Chief Probation Officers Statement: California Probation Different Than the Nation
Rehabilitation & Reform First Approach Resulted in Reduction in Recidivism Rates


Sacramento, CA, June 18, 2020 – David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and Vincent Schiraldi, former commissioner of New York City Probation and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab authored an opinion editorial in the Los Angeles Times yesterday that highlighted the national challenge probation and parole are facing. The challenges they highlighted are worthy of national attention and we encourage others to look at some of the reforms implemented in California to understand how to focus a system on rehabilitation first, individualized care, and an emphasis on deterring incarceration that has led to better outcomes.

“What the authors of the opinion editorial failed to mention was how reforms in probation have worked in California and could work for the rest of the nation. Through the reform-focus of our state leaders and probation, we have proven that rehabilitation and individualized assessment interrupts the criminal cycle by utilizing interventions to address the risk of reoffending,” said Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) executive director Karen Pank.

The authors of this opinion editorial stated that “people under supervision, one missed appointment, one curfew violation, one failed drug urine test or even an accusation of violating a parole or probation rule could result in being re-incarcerated, in some cases, without even a hearing.” This is NOT the case in California.

In fact, California probation over the past decade has led the nation in adult reforms since the passage of SB 678 in 2009. This legislation provided the resources needed to implement evidence-based practices and tools to determine appropriate levels of intervention for technical violations of supervision. Because of these reforms, probation can respond to each event based on specific, individual and available information informed by the evidence and not a one-size-fits-all prescriptive approach.  This resulted in reducing the prison population by more than 6,000 in the first year of implementation and reduced prison revocations by more than 30% after the second year of implementation. It also resulted in a reduction of state correctional expenditures by over one billion dollars in savings since implementation.

“We do not lean on re-incarceration as our first or only option. We use the data from all of our evidence-based tools and approaches to guide our decisions and interventions which has led to such success in reductions in prison revocations and a savings for the state of over one billion dollars. We also know we are not done and stand behind further reform that is research-based and builds on the current progress made in California,” said Pank.

California has a record of over a decade of reform success that other states across the nation should consider emulating. Prior to the enactment of SB 678, 40 percent of people entering state prison were entering because of probation failures and there were very few state dollars focused on local rehabilitation programs that serve people on probation.

In a March 2020 opinion editorial by CPOC and Californians for Safety and Justice stated, “SB 678 showed that, with state support, county probation was often more effective than a state prison commitment at reducing the likelihood someone would commit a new crime. Additional probation changes have included training probation officers in evidence-based practices, increased reentry and support services and more emphasis on community supervision practices that address underlying needs such as mental health or substance use to reduce recidivism. The results have benefited public safety, as well as the health and well-being of people exiting probation. In the first few years after the passage of SB 678, the overall probation failure rate dropped by 23 percent. This means a reduction of individuals cycling in and out of state prison.”

The authors of the op-ed in the Los Angeles Times also mentioned that “in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed to trim the time people can serve on parole to two years and Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles) similarly proposed reducing probation terms to two years.” It’s important to note CPOC has not only endorsed the Governor’s proposal but advocated for it in a Sacramento Bee opinion editorial jointly authored by Californians for Safety and Justice. The key to this proposal is the need for proper resources to best serve these individuals so alternatives exist to returning people to prison. As said in the op-ed in March, “We have a better chance of breaking the cycle of crime by front-loading services within the first two years of supervision for the people that need the support, regardless of offense. Everyone from law enforcement to crime survivors, to people entering the justice system should be positively impacted by these changes. We know rehabilitation is not mutually exclusive to accountability. If we know which factors to address to most effectively impact behavior change, we need a system that is incentivized to do that for all who encounter it.”

To learn more about California Probation’s focus on rehabilitation and reform, go to the recent report released by the California Probation Resource Institute: SB 678
Incentive-Based Funding and Evidence-Based Practices Enacted by California Probation Are Associated with Lower Recidivism Rates and Improved Public Safety

Contact: Laura Dixon at or 510-384-3020.