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Tennessee Community Supervision Reform

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Overview of Tennessee

Tennessee has the twelfth highest incarceration rate in the nation. The state spends over $1 billion to oversee its 107,000 justice-involved people. A record-high felon population has brought the state corrections system to 94% capacity. Recidivism and community supervision revocations both contribute substantially to this growing problem, with 47% of offenders recidivating within three years of release. Supervision revocations have consistently made up nearly 40% of prison admissions over the last decade. 

There are 58,000 Tennesseans on felony probation and 11,000 on parole. Another 8,000 people are in community corrections programs, which are locally operated. Probation and parole are both administered directly by the Department of Corrections (TDOC). People who were on community supervision have higher recidivism, with 50% of parolees and 60% of probationers recidivating. Overall, community supervision has a completion rate of 60%, routing 40% of supervised people back into jail, prison, or diversion programs. At the same time, supervision caseloads are increasing. There is high officer turnover, and it is challenging to hire new probation and parole officers due to low pay.

Breakdown of Parole and Probation Authority

  • There are three probation and parole regions: East, Middle, and West Tennessee. Each is headed by regional correction administrators. Probation and Parole Correctional Administrators oversee 2–4 of the 17 total districts. Specialized Caseloads Administrators oversee special cases like sex offenders in those districts.
  • There are 45 district and field offices across those the 17 districts, overseeing a number of counties, usually 1–3.

Our Proposal: 

We propose a performance incentive funding model that offers localized incentives to the district and field offices working directly with parole and probationers. Our basic funding model looks like this:

  • Calculate the baseline return-to-incarceration rate for each of the 45 parole and probation district and field offices in the state. Alternatively, calculate for each of the broader 17 districts.
  • If an office/district reduces the return-to-incarceration rate below the baseline in a subsequent year, that office/district is entitled to 45% of the annual savings based on the projected marginal cost of incarceration.
  • Of the savings allocated to successful offices, 50% will go towards evidence-based rehabilitation. The other 50% will go towards hiring new personnel and reducing caseloads.
  • Because of Tennessee’s employment regulations for corrections and supervision officers, it might also be possible to offer part of the incentive funding as bonuses to the highest performing officers. Bonuses could relieve Tennessee’s challenges in hiring and retaining parole and probation officers. Supervision officer vacancy rates have more than doubled since 2016 to 10.6%.

We estimate that adopting this model will avert over 12,000 people from being re-incarcerated over the next decade and save the state nearly twelve million dollars annually.

Costs Per Supervisee or Inmate

  • Local Jails: average $39, (range of $25.25–$69.60), $14,235/year, 27% of state inmates
  • TDOC Prisons: average $76.83, (range of $54.77–$170.64), $28,042/year
  • Supervision: average $3.68 per day, $1346/year

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