Mass Probation

Probation, a court-ordered sanction for misdemeanor and felony-level offenses in which individuals are supervised in the community is the largest form of criminal justice supervision. At its peak in 2007, 1 in every 53 adults (and 1 in 12 black men) were on probation. Yet this form of punishment is typically neglected in sociological research, understating the reach—and mischaracterizing the form—of penal control. In my research, I define mass probation and explain its causes and consequences.

Ongoing work in this area is under my Mass Probation & Health project.

My Grand Challenges team, pictured here with special guest speaker Bruce Western.


Phelps, Michelle S. 2024. “What Is Probation, Anyway? Reflections from a Decade of Research.” Federal Sentencing Reporter 36 (4): 177–180. [Invited Commentary] .

Shlafer, Rebecca J., Michelle S. Phelps,  J’Mag Karbeah, and Alyssa Scott. 2023. “Parents on Probation: Custody, Co-residence, and Care of Minor Children During Community Supervision.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation OnlineFirst (Aug. 24, 2023).

Phelps, Michelle S., H.N. Dickens, and De Andre’ T. Beadle. 2023. “Are Supervision Violations Filling Prisons? The Role of Probation, Parole, and New Offenses in Driving Mass Incarceration.”  Socius 9: 1–3. 

Piehowski, Victoria and Michelle S. Phelps. 2023. “Strong-arm Sobriety: Addressing Precarity through Probation.” Law & Social Inquiry 48(2): 489-516.

Phelps, Michelle S., Ingie Osman, Chris E. Robertson, and Rebecca Shlafer. 2022. “Beyond ‘Pains’ and ‘Gains’: Untangling the Health Consequences of Probation.” Health & Justice 10, Article number 29. 

Phelps, Michelle S. and Ebony L. Ruhland. 2022. “Governing Marginality: Coercion and Care in Probation.” Social Problems 69(3): 799–816. 

Winkelman, Phelps, Mitchell, Jennings, and Shlafer. 2020. “Physical Health and Disability among Adults on Community Supervision in the United States.” Journal of Correctional Health Care 26(2): 129-137.

Phelps. 2020. “Mass Probation Across the U.S.: States’ Control Regimes from 1980 to 2016” in Criminal Justice Theory: Explanation and Effects, Cecilia Chouhy, Joshua C. Cochran, and Cheryl Lero Jonson (Eds.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Phelps, Michelle S. 2020. “Mass Probation from Micro to Macro: Tracing the Expansion and Consequences of Community Supervision.” Annual Review of Criminology 3: 261-279. 

Phelps (2018).  Ending Mass Probation: Sentencing, Supervision, and Revocation. Future of Children 28(1): 125-146.

Phelps (2018).  Mass Probation and Inequality: Race, Class, and Gender Disparities in Supervision and Revocation. Handbook on Punishment Decisions: Locations of Disparity, ASC Division on Corrections & Sentencing.

Phelps (2018). Discourses of Mass Probation: From Managing Risk to Reforming Punishment in Michigan. British Journal of Criminology 58(5): 1107–1126.  

Rubin & Phelps (2017). Fracturing the Penal State: State Actors and the Role of Conflict in Penal Change. Theoretical Criminology 21(4): 422-440.

Phelps & Curry (2017). Supervision in the Community: Probation and Parole. Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

Phelps (2017). Mass Probation: Toward a More Robust Theory of State Variation in Punishment. Punishment & Society 19(1): 53-73.

Phelps (2015). The Curious Disappearance of Sociological Research on Probation Supervision. Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Annual 7: 1-30.

Phelps (2013). The Paradox of Probation: Community Supervision in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Law & Policy 35(1-2): 51-80.