ACLU calls for Delaware probation reform

Delaware Dept. of Correction disputes the ACLU report that the state’s probation system promotes “a culture of punishment” that leads too many people back to prison.

(Big Stock image)

(Big Stock image)

A report released this week by the ACLU of Delaware calls the state’s system of probation and parole costly and ineffective at preventing people recently released from prison from returning.

“Delaware has the eighth highest rate of people on probation in the United States, which has led to a revolving door of people leaving prison only to return back,” said Javonne Rich, policy advocate at ACLU of Delaware.

ACLU DE Executive Director Mike Brickner said one out of every three people released from prison is rearrested for a technical probation violation. “Oftentimes, that is not for committing a new crime, but for having some sort of status violation where you missed a meeting with your probation officer, or you didn’t do one of the list of tasks that you’re supposed to do,” he said. He said putting those people back behind bars can be disruptive not just for that individual, but also for society.

Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis disputed Brickner’s assessment, saying probation violations are not driving an increase in incarceration. “It’s just false to say that the probation system is driving incarceration rates in Delaware. First of all, Delaware incarceration rates are at 25-year lows,” DeMatteis said. Right now, there are about 4,500 people being held in Delaware prisons down from a high of more than 7,000 in recent years, said DeMatteis. The number of people under probation is also down 7% over the past seven years, she said.

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State leaders have historically registered Delaware’s recidivism rate at about 70%, but a new report by the DOC says the rate is now at less than 25%. DeMatteis said the dramatic difference is the result of a change in the way Delaware tracks recidivism. Parole violations are no longer counted as part of the recidivism rate, due to an executive order from Governor John Carney. If that accounts for the entire discrepancy, then at least 45% of what had been counted as recidivism was actually parole violations as opposed to new crimes committed by formerly incarcerated people.

Earlier this year, Carney highlighted a program at Howard R. Young prison in Wilmington that aims to provide those recently released from prison an ID card, SNAP benefits, Medicaid enrollment, and help with mental health and substance abuse, as well as information about job openings and transportation to appointments. Last year, Carney announced plans to use federal money to create a transition plan for every formerly incarcerated person and provide financial assistance upon their release to help them get on their feet. The money also funded a job training program for those in work release at Plummer Community Corrections Center in Wilmington.

The ACLU’s Brickner wants to see more reforms to the state’s probation system, including the elimination of probation for minor convictions, and limiting probation terms to just one year. He said if those changes and others are adopted, the state could reduce probation violations by 60% and cut the average length of probation time by half. That could save the state $37 million by 2025. He’d also like to see probation officers rewarded for helping people successfully transition out of probation.

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