While probation may have originally been intended as a reform to the criminal punishment system, today’s probation system is a carceral tool in its own right. Instead of functioning as an alternative to incarceration, probation is a barrier to freedom. Today, community supervision is the primary driver of mass incarceration, both in jails and prisons.
Its impact on Allegheny County is significant as well: the primary reason for pretrial detention in the region is probation detainers. Probation detainers, orders by judges prohibiting pretrial release for individuals on probation, account for over a third of the jail population — far greater than the proportion of people held on cash bail alone.
This report seeks to shed light on county-specific probation data, but the responsibility for increasing transparency rests with the courts. The courts have access to far more nuanced and refined data that could answer many questions about the efficacy of probation — but the majority of that information is not publicly released. Residents of Allegheny County, whom the judges are supposed to serve, deserve access to this valuable information.
Date of Publication: July 10, 2023
Report authors: Dolly Prabhu, Dan Bernstein (data consultant)
Funding for this report was generously provided by a Tech and Data for Justice + Equity grant from the Urban Institute and Microsoft’s Justice Reform Initiative.