The two articles about the Rand Corp. study of probation (Times, Feb. 3) are disturbing. The study reports that 65% of the men convicted of felonies and placed on probation were arrested again, with 75% of those arrested charged with serious crimes. Joan Petersilia, director of the study, cautions that misreading the report could bring down an unjustified storm of criticism agaisnt probation. I believe The Times article does precisely what Petersilia warns against.
The article quotes the Rand study, "probation appears to be heading toward an impasse, if not a total breakdown," adding this interpretation, "unless substantially more funds for probation--not for building prisons--and a "clear mandate" for probation to make the best use of the resources they have. Obviously, there are serious differences between Petersilia's interpretation of her own study and those in the article.
It stands to reason that probation officers with caseloads of 300 or more offenders cannot supervise them adequately. But that does not mean that probation should be abolished. Rather, Petersilia points out, their findigs "actually indict the attitudes and policies that have placed unrealistic and overwhelming demands on probation agencies."
The article does mention that the study recommends alternative penalties for a middle group of felons who are neither very low-risk offenders nor the serious offenders who should be imprisoned. It cites the pilot projects for intensive supervision recommended by the study. And it acknowledges that "The only present alternative--building more prisons--is expensive."