What Britney Spears Can Teach Us About Probation Reform

What Britney Spears Can Teach Us About Probation Reform
(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

As agonizing as it was to watch the Britney Spears conservatorship grind on for nearly 14 years, her ordeal did spark a wave of state reforms designed to ensure that a necessary tool is not abused by overreach in scope and duration. These changes, such as creating reviews at regular intervals and requiring effective training for conservators, are also needed to improve another facet of our justice system — probation supervision for 3.5 million Americans.

Unlike people in conservatorships, those placed on probation were convicted of an offense and are supervised by a probation officer. But the dynamic of ceding liberty to a person vested with authority by the government is similar. Just as a conservator is typically paid from the assets of the person they supervise, many state probation systems rely in part on supervision fees to fund their budgets. This can create an incentive to keep people on probation longer than needed, especially because those who pay their fees are likely to be more stable and need less supervision.

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