Intensive Parole and Probation Supervision Essay

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Intensive parole and probation supervision (IPPS) is an intermediate sanction that falls between traditional probation and incarceration on the continuum of sanctions. In its ideal form, it provides significantly more monitoring, oversight, and access to treatment/rehabilitation than regular probation or parole. IPPS was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to allow for the supervision of higher-risk probationers and parolees in the community while still taking into consideration the safety of the public (reducing reliance on costly prison and jail sentences at the same time).

Although all U.S. states currently offer some version of this enhanced form of probation/ parole, there is no one uniform model of IPPS as components and requirements of these programs vary across different jurisdictions. It is also important to note at the start that although there are many commonalities among probation and parole generally, the two community-based sanctions differ in a couple of significant ways: (1) probation sentences are imposed directly from the sentencing judge in lieu of a sentence to a correctional facility, whereas parole is granted and its terms imposed by parole boards (or legislatively guided) for offenders who are released into the community after serving some type of incarceration sentence; and (2) individuals placed on parole (either traditional or intensive) are typically seen as a much greater potential threat to society than their probation counterparts, resulting in variation in how probation and parole community supervision terms are administered. Despite these differences, unless specified, the information that follows refers to both intensive probation and intensive parole supervision (IPPS).

IPPS Processes and Program Characteristics

It is important to highlight an additional aspect of the development and proliferation of IPPS programs. The initial impetus for IPPS appears to be marked concern surrounding the prison overcrowding (and associated costs) that became much more visible, especially to the public, in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, IPPS programs, referred to variously as intermediate sanctions or community-based sanctions, began being promoted as an efficient and effective way to reduce prison overcrowding and costs without jeopardizing public safety. There are two generally recognized pathways to assignment on IPPS: (1) as a sentencing and punishment alternative to prison for offenders who would have been sentenced to prison if not for the availability of IPPS (i.e., prison diversion); and (2) as a punishment and/or supervisory enhancement for offenders already on traditional probation/parole but not successfully meeting the conditions of their assignment. Additionally, it should be noted that parolees, newly released from prison, are not typically placed directly into IPPS programs upon their release but rather only after their regular probation or parole officer (PO) or the parole board identifies that they are having difficulty meeting the requirements and expectations of regular parole supervision (although this decision-making process can, and likely does, vary across jurisdictions).

Since all IPPS programs are designed to provide a middle ground between traditional probation/ parole and prison in terms of monitoring, punishment, and cost, there are some commonalities in the ways in which these intermediate sanctions are administered. All IPPS programs require significantly more contact between probationers/ parolees and their probation/parole officers than those on traditional probation/parole assignments, although different jurisdictions may quantify this increased contact requirement differently. For example, if offenders on traditional probation/ parole caseloads in a particular jurisdiction are required to meet with their POs once per month, then offenders on IPPS caseloads may be required to meet with their POs once per week (although multiple weekly contacts have been found to be the norm). In addition to the increased number of contacts between probationer/parolee and PO under IPPS, typically there are additional kinds of contacts mandated, too.

Contact types for any kind of community supervision programs, not just IPPS, may include: home visits, PO office visits, employment visits, telephone calls, computer-assisted check-ins, and sending periodic check-in postcards. Under IPPS assignments, however, offenders are routinely required to have more contact—of all types— with their POs, especially those contacts that are conducted face-to-face (as opposed to electronically or via mail). Consequently, caseload size for IPPS is strictly limited in most jurisdictions, usually to between 25 to 50 IPPS clients per probation/parole officer. The idea here is to make certain that POs who are responsible for supervising intensive probation/parole caseloads have sufficient time to do so in a way that ensures probationer/parolee compliance with specified supervision conditions and that does not compromise the safety of the public.

