Task Force Outlines Model to Revitalize NY's Probation System
By Anita Womack-Weidner
A newly released report recommends that budgetary and oversight functions of state probation services be shifted from the executive to the judicial branch because the current system is overburdened, also calling for additional state funding for local probation departments to bring reimbursement rates back up to levels set two decades ago.
"In 1986, New York state was reimbursing county probation departments almost 47 percent of their total budgets. Today, reimbursement to local probation departments hovers around 18 percent," cites the Feb. 26 report, issued by the Task Force on the Future of Probation in New York, at one point stating, "Probation is in dire need of more resources in order to do its job and fulfill its mission to protect public safety."
The 23-member task force was appointed last year by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to create a model for making probation a more vital state entity. Chaired by former New York state Sen. John R. Dunne and comprising judges, court administrators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officials, academics and others, the task force studied successful innovations in other states, met with and reviewed the literature of numerous experts and conducted public hearings around the state in gathering data for its report.
"While the state reaps the benefits associated with probationary sentences for those felons who would otherwise be incarcerated in state prison, it has failed to live up to its statutory commitment of contributing 50 percent toward the costs incurred by local probation departments," said Judge Kaye, in appointing the panel. There are currently some 120,000 offenders being supervised by probation officers statewide at an annual cost of $4,000 per probationer. In contrast, it costs $32,000 to keep an offender in prison for one year in New York state.
First introduced in the United States in 1841, probation has since emerged as a cost-efficient means of ending the cycle of crime by giving offenders a chance at becoming law-abiding, productive members of the community, at the same time providing objective information to the court system and its criminal justice partners about an offender's past criminal history, personal characteristics and outside influences in assessing whether that individual presents a good risk for a probationary sentence.
Though probation services are utilized by many different components of the criminal justice system, the state's criminal and family courts are the primary beneficiaries of well-funded, adequately staffed local probation departments and therefore have the most to lose if this downward spiral continues, stated the report, referring to the courts' reliance on probation reports and other information in making informed bail, sentencing and other critical decisions in cases involving adult as well as juvenile offenders.
To address this decline in funding to New York's county probation departments, the task force recommends that the state provide an additional $75 million annually, to be phased in over three years. In transferring probation oversight to the judicial branch, the group calls for the creation within the court system of a new Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives. This new entity would replace the state's Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, with responsibility for distribution of state funds to local probation departments and training of probation officers statewide. Though the new office would also assist in enforcing the rules and regulations governing the practice of probation in New York, the delivery of actual services would still fall within control of local counties.
The full text of the report is available at: www.nycourts.gov/reports/future-probation_2007.pdf
Spring 2007 (PDF)
Contents Judicial Compensation Plan Compensation Fact Sheet New DWI Statute Center for Court Innovation New Faces on Court of Appeals Commission on Probation Children's Summit Black History Month Court Officers' Academy Family Court Statute Historic Courthouse Did You Know? Judicial Institute Calendar