Loyola University Chicago

College of Arts & Sciences

Reducing Probation Revocations

One approach to reducing incarceration is the use of probation as an alternative to prison. Yet there has been little research into the dynamics and factors  that influence the revocation of probation, and understanding these more could make the approach more effective.

In partnership with the Cook County Adult Probation Department, Loyola University’s Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice has released the most comprehensive, detailed report to date on the local drivers of probation revocations in Cook County and how those drivers can be targeted to reduce them.

The report was produced as part of Cook County’s participation in the Reducing Revocations Challenge, a national initiative of Arnold Ventures and the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) dedicated to transforming probation and reducing mass incarceration. The Challenge aims to increase success on probation through the identification, piloting, and testing of promising strategies grounded in a robust analysis and understanding of why revocations occur.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Although the majority (74 percent) of people on probation in Cook County have violations of probation (VOP) petitions filed for non-compliance with probation conditions or new arrest charges, only 10 percent of all probation cases ended in revocation.
  • This relatively low rate of revocation nonetheless translates into a substantial number of people being sentenced to prison from Cook County.
  • The 1,986 revocations that resulted in a prison sentence between 2017 and 2019 accounted for 9 percent of the 22,496 people sentenced to prison from Cook County during that period.
  • A violation of probation that involved a new arrest rather than technical violation was more likely to result in revocation.
  • Because petitions involving a new arrest charge had the strongest influence on the likelihood that a violation resulted in a revocation, better understanding what influences the likelihood of these arrests is critical to reducing probation revocation and mass incarceration.

Principal investigators on the project were David Olson, professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, and Don Stemen, associate professor and chairperson in Criminal Justice and Criminology. They collaborated with senior research associates Kathryn Bocanegra and Amanda Ward, and graduate research assistants Kaitlyn Foust, Vinnie Palazeti, and Avery Pankratz from the Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy, and Practice.