Probation violations also make up a significant number of bookings into the Wayne County Jail, most often for what appear to be technical violations—meaning noncompliance with conditions of the probation sentence—rather than for new criminal charges. Detaining people in jail for probation violations, particularly for technical violations, is increasingly viewed as unnecessary or even counterproductive as research has shown that community-based responses can be at least as effective as jail in changing behavior and that jail sanctions may even increase future violations.[]Pew Public Safety Performance Project, To Safely Cut Incarceration, States Rethink Responses to Supervision Violations (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2019),; Eric J. Wodahl, John H. Boman IV, and Brett E. Garland, "Responding to Probation and Parole Violations: Are Jail Sanctions More Effective than Community-Based Graduated Sanctions?" Journal of Criminal Justice 43, no. 3 (2015), 242-250; E. K. Drake and S. Aos, Confinement for Technical Violations of Community Supervision: Is There an Effect on Felony Recidivism? (Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2012),; and Andres F. Rengifo and Christine S. Scott-Hayward, Assessing the Effectiveness of Intermediate Sanctions in Multnomah County, Oregon (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2008), Reducing the number of people who are incarcerated in the Wayne County Jail for probation violations would not only reduce the jail population but also could help ensure better outcomes for people on probation.

Key Findings

  • Seventy-one percent of jail bookings over the study period were for probation violations without new charges, suggesting that these were technical violations.[]There were 3,984 bookings into the Wayne County Jail for probation violations during the study period, and 71 percent of those were solely based on probation violations without new charges, suggesting that these were technical violations. (See Figure 14.) Members of the Wayne County Jail Population Study Working Group suggested that some of these may not be technical violations, as a person could have been booked on a probation violation and then subsequently charged with a new offense after a full investigation. Vera confirmed with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, however, that if someone was booked into the jail on a probation violation and then a new charge was filed against that person later, it would be recorded in the same booking, assuming no release in the interim. To check whether people could have been booked on probation violations, released, and then booked on new charges that had been committed at the same time as the probation violation, we looked at an earlier cohort with a 12-month follow-up period. Of the jail bookings for probation violations and no other charges, 89 percent did not have new charges in the 12 months that followed. Additionally, for those who did have new charges filed, the average time to the booking on new charges was more than six months later, making it unlikely that these bookings were for charges that happened at the same time as the probation violation.


  • Probation violations were the most frequent top charge category for people who were booked into the jail three or more times over the past three years, making up 18 percent of those repeat bookings.



Reevaluate approaches to community supervision and reduce incarceration for probation violations.

  • Looking at jail data alone doesn’t fully elucidate the main drivers of probation violations in Wayne County or why so many people charged with violations end up in jail.[]Vera was not able to conduct an in-depth study of probation supervision practices in Wayne County and did not have access to court or probation data. We recommend that Wayne County study the functioning of probation in more depth to further target the specific drivers of violations in the county. The following recommendations are based on national best practices that have been successful elsewhere and can serve as a starting point.
  • Wayne County should apply graduated sanctions for probation violations, with incarceration used only as a last resort. Probation terms should also be kept as short as possible, and Wayne County’s courts could adopt limits, or at least presumptive limits, on probation terms. Research has shown that most serious violations happen within the first year of supervision—and almost all within three years.[]See James F. Austin, “Reducing America’s Correctional Populations: A Strategic Plan,” Justice Research and Policy 12, no. 1 (2010), 9-40; and Cecelia Klingele, “Rethinking the Use of Community Supervision,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 103, no. 4 (2013), 1015-1069. Extended terms of probation can result in high caseloads for probation officers, which limit their ability to devote enough attention and resources to people on probation who are at higher risk of reoffending. Lengthy terms of probation also can increase the chances of purely technical violations, which can lead to unnecessary incarceration.[]Barbara Sims and Mark Jones, "Predicting Success or Failure on Probation: Factors Associated with Felony Probation Outcomes," Crime & Delinquency 43, no. 3 (1997), 314-327.
  • Judges in Wayne County can also exercise their discretion to grant early discharge, or release, from probation. Wayne County’s courts should work with probation to establish a procedure and criteria for granting people early discharge from probation whenever possible.