Community supervision through a term of probation or parole is a common alternative to incarceration for justice-involved individuals who may be awaiting trial or as part of their sentence after conviction. To slow the spread of COVID-19, counties have made sweeping changes to the operations of these departments and the way in which people are supervised or monitored in the community. To reduce in-person contact between community supervision officers (officers) and their clients, counties are suspending requirements for physical check-ins and using video and telephone conferencing to conduct essential business. Some counties are requesting that officers temporarily avoid arresting and incarcerating individuals for technical violations of the terms of their supervision that are not considered a threat to public safety.

Counties are also reducing or eliminating financial requirements associated with community supervision in light of COVID-19’s economic impact. As jails are releasing individuals to facilitate social distancing within correctional facilities, counties are working to connect justice-involved individuals with community-based service providers to facilitate housing and necessary medical or behavioral health treatment upon release.

Allegheny County, Pa.

As the Allegheny County jail warden and Court of Common Pleas judges are working to release individuals from jail to community supervision through bond modification, the county’s Justice Related Services (JRS) department is working to meet the behavioral health and human service needs of individuals being released. The county has reduced jail bookings by 77 percent and has released 928 individuals since March 16. JRS connected 146 of these individuals to community-based services such as behavioral health treatment, housing and transportation. JRS is also working with hotels to provide a safe place for justice-involved individuals with COVID-19 to isolate if they have no home to do so. JRS is coordinating with community-based providers through regular phone briefings to provide updates, guidance on service provision and planning for continuity of service through staff and resource shortages. The county’s probation department is conducting court competency assessments via video and supervision via phone. The county is also implementing modified house arrest for pending probation orders using photo proof instead of the traditional ankle monitoring.

Dane County, Wis.

The Department of Community Corrections offices are still open for clients and staff to complete standard appointments, although some appointments may be managed through video meetings. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office requested that Community Corrections officials avoid arresting and jailing people who violate the conditions of supervision and who are not considered threats to public safety. The Wisconsin Parole Commission continues to conduct parole hearings in county jails or state-run correctional institutions. Many of these hearings are being conducted through videoconferencing, however, some are still being held in-person utilizing appropriate social distancing practices. Revocation hearings are only being held remotely. Community Corrections agents are working with the Department of Hearings and Appeals (DHA) and defense attorneys to determine if the hearing can be conducted remotely or needs to be postponed until all parties are able to participate.

Multnomah County, Ore.

The Multnomah County Department of Community Justice (DCJ), which houses parole and probation officers, has closed all locations to the public, but individuals on supervision are still expected to check in with their supervision officer by phone. To reduce financial burden, DCJ has temporarily suspended all supervision fees until further notice. The county has also suspended community service for individuals on probation to promote social distancing. Prosecutors and judges are shortening or eliminating jail sentences for people charged with technical violations of their supervision in an effort to reduce the jail population and discourage the spread of the disease in correctional facilities.

Safely supervising justice-involved individuals in the community remains a critical justice function during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, counties will continue to play a significant role in ensuring and maintaining justice. As the outbreak unfolds, counties will continue to be an important resource in supporting communities and protecting public safety.