Shut down Operation Safe Streets and The Governor’s Task Force.
The effect of this program is harassment and over-policing of communities of color. It creates a culture of probation focused on law enforcement, not rehabilitation.
2. Eliminate probation sentences for minor convictions.
By using out-of-court diversion, restorative justice programs, and alternative sentencing for minor crimes, judges can reduce probation officer caseloads to allow them to better monitor those who actually present a public safety risk.
3. Stop incarcerating people for technical violations.
Prison or jail time should be used only as a last resort to protect public safety. Other alternatives—like community-based graduated sanctions—should be tried, and documented, before any individual is incarcerated for anything other than committing a new criminal offense.
4. Customize probation terms to meet individual needs.
Assigning the same 13 conditions to each person on probation doesn’t make Delaware safer but makes it needlessly difficult to successfully complete probation. Additionally, a person on probation with a successful track record should be allowed early discharge, incentivizing compliance and conserving probation resources.
5. Measure the probation department’s success by its ability to keep people on probation from incarceration.
The Department of Correction should create an incentive structure that encourages probation personnel to refer people on probation to case management, treatment programs, education, and other resources as needed to help people on probation stabilize their lives. This could enable more people formerly incarcerated to make restitution payments to victims.
6. Collect and publish race data.
Like the prison system, the probation system disproportionately impacts black people in Delaware. Lawmakers and the general public need data to better understand the drivers of the racial disparities that are evident in the system and how to find solutions.
7. Invest in community-based reentry programs to provide formerly incarcerated people the help they need.
Delaware has many community-based reentry programs that boast low recidivism rates and help people succeed on probation. But these programs lack funding and space to meet the current demand. It is time for Delaware to invest more heavily in these services.
8. Limit probation terms to one year.
Although the current Department of Justice policy is to generally request only 1 year of probation, people sentenced years ago are leaving prison today with multi-year probation terms. Delaware needs policy changes that will allow people to apply for release from probation after successfully completing one year, unless they are eligible for release earlier. Delaware should also stop holding people on probation just because they can’t afford court fines and fees or mandatory, costly out-of-pocket probation programs.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Delaware’s broken probation system is a pipeline to prison, impacting individuals, families, and entire communities across the state every day.
The probation system is not making Delaware safer—-but it is costing the state millions of dollars that could be spent on victim services and community-based treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Delaware must join the scholars, policymakers, and correctional executives from around the country that are calling for and implementing significant reforms to their probation systems.
Now is the time for Delaware to reimagine its broken probation system.
TOP REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS:
Probation be reserved for people who truly need supervision
Impose only the conditions needed to achieve the objectives of supervision
Eliminate supervision fees
Incentivize program compliance by granting early discharge for those who exhibit progress
Invest in community-based services to assist those reentering society