Mass Supervision

Probation, Parole, and the Illusion of Safety and Freedom

The most comprehensive critique of probation and parole—and a provocative and compelling argument for abolishing both—from the former Probation Commissioner of New York City

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the nearly 2.1 million people incarcerated in American prisons and jails. But what about the approximately 4 million more who are on probation and parole—monitored by the state at great expense and at risk of being sent to prison at the whim of a probation or parole officer for the least imaginable infraction?

Vincent Schiraldi was New York City probation commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg, supervising a system charged with monitoring 30,000 people on a daily basis. In Mass Supervision, he combines firsthand experience with deep research on the inadequately explored practices of probation and parole, to illustrate how these forms of state supervision have strayed from their original goal of providing constructive and rehabilitative alternatives to prison. They have become instead, Schiraldi argues, a “recidivism trap” for people trying to lead productive lives in the wake of a criminal conviction.

Schiraldi offers the first full and up-to-date account of these two key aspects of our criminal justice system, showing that these practices increase incarceration, have little impact on crime rates, and needlessly disrupt countless lives. Ultimately, he argues that they should be dramatically downsized or even abolished completely.


Mass Supervision is masterfully written and details the evolution of parole, probation, and its collateral consequences and deep racial inequality. Schiraldi uses research, practice, and personal experiences to engage the reader to explore the book’s central questions—how has parole or probation made us safer or benefited those on supervision, their family and communities, or reduced the racial disparities that exist in our criminal legal system by providing diversion or early release from prison. Mass Supervision challenges us to step out of our role as advocates, researchers, legislators, parole or probation officers, correctional administrators, prosecutors, or judiciary officials and to embrace the facts of our history, and to be bold, intentional, and focused in order to eliminate the harm mass supervision inflicts on mankind and disproportionately Black and brown people and communities of color. Mass Supervision provide us an opportunity and road map to continue to reduce the use of parole and probation and eliminate its collateral consequences by ensuring whatever strategy (abolition or incremental) change our nation pursues, is shaped by the voices and communities of the people most impacted by the criminal legal system.”
—Stanley Richards, deputy chief executive officer, The Fortune Society
“In this valuable book, Vincent Schiraldi firmly establishes that the people currently on parole or probation—as well as the community at large—would be better off and safer if both systems were to disappear.”
The Arts Fuse
“A necessary corrective that lays bare the harms and failures. . . . Mass Supervision should be an eye-opener for anyone who’s never stopped to consider what probation and parole do to so many people in the United States—and to get mad about it.”
“This is a real moment for parole and probation in America. This book chronicles the rise of mass supervision and the birth of the movement to reform it. From the injustices I experienced on probation and the #FreeMeek movement that resulted in my release, to the experiences of millions of Americans who are tormented by the supervision-to-prison pipeline, to the many changes REFORM Alliance and others have already brought about, this book takes us from the creation of the system, through its transformations and reforms, and directs us to the hard work remaining to free men and women still unjustly trapped on supervision. Schiraldi captures how far we’ve come in the movement to fix parole and probation and reminds us how much more we can do if we stand together against injustice.”
—Robert “Meek Mill” Williams, recording artist, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the REFORM Alliance
“With Mass Supervision, Schiraldi asks us all to consider what it means to be on ‘papers,’ that colloquial term for being under state supervision. Schiraldi knows what the rest of us don’t about probation or parole—and in this book he reveals it: from its history to all its present disasters. But more than this, Schiraldi offers a pathway forward, to less supervision and more freedom and more safety. That’s why this one matters.”
—Reginald Dwayne Betts, founder and director, Freedom Reads, and author of Felon
“A bold, provocative, must-read book for those committed to racial justice and justice system reform. Schiraldi’s optimism about the capabilities of strong communities to change people’s lives is infectious. This book is not timid and will make readers mad and ready to take action.”
—John H. Laub, former director of the National Institute of Justice and professor emeritus, University of Maryland
“The iron grip of mass incarceration reaches far beyond the walls of American prisons and jails, and in Mass Supervision, Schiraldi spotlights poorly understood and operated systems of probation and parole. Schiraldi shines a light on how millions of Americans are surveilled and ‘supervised’ by the government in a way that neither respects their humanity nor leads to greater public safety. This paradigm-shifting look at an unexplored aspect of our criminal legal system is a must-read to make crucial changes in the name of justice.”
—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black
“[A] disturbing analysis of the little-understood, long-calcified systems of probation and parole. . . . Schiraldi writes with compassion and an experienced eye. . . . An expertly developed contribution to progressive debates on civil liberties and imprisonment.”
Kirkus Reviews
“A captivating account of the history and current state of criminal supervision in the U.S. . . . Schiraldi provides valuable insight for activists. This astute and accessible study illuminates a vital yet understudied topic.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Schiraldi persuasively argues that probation and parole, together known as community supervision, have failed to achieve their twin goals of reducing incarceration and enhancing public safety.”
Christian Science Monitor
“When I hired Vinny Schiraldi to run New York City’s probation department, I wanted someone who would shake up a broken system—and that’s exactly what we got. He played a critical role in helping our administration reduce both incarceration and crime to record lows, and the experiences and insights he shares in Mass Supervision hold lessons for the whole country.”
—Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City (2002–2013) and founder of Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies
“This is a masterful account of probation and parole by someone uniquely situated to write it. Schiraldi, recently New York City’s Commissioner of Corrections, raises foundational questions—how fair are these systems, do they promote public safety—not as an academic exercise but from the perspective of a government official who actually ran them, a scholar determined to study them, and an advocate determined to change them. It should be required reading for everyone in the criminal legal system.”
—Honorable Nancy Gertner, former U.S. district judge and senior lecturer, Harvard Law School
“Schiraldi combines the rare gifts of a memoirist and a reformer calling our attention to the mass casualties of our broken probation and parole systems. On the front lines for decades, no one is in a better position to help shrink and ultimately dismantle the problem of mass supervision than he is. Anyone in search of sanity and solutions must read this book.”
—Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor at Harvard Kennedy School and the Radcliffe Institute

News and Reviews


Read a review of Mass Supervision in Inquest.

Amanpour and Company

Watch an interview with Mass Supervision author Vincent Schiraldi on PBS’s Amanpour and Company.

Pod Save the People

Listen to an interview with Mass Supervision author Vincent Schiraldi on Pod Save the People.

Literary Hub

Read an excerpt from Mass Supervision in Literary Hub about the unholy marriage of fiscal conservatism and law and order.


Goodreads Reviews