This commentary was contributed by Daron "Timeless Thomas" Swann, Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice Ambassador.
My name is Daron "Timeless Thomas" Swann, and I have the lived experience of being incarcerated, successfully meeting the criteria to be released back into society, and navigating the harsh conditions of probation as a returning citizen trying to reacclimate to my community.
Probation comes with an extreme amount of physical scrutiny especially when you're on higher levels of supervision. The surveillance can consist of: strict curfews, hefty fines, weekly (or more) office visits with your probation officer, probation officers visiting your home and even your place of employment, and more. As you abide by the regulations your levels of probation will drop and rules will become more lenient — but you must be careful not to make any mistakes before that happens. These are some of the physical barriers we face directly coming from the bondages of incarceration. In fact, probation is really just an extension of incarceration… and it can easily lead someone right back to prison.
In addition to the physical requirements of probation, the psychological and emotional burden on people who are in the probation system is a toll that is rarely discussed. As if there wasn't enough pressure tiptoeing around the physical requirements of probation, mental and emotional effects of probation arise all the time — especially around holiday seasons. It's traditional during the holidays to travel and gather in fellowship with family members that you haven't seen in a while. The holidays can bring you closer to your support system, and play an important role in being successful in transitioning back to a full life after incarceration.
As innocent and harmless as participating in holiday traditions may sound, to a person on probation, the examples I gave above could actually result in "technical violations" of probation terms. A person on probation can’t travel out of state to be with their families for the holidays, and if they are at a holiday gathering that lasts later than their curfew allows, then they’d be violating the terms of their probation. Simple holiday traditions with family and friends actually carry a risk of taking away freedom from a person on probation, sending them back to prison and dealing with everything else that comes with that along with violations of probation.
So if the ultimate goal is to help individuals become productive returning citizens, we must pay attention and highlight these threatening barriers that push refined and rehabilitated individuals into a corner of choosing between family and community support or meeting the strict terms of their probation.
We do not have to reinvent the wheel; there is an easy fix for horrific and tragic probationary conditions: Senator Marie Pinkney outlined the steps we need to take in the bill she introduced in June 2022, Senate Bill 345. We need to follow up with a similar bill in the 2023 legislative session, and make sure these changes happen. Because we deserve the freedom to celebrate with our families and friends, especially during times like holiday seasons.