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Ending Mass Supervision in San Francisco

Chesa Boudin is committed to ending not just mass incarceration in the United States, but also mass supervision. When he is elected San Francisco District Attorney, he will work to ensure that community supervision is used only when necessary on those who are truly incarceration bound and only for as long as is needed to protect public safety and improve the outcomes of people who have committed a crime.

The Problem

Probation and parole were founded in the 1800s, probation as a rehabilitative attempt to divert people from incarceration, and parole as an early release mechanism to reward incarcerated people with early release for good behavior and program participation while incarcerated.

But over the last four decades, as criminal justice policy grew more punitive nationally and in California, the number of people on probation and parole mushroomed nearly four-fold, becoming more punitive and less devoted to healing and reintegration. Now, 4.5 million people are on probation and parole in America, twice as many as are incarcerated and more people than live in most U.S. States. 

Once rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration, probation and parole have now become deprivations of liberty in their own right and trip wires back to incarceration. Forty-five percent of people entering our prisons last year were on probation and parole when they were incarcerated. On any given day, nearly 280,000 people are incarcerated in the U.S., not for new crimes, but for violating a technical condition of their supervision like missing appointments or using drugs.  Incarceration for these technical violations costs taxpayers $9 billion annually. Here in California, more than 400,000 people are on probation or parole and on any given day, and over 31,000 people are incarcerated as a result of a supervision violation at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion.

Boudin’s Pathways for Success Plan

As District Attorney, Chesa Boudin will work with the courts, probation, parole, and members of the community to make community supervision less reflexively punitive and more focused and re-integrative. This will increase the chances that people who have been convicted of crimes in San Francisco can turn their lives around rather than take another trip to prison for a technical violation. His three-point Pathways for Success plan will

(1) focus probation on people who need to be supervised only for as long as necessary;

(2) make parole a real opportunity at community re-acclimation; and

(3) reinvest prison savings in services and opportunities for those under supervision.

More Focused Probation

Numerous professional, legal, and academic institutions--from Harvard University, to the American Law Institute, to the recently-established Executives for Probation and Parole Transformation--have called for probation and parole to be shorter, more focused, less punitive, and more rehabilitative. To focus probation on the people who need to be on it and for the time they need to be on it, under Chesa Boudin’s leadership, San Francisco’s assistant district attorneys will:

  • Advocate for probation terms of no longer than two years for felonies and one year for misdemeanors
  • Argue against supervision conditions that are not demonstrably associated with offending
  • Advocate for diversion or informal probation for people who do not need to be supervised, such as those who are low or medium risk of offending or who have not committed serious offenses
  • Set up a tracking system to request early discharge from probation at one year (for most felony convictions) or six months (for misdemeanor convictions) for anyone in substantial compliance with probation (e.g. no serious reconvictions or pattern of violations)
  • Provide further early discharge merit incentives for achievements like completing programs or educational attainments

Make Parole a Real Opportunity

When people are incarcerated and make a good faith effort to abide by the system’s rules and better themselves during incarceration, society should grant them release on parole as envisioned. There is no correlation between long sentences and public safety, but people who are in jail or prison are often incarcerated far longer than is necessary to meet the ends of justice or public safety.

  • The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office’s official position will be to consent to parole release at the first hearing for people who have taken a plea, absent extraordinary circumstances and subject to their performance during incarceration. The DA’s office will no longer routinely oppose parole release
  • Reinstate local parole for persons serving sentences in the San Francisco Jail to reduce unnecessary jail time and provide post-release support.

Reinvest in Services and Supports

With the advent of mass supervision and mass incarceration four decades ago, the notion of assisting people who have run afoul of the law to turn their lives around was all but abandoned. The system instead embraced the notion that “nothing works” when it comes to helping people reintegrate after a criminal conviction.

Chesa Boudin knows first-hand that that is a wrong-headed approach to dealing with people who have made mistakes, simultaneously harming them and public safety. In addition to shrinking the footprint and punitiveness of community supervision, a Boudin administration would work to:

  • Capture jail savings and reinvest it in housing, employment, education, and treatment for people under probation and parole supervision
  • Engage in an in-depth planning process with people who have formerly been under supervision and community members from neighborhoods with high concentrations of people on probation or parole to design pathways for success for people under supervision and help guide the reinvestment of correctional savings