We are working to improve Virginia’s supervision system to build a safer, more prosperous future for everyone.

As of November 2023, there were over 54,000 people on probation under the Virginia DOC and thousands more on local probation. For far too long, many Virginians were serving unnecessarily long probation terms, representing an inefficient use of government resources and risking an increase in recidivism. These long sentences not only came at high economic costs to our taxpayers, but failed to make good on the most basic promises of supervision: increase accountability and success with decreased recidivism. 

Up until Virginia’s recent examination and overhaul of its probation system, thousands of Virginians were sent to local jails and state prisons for non-criminal, technical supervision violations that present little risk to public safety. For at least a decade leading up to the recent supervision reforms, probation violations accounted for approximately half of all new annual admissions to the Department of Corrections. Sending so many of our own Virginians to prison not for breaking the law, but instead for breaking a rule, was one of many supervision practices holding Virginia back from increasing success, stability, and safety in our communities.  

Despite its rehabilitative goals, Virginia’s probation system can actually stand in the way of community success, with its numerous conditions (and the threat of incarceration if any are violated) hindering the ability for anyone to obtain an education, vocational training, employment, mental health resources, and substance abuse treatment – all activities proven to  contribute to individual success, stronger families, and safer communities. 

The focus on punishing violations of probation conditions coupled with the lack of incentives to encourage the beneficial activities proven to decrease the risk of reoffending.

Without meaningful pathways to these important activities and resources, rehabilitation and reentry success may be thwarted, and public safety compromised. The proof is right in front of us: 

  • One study showed that only 42% of people on probation have more than a high school school education, compared to 65% of the general population. 

  • About two-thirds of people on probation make less than $20,000 a year – all while Virginia faces an ongoing workforce shortage with only 47 workers for every 100 open positions.

  • Studies suggest that quality employment – marked by job stability and livable wages – can be an important tool in reducing recidivism rates or the time spent crime-free in the community.

  • Incentivizing individuals on probation to maintain gainful employment will not only prove to be positive on Virginia’s workforce, but also the economy. A study published in 2010 found that people paroled in Texas who were employed remained in the community for a longer period before being reincarcerated compared to those who were unemployed. 

  • According to 2021 data, it costs $40,752 a year to house someone in DOC custody, meaning we are wasting millions of taxpayer dollars that could be prioritized elsewhere.

  • Facilitating opportunities for people on probation to obtain an education and maintain gainful employment not only benefits them and their families, but the economic well-being of the entire state. 


The good news? The solutions are available and accessible – we just need to use them.  

In 2021, REFORM Alliance worked with the coalition led by Justice Forward Virginia and the ACLU VA to champion House Bill 2038, a bill that enacted and implemented these proven solutions, including limits to probation term lengths, prohibiting regressive incarceration for first-time technical violations, and  limiting incarceration terms for subsequent violations. 


Since the bill’s passage, analyses have already suggested positive trends within Virginia’s probation system.  The probation reforms in HB 2038 help more than 60,000 people exit the criminal justice system in the next few years, all without compromising public safety.Since HB 2038 became law, the number of people sentenced to more than five years of state felony probation decreased by 34% from FY 2021 to FY 2022, even as the number of people sentenced to probation slightly increased. 


Let’s seize the opportunity in front of us by building on the essential progress Virginians worked so hard to achieve and building on it with smart, commonsense solutions aimed at reducing recidivism and increasing prosperity and safety. 


Solutions, like probation incentives for educational or vocational achievement or advancement, obtaining and/or maintaining employment, engaging in mental health and/or substance abuse treatment or counseling are fueling improved community outcomes while lessening the burden on taxpayers.  Investing in evidence-based supervision practices can improve the lives of thousands of Virginians on probation and strengthen the communities that support them. 


By improving Virginia’s supervision system, we can make our state safer; curb governmental overreach and spending; increase tools for success and stability personally and professionally; improve prosperity and opportunity for families and communities; and champion people who are on a path to rehabilitation and personal responsibility.


We need your help!

Join us today and help build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous Virginia.