Costs Associated with Community Corrections

Costs Associated with Community Corrections

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Institutional Affiliation

Costs Associated with Community Corrections

A few decades ago, state sentencing policies resulted in high rates of offender recidivism and incarceration. Every year, millions of felony defendants were sentenced by courts representing more than 93% of overall offender convictions in the United States (Prell, 2013). The sentencing policies, which were written about three decades ago during a time when violent crime rates had skyrocketed almost triple times in just fifteen years (McGarry et al., 2013). These sentences generated a wide spread public outcry that they did not work for being too lenient (Shannon et al., 2015). Today, much has changed regarding the use of incarceration. In fact, the practice has increased six-fold since the mid-1970s (Latessa & Smith, 2015). An extant body of research shows that prisons have gradually been abandoned as correctional facilities and their benefits are diminishing. Rather, the use of community corrections programs that are well planned and implemented and coupled with the help of validated risks and needs assessment tools targeted to the right pool of offenders have increasingly become commonplace as an alternative of  eradicating recidivism (Schmidt, 2010).

According to Shannon et al. (2015), in the year 2009, over 90,000 youths put in juvenile justice facilities in the United States spent approximately $241 per person. This was too costly given the budgetary constraints facing states. As such community corrections have been conceived as alternative cost-effective way of reducing recidivism (Latessa & Smith, 2015). This research paper aims at evaluating the effectiveness of community corrections through assessment of the costs, strategies of community correction programs, and the contemporary programs being implemented by states to reduce recidivism.

Effectiveness of Community Corrections Programs and Policies

In the past decade, community corrections have gained increased attention in the justice systems, where it now forms a core component (Shannon et al., 2015). They offer a useful and cost-effective alternative to incarceration for state and governments. They represent a shift from sanction and deterrence to rehabilitation. Community corrections center their focus on assessing and establishing intervention strategies aimed at identifying and addressing risks, needs of offenders and public protection. This shift has led to intensification of and expansion of community corrections programming. The ‘what works’ agenda has been adopted by many criminal justice systems and community corrections programs as a practice improvement to respond to imperative fiscal responsibility (Schmidt, 2010). This agenda focuses on developing, disseminating, and making use of evidence-based practice (EBP) in reducing recidivism and its related costs. Evidence-based practice forms an integral part of community corrections programs and criminal justice systems to enhance the production of desirable outcomes (McGarry et al., 2013). This is important inn saving taxpayers’ money and increasing accountability.

One success factor for evidence-based practice is its emphasis on the use of empirical knowledge in decision-making regarding case management of individual offenders (Schmidt, 2010). In the context of community correctional facilities, EBP implies systematically measuring offenders’ behavioral transition in relation to the overall objective of plummeting recidivism and promoting people’s protection (Burrell, 2012). Also, evidence-based practice in community corrections entails the integration of definite programs with lucid conceptual agendas and clearly pronounced rules, which postulate the offenders’ groups’ targets and the aspects of the programs versus the anticipated goals and outcomes (McGarry et al., 2013). Given the high costs associated with imprisonment, the state and local governments continue to emphasize on evidence-based practice in community corrections programming as lasting solutions to recidivism and fostering public safety. In 2008 and 2009 the rate of incarceration reached the highest level globally in the United States when 753 inmates per 100,000 people were recorded (Burrell, 2012). This represented a 350% increment of jail and prison populations. The increments in jail and prison population constitute a fiscal burden in times when budgetary constraints continue to bite. For instance, by 2009 the cost of community corrections increased by 315% since 1987 (Downey & Browning, 2011). This amounted to a state total spending of up to $49 billion in the same year. There is scant empirical evidence showing the effectiveness of incarceration in reducing criminal behavior and recidivism. Scientific researchers reveal that inmates are more likely to recidivate than offenders placed on probation (Downey & Browning, 2011). As such, there is a growing need for successful community based correction programs to be established to help in monitoring offenders’ behaviors and aid in the rehabilitation of offenders while boosting people’s safety (McGarry et al., 2013).

Community corrections comprise pre-trial diversions and intermediate strategies of offender punishments. They embody any non-incarcerate, but supervised method of dealing with pre-convicted and/or post-convicted offenders (Button, DeMichele & Payne, 2009). Probation and parole are the commonest forms of community corrections. Additional contemporary alternative correctional programs include home confinement, electronic monitoring, house arrest, restitution, community services, check-in programs, and curfews among others. These facilities offer residential-based or non-residential-based services to clients after conviction, or those awaiting conviction (Lawson et al., 2015). The facilities receive state funding, but their operations are supervised by the local communities.

Community corrections have been to be effective in shaping people’s behavior and shaping positive behavioral change of offenders. The role of community corrections is best understood through differentiating punishment and corrections. On one hand, punishment entails a retributive reaction to offenders’ violation of the law. Through punishment, society demonstrates its disapproval of various behavioral forms, including violence, theft, and substance abuse (Butts, 1995). Punishment plays the role of deterring future violations of the law. On the other hand, corrections embody primarily the efforts of influencing or correcting unlawful behavior (Lawson et al., 2015). Through community corrections programs, the goal usually is to reduce future law violations by teaching the offenders about the consequences of engaging in wrongful behaviors. The programs, hence, provide information to offenders as a warning that deters future violations. Corrections involve processes and procedures while punishments are simply events.

