VIEWPOINT: Probation reform could mean great things for employment
Last month Delaware legislators introduced Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney and Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, which aims to eliminate systemic barriers that prevent those recently released from prison from successfully rehabilitating.
What does this mean for the employment landscape in Delaware? Great things.
Over 10,000 Delawareans are subject to the extreme obstacles that the state’s current probation system presents. The standard terms of probation—the period following release from a correctional facility—require individuals to find and maintain full-time employment. Failing to maintain a steady job can result in a technical violation that can send a person back to prison. Yet the additional requirements for probation reporting and supervision make steady employment impossible for many people.
Employees on Probation Face Massive Obstacles
Imagine you’ve been recently released from prison and are looking to start fresh and on the right foot. Despite the fact that many employers are reluctant to hire those with prior convictions, you manage to find a full-time job. But the challenges continue to increase from there. As part of your probation, you are required to report to your probation officer during regular work hours, provide excessive documentation of your workplace activities, and submit to frequent on-site visits by probation officials.
Many studies have found that these supervision conditions have a negative impact on overall employment success, and that’s not surprising. If your employer has to excuse you from work once a week so that you can report for probation, you will not be able to perform as well as your colleagues. If your probation officer is constantly showing up to your workplace to check on you, people are going to start to feel uncomfortable.
For those who are doing their best to make positive changes in their lives, these systemic barriers make rehabilitation so difficult that they increase the risk of recidivism. A 2019 report on release and re-arrests indicated that most people who violate their probation, violate for purely technical reasons rather than for committing new crimes. Like, for example, missing a meeting with a probation officer because it’s scheduled during a work shift.
What are people meant to do when their probation requirements force them to choose between maintaining their job or reporting to probation? Many people with the potential to be hardworking employees and great colleagues never get that opportunity simply because they’re forced to walk this tightrope of competing priorities.
Probation Reform Benefits Us All
SB 4 has the potential to change the landscape of employment for Delawareans and give many people a real second chance at a successful life. The bill would allow for customized probation conditions, like ensuring individuals have reporting times that do not conflict with their work schedules, and allowing virtual check-ins rather than onsite visits to be conducted from the workplace to limit disruptions. These simple changes would improve employment opportunities for thousands of people in Delaware.
The ACLU of Delaware’s Campaign for Smart Justice is encouraging Delawareans to support these reforms by telling legislators how much we all value changes that support and uplift our communities. It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure returning citizens are successful in their reentry efforts. Supporting formerly incarcerated people in their work environments is the key to bringing us closer to the Delaware we all want: one with less crime, fewer people in the criminal legal system, higher employment rates, and happier Delawareans.
Haneef Salaam is a campaign for smart justice manager for ACLU of Delaware.
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