Our friend, a young lady with the ACLU, recently had this published in our state’s largest paper. All states should listen and solve this problem which I have mentioned for years!

READ Letter to Editor or Editorial Submission – What a Monster we Have Created! Probation and Parole 2/19/19 PUBLISHED

Letter to Editor or Editorial Submission – What a Monster we Have Created! Probation and Parole 2/19/19 PUBLISHED

Excerpts from the Article”

COVID-19 impacted Delaware’s criminal justice system in many ways, including how we police communities and those on probation. Those changes have led to the biggest decrease in Delaware’s prison and probation populations in the last ten years.

While many police departments were reluctant to speak publicly about how the pandemic changed policing, we did see some important changes from local law enforcement. In the wake of the pandemic, according to an article from DelawareOnline, the New Castle County Chief of Police requested that his officers use greater discretion in proactive traffic or pedestrian stops and weigh if the stop would expose the officer or civilian to COVID-19. Similarly, according to an article from the Middletown Transcript, Middletown’s Chief of Police limited unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 by handling non-emergency situations over the phone and only taking people into custody if they were a threat.

Furthermore, probation should be a temporary tool that can help a person re-enter the community after incarceration. While it should aid a person’s rehabilitation, too often Delaware’s system treats people punitively. Inflexible rules and a lack of compassion for an individual’s unique needs can lead people back to prison without having committed a new crime.

Delaware’s probation system sends thousands back to incarceration each year for violating a technical condition or “crimeless” condition of their probation, such as missing meetings with their probation officer, missing curfew, or failing a drug test. Recently, though, the Department of Correction (DOC) temporarily stopped incarcerating people for technical violations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Prison cell bars.
Between February and August 2020, Delaware’s probation population dropped by roughly 1935 people, and the incarcerated population decreased by 900. While the cause of this decline is unknown, it is likely attributable to a combination of factors that include: reduced crime; changed policing methods that caused fewer people to be charged with a crime and ultimately sentenced to probation; judges being cognizant of the impact on the defendant and the system of placing another person on probation or in jail; probation officers altering some of the conditions of probation, such as conducting meetings by phone rather than in-person; or even the DOC determining that additional monitoring was no longer necessary. However, one thing is certain: COVID-19 forced criminal justice system stakeholders to reconsider who should be in the system and who should not.

When the threat of this virus wanes, and as Delaware continues to reopen and navigate a new normal, our leaders must remember that lives are always on the line. These temporary criminal justice system changes made in response to the COVID-19 crisis have improved our system for the better. This should become the new normal, and we should not return to the status quo as it existed in the pre-COVID world.

As Delaware’s economy recovers and leaders look for ways to tackle a possible budget deficit, the benefits of permanently adopting these temporary changes to the criminal legal system become even more apparent. If state leaders were able to reduce the number of technical probation violations by 60% and cut the average amount of time on probation by half, they would save at least $37 million by 2025. Those are dollars we can reinvest in our schools, healthcare, economic development, and enhancing reentry services.

Delaware leaders should permanently adopt the changes to probation and policing that are already working. The response to COVID-19 has shown that expedient change is possible. If the system’s leaders decide to, they can change the probation and policing system — and they can do it quickly.

Javonne Rich is policy advocate at the ACLU of Delaware.

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