Expediting Probation to Reduce Length of Stay in Jail

By: Beth Huebner, Lee Ann Slocum

Data Analysis Jail Populations Probation Sanctions January 12, 2023

Jurisdictions across the country can learn from efforts to study probation violations in-depth. A new report on probation violations as a driver of jail time in St. Louis County, Missouri shows that expediated probation programs have much to offer and can work to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the system.

Probation matters. More people are under probation supervision in America than any other correctional sanction. One in 84 adult U.S. residents is on probation right now, which increases the risk for later imprisonment. As an initiative of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) is seeking to reduce jail populations. So, looking at probation violations is an important step toward doing that. Most of the current research on jail reform has considered the pretrial population, but we know less about individuals returned to jail for a probation technical violation, which includes failure to meet the conditions of probation supervision (e.g., maintaining employment, regular office visits, and routine drug tests).

We looked at the probation revocation process in St. Louis County, an SJC site. Before joining the SJC, the county’s jail population had been either near or over capacity for over a decade. But it has reduced average jail populations by 30% since 2016 through a series of measures.

We looked at how long people who violated probation in St. Louis County were detained in jail, and race differences in jail admission and length of stay trends. We also used a racial equity framework for the study to see if jail reform efforts harmed or helped people of color. As part of this work, we evaluated the county’s Expedited Probation Program (EPP). This program was implemented as part of the SJC reform efforts and is designed to speed up case processing and provide services for people detained on a probation violation.

We found that individuals who are booked into jail for probation violations represent a small part of the total jail population in St. Louis County, but they have substantially longer lengths of stay than other groups. The length of stay for people on probation declined by 33% from 2016 to 2019, from 44 to 30 days. In comparison, the average length of stay for the total jail population remained stable at 23 days in 2016 and 2019.

While Black individuals on probation had longer lengths of stay than White individuals, we found that some racial disparities in length of stay have declined over time. Still, racial disparities remain in the jail population. While the county population is about two-thirds White and one-fourth Black, the 2016 and 2019 jail probation population was made up of about 54% Black individuals compared to about 45% White individuals.

Meanwhile, the EPP program provides evidence that reforms can reduce the length of time people on probation are in jail and an opportunity to learn about potential best practices. Broadly, the program is designed to expedite the revocation process to divert individuals from jail to community-based treatment. Unlike most correctional interventions, the primary aim of the project is to change how individuals are processed in jail instead of solely expecting individuals in the program to reform based on service provision. Specifically, the goal of the EPP is to have individuals evaluated by a judge and released within 10-12 days of incarceration.

The EPP model integrates evidence-based interventions including: 1) detailed coordination with members of the supervision team such as probation officers, jail case managers, and community treatment staff to ensure a continuum of care; 2) case coordination with a probation officer embedded in the jail; 3) treatment plans presented to judges for approval (reducing delays in the hearing process); and 4) warm handoffs and linkages to services.

The Expedited Probation Program (EPP) achieved its goal of reducing the number of days individuals admitted to the program were detained in jail, and these reductions were substantial. On average, participants spent 28 days in jail compared to 65 days among people in a comparisons group who were not in the program. Further, the processing time continued to decline as the program progressed.

In addition, the implementation of the program led to a larger decline in the length of stay for Black individuals in the program. Although this effect needs to be explored in more detail, there is potential evidence that this type of change to case processing may be able to attenuate some of the racial disparities inherent in this part of the criminal legal system.

While the program was successful in reducing the number of days people were detained in jail, the recidivism rates were higher for the EPP group than for the comparison group. Interviews with program staff suggest that there is substantial stress and barriers to compliance with the court-mandated programming associated with the intervention, which may have led to higher rates of technical violations, like failure to meet conditions of substance abuse treatment or missing appointments, among the intervention group. Emerging from our interviews with stakeholders and system-involved people also indicated that people on probation have substantial unmet needs, many of which were related to substance use disorders and poverty. COVID-19 also has changed how the probation office Interacts with clients, shifting to a community-based model in which probation officers meet clients in the community or over Zoom. There is general support for these changes. In addition, many of the participants appreciated the ability to interact with the court virtually for probation violation hearings.

