Every day in the state of Wisconsin, there are approximately 45,000 convicted criminals who are still under sentence and are living in our neighborhoods and communities
By Anne Morrison Piehl
As of May, nearly 40,000 Wisconsin residents were on probation, serving criminal sentences in the community; they represent over 70 percent of the offenders under the supervision of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. About 30 percent of offenders admitted to prison in Wisconsin are serving a probation sentence at the time. Nationally, 43 percent of felons sentenced to probation in 1986 were rearrested within three years. These statistics suggest an important link between the two forms of supervision: prison and probation.
As fiscal pressures mount, probation and related cheaper alternatives to imprisonment are promoted and utilized more frequently. The analysis in this paper relies on c\ survey of prisoners and information on inmates from the Department of Corrections, along with other available national evidence, to describe the probation population and to consider the differences between those who arrive in prison having been under the supervision of a probation agent and the rest of offenders.
Inmates in Wisconsin prisons who were on probation at the time of their arrest for their current offense are younger than other inmates, receive shorter sentences, are less likely to have I prior prison experience and are more likely to have committed economic rather than violent offenses. In addition, male probation violators are less likely to have been working, more likely to have been looking for work, less likely to be high-school graduates and less likely to think they’ll gain from prison education and training than the rest of the offenders.
Statistical models called probits show that probation violators are not more chronic offenders than other inmates. In fact, male probation violators are less likely, and female probation violators no more likely, than other inmates to return to prison again, taking their backgrounds into account.
The courts and the Department of Corrections seem to have some success in sorting out the more chronic offenders from those who are less likely to commit further crimes. Half of those sentenced to probation are not sent to prison during the term of supervision; without probation state funds would have to pay to incarcerate those individuals. These facts suggest a role for probation in the state’s correctional policy. However, whether that role should be as large as 70 percent cannot be answered within the confines of this study. In order to draw broader conclusions as to the value of public spending on probation, further research must focus on the group which does not violate the terms of probation and also on the effects of serving prison time.