Judge Ed McKenna offers statistics as proof that probation in Seattle works: 77% of Seattle Municipal Court clients complete probation obligations, and 86% of those referred for probation complete it without returning to jail. It is troubling that these statistics are relied upon to justify funding SMC probation when in fact these statistics in no way prove probation is helpful to clients.
Completing probation is not a measure of success. The best indicators of successful programs are those that reduce recidivism and homelessness, improve behavioral health and strengthen ties to the community. Judge McKenna doesn’t point to such statistics because probation doesn’t achieve those outcomes. Indeed, researchers have found the opposite. According to the Brookings Institute, probation’s requirement of countless meetings, drug tests and more complicates clients’ lives, “making it more difficult to get to work or school or care for family members” and resulting in a “heavy tether to the criminal justice system.”
At a time when Seattle is experiencing a housing crisis and so many in our community are suffering from poverty and unmet behavioral health needs, we should invest in programs that can alleviate suffering and meet these needs. Probation does neither.
La Rond Baker, special counsel, King County Department of Public Defense