Overall, the results of the EPP program suggest that collaborative processes can be instituted to reduce the time spent in jail for a probation violation. That noted, to reduce the rates of recidivism among this group, more work needs to be conducted to better understand the needs of people released and how to best provide services to this group that facilitates long-term integration.


Diversion Incarceration Trends Probation Sanctions January 12, 2023

Probation Violations as Drivers of Jail Incarceration in St. Louis County, Missouri

Beth M. Huebner, Lee Ann Slocum, Andrea Giuffre, Kimberly Kras, and Bobby Boxerman

Many have argued that we are in the era of mass probation, as more people are under probation supervision than under any other correctional sanction. Although there have been declines in the national probation population over the past decade, one in 84 adult US residents is currently on probation. Nationwide, local jail populations have also grown—from 184,000 in 1980 to 741,900 in 2019. The increased use of probation inflates the population at risk of subsequent confinement in jail or prison. Individuals who violate their probation, in some states, are detained in jail and await a hearing. Despite the growth in probation revocations and the increased use of jail stays as a response to technical violations, however, there is little evidence to suggest that short-term stays of incarceration reduce recidivism.

Adding to the growing rate of probation is the problem of racial disparity in incarceration. People of color are disproportionately represented among the probation population. In 2018, Black people represented 30% of the US probation population, twice their proportion in the national population. Further, almost half of all young Black men (24 to 32 years old) with no high school degree reported having been on probation at some point. Black individuals, particularly young men, are also more likely than White individuals to struggle on probation and to be given multiple conditions of supervision. Although there is evidence that Black individuals are more likely to have their probation revoked, less is known about how revocation to jail influences trajectories and outcomes for this group.

Jail stays also have deleterious effects in the short and long term. For example, Harding and colleagues found that short terms of jail incarceration resulting from technical violations suppressed the earnings of individuals by about 13% in the nine months after release from custody. The churn of multiple jail stays, even if short in length, also causes strain and instability among families, leaving them feeling hopeless under the constant eye of supervision. Yet, the unique needs of jail populations overall, and those of individuals who violate probation terms, are rarely considered in correctional reforms.

Additional Downloads


Courts Data Analysis Frequent Jail Users Incarceration Trends Probation Sanctions May 5, 2022

Trends in Jail Incarceration for Probation Violations

Rochisha Shukla, Ammar Khalid, Arielle Jackson

Urban Institute report on Trends in Jail Incarceration for Probation Violations

In partnership with the Adult Probation Department in Pima County, Arizona, and as part of broader research funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge to examine the impact on jail use of providing housing supports for people on probation in Pima County, the Urban Institute analyzed trends in jail incarceration for people with probation violations using datasets for overall jail bookings in the county from 2015 to 2020 and petitions-to-revoke for people on probation from 2016 to 2020. This case study summarizes our findings on patterns in overall jail bookings and petitions-to-revoke and, for the probation population in jail, analyzes average lengths of stay and patterns by race and ethnicity and sex.

How Probation Supervision Contributes to Jail Populations

By: Alex Roth, Sandhya Kajeepeta

Jail Populations Probation Sanctions Racial Disparities October 28, 2021

Probation is the most common sentence in the United States. In 2019, one in 73 adults was on probation, and there were almost 1.5 million more people on probation than in jails and prisons combined. Although the problems of “mass supervision,” particularly the way probation violations contribute to state prison populations, have begun to draw greater critical attention, there is very little information about how probation contributes to local jail populations.

A new report released by the Vera Institute of Justice, with support from the Safety and Justice Challenge, focuses on the ways probation can affect jail populations and what can be done differently.

