The Urban Institute examined racial disparities in probation revocation rates in Multnomah County, Oregon. Black probationers in the study sample were twice as likely to experience a revocation as were white and Hispanic probationers, although the base rate of revocations was very low for all groups. Disparities in revocation outcomes persisted after controlling for available legal and demographic factors. This brief situates the study in the context of Multnomah Countys past efforts to improve probation practices and address disparities in probation processes and outcomes. It discusses policy implications and future directions for improvement in light of the study findings.
In the US criminal justice system, probationers outnumber parolees, prison inmates, and jail inmates combined. Probation can be an important turning point between a successful reentry and a cycle of increasingly severe sanctions. Racial disparities in probation outcomes persist, as they do across much of the criminal justice system. In Oregon’s Multnomah County, the Department of Community Justice (DCJ) has led several initiatives to reduce racial disparities through standardized, risk-based assessment tools and culturally responsive programming. But despite these efforts, probation outcomes still reveal racial disparities unexplained by the nonracial predictors of revocation.
- Black probationers in Multnomah County were more than twice as likely to be revoked as white probationers. While 54.4 percent of the black-white disparity could be attributable to nonracial differences such as age, gender, criminal history, crime severity, felony charge, and suggested level of supervision, the other half persisted even after controlling for those variables.
- Nearly half of the racial disparity is unexplained by demographic and legal differences. It is difficult to determine exactly how much of this disparity is attributable to bias, but it is significant enough to raise serious concerns about black probationers’ disadvantages.
- The overall revocation rate in Multnomah County was lower than other study sites, raising the question of how relevant probation revocation is to reducing racial disparities. The county’s low rates could minimize its disparities overall.
- Blacks make up more than 30 percent of the United States’ adult correctional population, but only 13 percent of the general population.
- In Multnomah County, revocation rates were 36 percent lower for white probationers than for black probationers.
- Each additional year of age was associated with a 5 percent decline in the odds of having one’s probation revoked.
- Female probationers were 84 percent less likely than males to have their probation revoked.
- Address areas of possible bias, such as officer patrol areas, warnings versus arrests, bringing cases before a judge versus letting probationers off with a warning, and so forth.
- Improve the success of the risk-reduction program for DCJ’s higher-risk probationers, given that black probationers on average have a more severe criminal history
- Adopt a grid of evidence-based administrative sanctions to promote swift and certain responses to certain probation violations.
- Remove incentives for the county and its officers to revoke probationers by keeping the officers on local caseloads.