Probation: The new Jim Crow

probation pic

The numbers are astounding. One in 11 African American adults is currently under some form of correctional control.

According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans who live in communities which are predominantly black are more likely to end up on probation. While African Americans comprise only 13 percent of the total U.S. population, they account for roughly 9.2 percent of those who will ultimately serve a probation sentence. So, what is really behind these alarming figures? Many civil rights lawyers and human rights advocates believe that the criminal justice system in America is one of the newest forms of Jim Crow. Jim Crown laws date back to the early sixties and designated a “separate but equal” status quo for black people. As a result of Jim Crow laws, blacks in the South were prevented from economic, educational, and social equality.

Today, a large part of the problem with probation is rouge prosecutors who systematically abuse their discretion, creating a caste system in which African Americans become second class citizens devoid of opportunities to work and become productive members of society. There is little concern for the negative consequences which mass incarceration and determinant sentences have on the black family and community. It is extremely difficult for African American men and women to find work while on active probation, and unfortunately the alternatives involve illegal means to earning a living.

Studies show that the longer an ex-offender remains under correctional control, the more difficult it becomes for he or she to re-integrate into society. Many see the unfair practices of those working within the criminal justice system as “Jim Crowism.” Probation is often compared to slavery because the freedom of a person on probation is largely constrained, as is control over their own lives. A probationer cannot leave the state without a “travel permit”, move from one residence to another, or change jobs (if he or she can find one) without first getting permission from their probation officer. If a person who is serving probation is caught in another state without written authorization, the punishment can be severe.

One solution to the disproportionate number of African Americans serving lengthy probation sentences is criminal justice reform. Georgia is among a handful of states to undertake sweeping overhauls to their criminal justice system. Within the past two years, the governor of Georgia has signed two bills changing the way sentences are handed down. In other words, offenders who might otherwise receive long prison sentences for non-violent offenses, instead receive alternate sentencing such as confinement to a halfway house. Prior to the new reforms, the state of Georgia lead the nation in the number of adults under community supervision.


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