Enhanced treatment/rehabilitation requirements are the last common component of most IPPS programs, although it appears that this element of IPPS is not as emphasized or enforced nearly as well as the increased monitoring and supervision component. This neglect, at least in some jurisdictions, has likely contributed to the lack of effectiveness found in various evaluations of IPPS programs. To be sure though, IPPS programs generally involve (and in most cases require) participation in various treatment/rehabilitation efforts, including: employment/job counseling/training/preparation, educational programs, substance abuse/addiction treatment, and other programs (e.g., anger management, mental health provisions) identified as potentially helpful or necessary for particular IPPS clients. Additional IPPS program elements that may be mandated or voluntary, depending on jurisdictional preference, include alcohol/drug testing, house arrest, use of electronic monitoring, community service, and payment of victim restitution and supervision fees.

Effectiveness of IPPS Programs

The most important question regarding IPPS effectiveness remains how to measure it. Various studies have examined (1) the recidivism rates of participants—measured alternatively as rear rest, reconviction, reincarceration, and revocations; (2) comparisons between IPPS participants and various control groups—yet questions abound as to which kinds of control groups are most relevant/comparable, if any; (3) reductions in prison overcrowding—results do not suggest that this is the case, rather some suggest that the intensive monitoring prevalent in IPPS programs may actually contribute to growth in prison admissions via increased technical violations and resulting revocations; and (4) reduced corrections costs—results also appear lacking in this area. However, most experts suggest that the lack of positive and supportive findings in evaluations of IPPS programs are likely due, at least partly, to the lack of emphasis on the treatment/rehabilitation component. Moreover, from an ethical standpoint, many argue that the availability of ISSP programs is necessary and important (regardless of the less than stellar evaluation results to this point) because of the parity they provide in matching offenders’ punishment to their crime. From a just deserts point of view then, IPPS programs succeed in giving judges and other criminal justice decision makers a more appropriate punishment/enhancement option for offenders whose behavior does not warrant a prison term but for which traditional probation or parole is insufficient.

Ethical Considerations

There are numerous ethical issues surrounding IPPS programs, some related to the sanction itself while others confront the POs responsible for administering this sanction. Although certainly not as extensive as incarceration in a correctional facility, it is clear that a sentence under IPPS involves significant governmental intrusion into and monitoring of probationers/parolees’ lives— and, in many cases, the lives of their families and employers. This raises several important ethical issues for POs charged with the administration of IPPS caseloads, including privacy rights, responsibility to the client (versus others and the community), forced treatment/rehabilitation, investigation of alleged violations (and whether or how to pursue these allegations), and maintaining professional distance while engaging in intensive oversight of offenders’ lives. It is critical that POs recognize the importance of making decisions that affect IPPS clients (and others) in an ethically consistent manner. Adhering to the law as well as all agency regulations and restrictions during the course of fulfilling their professional responsibilities is a critical starting point for ethical PO decision making.

Some of the primary ethical issues related to IPPS as an intermediate, community-based sanction available in the United States include net widening and proportionality. More specifically, “net widening” is used to describe the expansion of governmental control over offenders’ lives that would not happen were it not for the presence/ availability of a particular option. Some argue that enhanced intrusion into IPPS offenders’ lives occurs only because IPPS exists; without it these offenders would not be subjected to this burden and the population under correctional authority/ control would be significantly reduced. Proportionality in punishment is a critical aspect in U.S. society. Providing an array of fair, commensurate punishment options characterizes any ethical system to guard against punishing offenders far too leniently or far too severely than warranted by their behaviors. Thus, it is important to keep these ethical issues in mind in the development and implementation of graduated sanction options to respond to criminal behavior in communities in an ethical and responsible manner befitting a democratic, free, and just society.


  1. Byrne, James M. “The Future of Intensive Probation Supervision and the New Intermediate Sanctions.” Crime & Delinquency, v.36/1 (1990).
  2. Petersilia, Joan. “Evaluating Alternative Sanctions: The Case of Intensive Supervision.” Federal Sentencing Reporter, v.4/1 (1991).
  3. Petersilia, Joan. “Probation in the United States.” Crime and Justice, v.22 (1997).
  4. Petersilia, Joan and Susan Turner. “An Evaluation of Intensive Probation in California.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, v.82/3 (1991).
  5. Petersilia, Joan and Susan Turner. “Intensive Probation and Parole.” Crime and Justice, v.17 (1993).

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