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 34%

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 (2016-2022)

33.9% 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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