Research shows people are frequently sentenced to overly long terms of probation and have to comply with an average of 10 to 20 conditions, which are often vague and sometimes conflict with each other. The difficulty of complying with all of these conditions for long periods of time frequently leads to “technical” violations (violations of supervision conditions that are not based on new criminal conduct) and can lead to revocation of probation and imposition of a jail or prison sentence. Nationally, only around 60 percent of people under supervision complete probation successfully.

Probation is also marked by significant racial disparities. Despite being more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison than probation, Black people are still over 2.6 times more likely than white people to be on probation. When they are sentenced to probation, Black people tend to be given more conditions and to be on probation for longer terms than similarly situated white people. They are also more likely to have violations filed against them, to be sanctioned with incarceration, and to have probation revoked and be sentenced to incarceration.

There are multiple ways probation supervision can result in jail incarceration, such as detention of people waiting for court hearings on violations alleged by a probation officer or sentencing of people to jail for probation violations. There is some evidence that increasing numbers of people are choosing to accept a jail sentence up front to avoid probation, as they view probation as too difficult to comply with and likely to result in eventual incarceration anyway.

National data provides almost no details on how probation contributes to jail populations. To begin to remedy this gap, we analyzed jail data from nine jurisdictions participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge. This analysis showed admissions to jail for probation violations vary from a low of 3.9 percent to a high of 23.8 percent. The data also showed that length of stay (LOS) for people with probation violations was much longer than for those held in jail for other reasons. Because of this extended LOS, on any given day, the proportion of people in jail for probation violations greatly exceeded their share of jail admissions. The probation violation ADP ranged from 9.1 percent to just over 50 percent. Our analysis also confirmed significant racial disparities: across the sites for which race data was available, Black and Native American people were held in jail for probation violations at rates far higher than their representation in the general public.

We also highlight strategies in two SJC sites to reduce probation violation populations in jail. For example, St. Louis County placed three full-time probation staff members in their jail to meet right away with people who come in on violations and work on release plans and recommendations that can be delivered directly to judges. This has led to more judges ordering release based on a probation officer’s written recommendations rather than waiting to hold a preliminary hearing.

Allegheny County, meanwhile, adopted multiple strategies to try to prevent people from going to jail on probation detainers and to get those who are jailed released more quickly. A new policy makes probation detainers an option of last resort, as probation officers in most cases must exhaust all other options for keeping people in the community before issuing detainers, while also requiring earlier release planning and regular follow up for people who do get detained. Allegheny County also developed procedures to ensure that probation violations and new charges are resolved at the same hearing, rather than waiting an average of two months between separate hearings. Finally, the County adopted criteria for termination of probation agreed on by the public defender’s and district attorney’s offices, which led to judges ending probation early for more people who were doing well under supervision.

To better understand how probation affects jail populations, probation agencies and local jails should work together to combine data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, to ensure that they can determine who is in jail for probation violations; whether the violations are all technical or include new charges; whether people are being detained pending a violation hearing, serving a sentence as a direct sanction for a violation, or serving a previously imposed jail sentence after probation has been revoked; and how long people are spending in jail pending hearings and/or after being sentenced for violations.

Because probation can be a significant driver of jail populations, jurisdictions should work to reduce the number of people detained for violations as well as the time they stay in jail for those violations. Sites should consider using alternative non-carceral sentences instead of probation, limiting the length of probation, reducing and tailoring the number of probation conditions, reducing the frequency of reporting and allowing remote reporting, using summonses instead of warrants for violations, eliminating or severely restricting the use of detainers, and using only non-carceral sanctions for technical violations.

Multnomah County, OR

Change in Jail Population 26%

Action Areas Community Engagement Pretrial Justice Probation Sanctions Racial Disparities

Last Updated


Multnomah County has seen significant reductions in jail use, but work remains to be done. Over-reliance on jail continues to impact the most marginalized community members, including people of color, people with mental health issues and/or substance use disorders, and people who are unhoused or have limited incomes. Multnomah County is committed to continuing efforts to reduce its reliance on incarceration and address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system.

