Mass Probation and Inequality: Race, Class, and Gender Disparities in Supervision and Revocation

Forthcoming in Punishment Decisions: Locations of Disparity, Handbook on Corrections and Sentencing Series (V2),

ASC Division on Corrections and Sentencing.

Over the past forty years, the number of adults in the U.S. under carceral control massively expanded, with probation—or supervision in the community—serving as the predominant mode of formal supervision. This chapter addresses the role of probation in shaping race, class, and gender disparities in the criminal justice system. Relying on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), I generate the first national estimates of probation supervision prevalence rates by age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status for the mid-2000s and early 2010s. Second, I incorporate data from Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys to compare the demographics of probationers to jail and prison inmates who were on probation at the time of arrest. The results show that while the race, class, and gender skew in probation is less severe than for incarceration, there are deep disparities in which probationers are ultimately incarcerated. Further, a quarter to one fifth of failed probationers are incarcerated for technical revocations of supervision (excluding violations for new arrests). The results call for a better understanding of how disadvantage and privilege facilitate unequal criminal justice outcomes and, more broadly, the role of probation in exacerbating social inequality.