22 February 2018

Rise of Probation

The probation system, as we know it, dates back to the Progressive Era and was created to provide offenders with a supervised path to reintegrate into society. Contemporary critics say that probation is often arbitrarily enforced and is frequently a pipeline back to prison. This week, problems with our current probation system and its disproportionate impacts on African Americans.

Guests: Michelle Phelps, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and a Faculty Affiliate at the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice


  • Part 1 – 14:46

    Phelps says that while America’s mass incarceration issue is better known, it’s more accurate to frame the siuation as mass penal supervision or mass criminal justice control. Currently in the United States, Phelps says, there are over four million people on probation supervision and parole, compared to over one million who are incarcerated. Probation and parole often entails curfews, restrictions, fines and fees. “Instead of helping them transition into the community,” Phelps says, “we create these really onerous demands that then cycle then back into prison.”

  • Part 2 – 11:37

    Improving the probation and parole systems, Phelps says, requires establishing clearer guidelines and addressing the following question: “What are the conditions that we actually want to enforce, and what are the conditions that should allow somebody to be reincarcerated?”