According to a 2019 report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute, prevalent and persistent racial disparities impact communities of color at every decision point in Multnomah County’s public safety system. Those disparities combined with system inefficiencies in the County’s pretrial system — a critical point in a defendant’s right to due process — create undue harm.


Multnomah County advanced several strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.



In 2020, Multnomah County launched an initiative to overhaul the pretrial system and implement a system that is more risk-based and maximizes pretrial release. This includes implementing the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), rethinking the County’s approach to pretrial monitoring and improving the arraignment process. The County is approaching this process with emphasis on transparency, collaboration, and racial equity.



Reducing racial and ethnic disparities has been a focus of the County’s core strategies. The efforts, which include opening the Diane Wade House, a transitional house for justice-involved Black women, and using data to identify disparities, are a testament to partners’ determination to succeed. The County plans to launch a subcommittee comprised equally of community members and policymakers to address disparities throughout the criminal legal system.



Multnomah County launched a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to help guide the planning and oversight of the Diane Wade House. The CAB has played a vital role in the future visioning of the program. The County is currently identifying opportunities to amplify community voices in all other reform efforts, including work to overhaul the pretrial system and through Transforming Justice focus groups.



The COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities for policy change to reduce the transmission of disease and over-reliance on jail. Some of these changes include increased use of summons in lieu of booking, changes in booking policy, limiting the use of sanctions for technical violations of probation conditions and increased use of remote court hearings. Moving forward, Multnomah County will continue to evaluate the sustainability of these policy changes.



Sanction practice changes for people on parole and probation have played a significant role in the reduction of local jail use. The policy, implemented within Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice in 2016, requires parole and probation officers to limit the use of jail sanctions for technical violations such as failure to abide by a parole and probation officer’s directive. This change has not only reduced county jail use, but is consistent with evidence-based practices on the effectiveness of long-term sanctions in behavior change.


As a result of the strategies above, Multnomah County has made progress toward its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Multnomah County (2016-2024)

26.5% from baseline

More Results

The County has seen significant reductions in the local jail population due to swift action from policymakers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among adults in custody, as well as a continued interest in sustaining policies to maintain a low jail population. Additionally, local policymakers are committed to moving toward a risk-based pretrial system, which will increase the number of individuals released pretrial and further the County’s goals of reducing its reliance on jail. Since the beginning of the county’s participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge, there has been a significant reduction in the jail population while keeping the community safe.

Also, in recognition of the immense collateral consequences and economic disadvantage people on supervision already face, Multnomah County eliminated parole and probation fees within the County’s Department of Community Justice. Supervision fees place incredible financial pressure on individuals who are exiting the criminal justice system, a disproportionate number of whom come from Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. The move includes elimination of community service fees, urinalysis fees, and any other administrative fee collected from people involved in the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Multnomah County is committed to addressing its remaining challenges to ensure the local justice system is fair, just, and equitable for all.

In an effort to launch a broad systemic conversation about inequities embedded in the criminal legal system, the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council’s (LPSCC) January 2020 What Works conference highlighted the need to redefine the jurisdiction’s entire approach to criminal justice and intentionally put equity at the center. In response, LPSCC launched a multi-year Transforming Justice process to develop, align and implement strategies for system change by engaging criminal system leaders, health/housing system leaders, elected officials, service providers, victims of crime, community members, and individuals with lived experience to ask hard questions and, together, reimagine the future of justice policy. An inclusive steering committee of people with diverse backgrounds and professions was formed in May 2021 to direct this work, under the guidance of outside facilitators identified through a competitive procurement process.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the County’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies — including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies — set the County up to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Action from policymakers to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among adults in custody led to significant reductions in the local jail population and, moving forward, a continued interest in sustaining the policies to maintain a low population. Further, the challenges of the pandemic, paired with local and national calls for racial justice and reckoning, are powerful motivators to substantially change the way the local criminal justice system functions.

Lead Agency

Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council

Contact Information

Abbey Stamp

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