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The Hidden Power of Probation: How Thousands of People Unlawfully Remain on Probation’s Rolls

Updated: May 3, 2021

Volume 1.

Up to 12,000 Sacramento residents are overdue for either early probation termination or a reduction due to a January 2021 law (Assembly Bill 1950). These longer probation terms reduce opportunity for Black and brown residents and place them at higher risk for going to jail.

In March 2021, Sacramento County’s Chief Fiscal Officer, Britt Ferguson, was making a case to the County Board of Supervisors to expand the county jails and admitted, “We are a high incarceration county, but I’m not entirely sure why that is.”

To understand how over 40,000 jail bookings occur every year in Sacramento--to create one of the highest incarceration rates among similarly sized counties in CA--we need to look under the hood a little bit. We need to dig deeper.

Today, over 20,000 Sacramento County residents (both adults and young people) are under probation control, many of whom are likely to be (re)caged. For comparison, in 2019, Sacramento had the 11th highest rate of adult probation caseload, when compared with 58 counties.

Probation, in theory, is supposed to be less punitive and support vulnerable people to re-enter into their community. Instead, probation has become a deceptive tool for monitoring, controlling, and ultimately caging thousands of people in Sacramento. Contradicting the ideology of the roots of probation--to rehabilitate--the increased caseloads have become one of the primary drivers for re-caging. Nationally, 45% of all prison readmissions come from parole and probation violations. A quarter of those readmissions are a result of technical violations, missed appointments, or failed drug tests that impacted persons say are designed to make them fail.

People returning from jail, even if the jail stay is only for a few days, have major challenges in re-entering into their community. As the American Public Health Association has noted, “The adverse effects of incarceration on individuals and communities do not end upon release. After incarcerated individuals are released from confinement they are found to be nearly ten times more likely to experience houselessness than the general public, and face numerous barriers to achieving health including: restricted access to education, employment, and public housing.” The traumatic impacts of the criminal legal system are extensive and multi-generational. This is especially true for Black and Brown communities who are often over-policed.

In this series, we’re going to help CFO Britt Ferguson and the County answer why we cage so many people. We’ll examine how one Sacramento County agency: the probation department, in conjunction with the Sacramento District Attorney and the Sacramento Superior Court, are culprits in deferring broad criminal justice reform efforts, including the implementation of state law AB1950. At stake are thousands of Sacramento residents, particularly Black and brown persons, who could be taken off probation today, and avoid another pathway to caging.

In our next post, we’ll talk about how then-Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager linked up with Jay-Z and Meek Mill to pass historic AB1950 in 2020. But also, how this law is being slow-rolled in Sacramento County to suppress opportunity in Black and brown communities.

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