There is a growing sense of outrage over America's vast (and racist) incarceration state. Both parties, increasingly, want to do something about the sentencing laws that send so many people, and in particular so many African American men, to prison.
But what about what happens when people leave prison, or are given an alternative to a prison sentence?
Over two million people are incarcerated in the United States. But more than 5 million people are on probation or parole. The control the state has over a person's life when they're on probation or parole can be intense. It isn't just that someone on probation can't commit a crime. They often have to get and keep a job as a condition of their release, as well as adhere to a curfew, remain in the state, stay away from certain people, check in regularly with their probation officer, submit to routine drug tests, and more. It's not prison, exactly, but it's constant surveillance.
I asked Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black (and inspiration for Piper Chapman, the show's main character), about this, and her answer was sobering — and worth hearing:
The full interview with Kerman can be seen here. A tension in all this is that though probation and parole are intrusive, they're also not very effective. Making them more effective requires making them more intrusive, as Mark Kleiman explains here.