Community corrections include a broad range of programs and services aimed at diverting prison-bound offenders. Additionally, they control and offer supervision to offenders who have been given community-based sentences and those who have successfully served their prison terms (Lawson et al., 2015). These programs have successfully supervised offenders serving community-based sentences who take up job opportunities. The offenders are required by the court to meet regularly with the supervisors who monitor their behavioral changes while serving the sentences. The community program models control the movements and activities of offenders. This setting implies that the granting of community sentencing rather than imprisonment does not give offenders freedom.

It is worth noting that community corrections programs are placed on a continuum of severity where on one hand we have least punitive, least expensive, and most widely utilized correctional sanctions including fines and traditional probation monitoring (Lawson et al., 2015). On the other hand, some community corrections programs are more punitive, control-oriented, and costly programs (Lawson et al., 2015). These include intensive supervision and electronic surveillance. Others fall in between traditional probation and prison. These are referred to as intermediate. Recent studies provide evidence that community corrections programs such as intensive probation, restitution, and electronic surveillance are highly effective to offenders. However, the effectiveness of the programs models is underpinned by the group of offenders (Jalbert et al., 2011). In this vein, no single model I effective across all cases and every jurisdiction. It is important to note that many people were initially skeptical of the effectiveness community corrections, which do not rely on incarceration (Downey & Browning, 2011). Nevertheless, given their proactive implementation across the United States people’s perceptions have continually changed regarding the use of community corrections programs (Lawson et al., 2015). Through quality evaluation of these programs, people have gained confidence on their effectiveness.

Analysis and Evaluation of Contemporary Community Corrections Programs and Policies

Community corrections programs receive state funds, which attract the attention of legislators, funding sources, policy makers, and the public who demand for accountability and effectiveness (Downey & Browning, 2011). As such, rigorous evaluation is necessary, but not a luxury. The question posed to the agencies is ‘do they work?’. Today, the operation of community programs integrates evaluation research. Over 500 community corrections programs in the US have received evaluation aimed at identifying the key factors that underpin their effectiveness. It is imperative to acknowledge that the essence program evaluation research as tool improves the effectiveness of community programs. This builds a positive perception on the legislators, the funding sources, people, and policy makers (Latessa & Smith, 2015).

For most people, the effectiveness of a correctional program is manifested through its capability to foster behavioral change of offenders. If those who successfully went through the program are less likely ton recidivate than those who did not complete or even participate in the program. One of the most important indicators of effectiveness of community correctional programs is taking recidivism as an outcome. In this sense, reduction in recidivism implies program effectiveness (Latessa & Smith, 2015). In addition to long-term outcome assessment such as reductions in recidivisms, the effectiveness of correctional programs can evaluated using intermediate measures.

Contemporary community correction programs include informal diversion, victim-offender mediation, restitution, suspended sentence, community service, traditional probation, intensive probation, and house arrest and electronic monitoring (Button, DeMichele & Payne, 2009). First, many courts across the United States have found that diverting first-time offenders and those who commit minor crimes from the formal court processes and imprisonment is a cost-effective alternative to conviction and sentencing. The pretrial diversion practiced in adult judicial systems empirically proved their potential to reduce the rather costly administrative and fiscal burdens of prosecution and trial (Prell, 2013).

Second, suspended sentence is one of the most fundamental community corrections programs. In this program, an offender is convicted of a rather minor offense is granted a suspension of their sentence of confinement as the pending conditions to satisfy the confinement are provided (Wetzel et al., 2012). For instance, an offender who is convicted of robbery with violence and receives a seven-month sentencing or confinement may be granted a suspended sentence insofar as the individual completes the terms of restitution as imposed by the court (Finn & Muirhead-Steves, 2002). In fact, suspended sentences define the legal existence and functions of community corrections programs (Prendergast et al., 2015). Suspended sentence allows an offender to evade paying restitution or even serving a jail term. The court allows the individual to earn the right to avoid incarceration.

Third, victim-offender mediation programs are contemporary community-based corrections alternative where they provide dispute resolution, arbitration, and conciliation (Wetzel et al., 2012). The program is aimed at avoiding the former costly court processes through informal mediation of the disputes between offenders and victims. The objective of victim-offender mediation programs is to restore the losses incurred by the victims through the involvement of the offenders in a face-to-face confrontation with the consequences of the wrong doing (Prendergast et al., 2015). In this program, the court does not impose a solution in the mediated cases. Rather, a mediator helps the victims and offenders to reach their own solutions (Wetzel et al., 2012). For example, in a case of vandalism or theft, the role of the mediator is to let the offender and the victim to arrive at an acceptable method and procedure of meeting costs of repairing damages or replacing stolen items. These programs may also involve indirect mediation in scenarios where the victim and offender are unwilling to mutually agree on the way forward (Prendergast et al., 2015). In this sense, the mediators’ role entails acting as a go-between, where they seek to arrange a mutually agreeable methodology of resolving the case and restitution.

Moreover, traditional probation is a commonly used adopted program for community corrections. The program entails the suspension of a more restrictive sentence for an agreed and specified period of monitoring in the community. The offender remains free in the community and engages in work and attends school (Pettway, 2008). In exchange for the freedom, the offender ought to agree to particular behavioral conditions imposed by the court as an agreement or contract (Wetzel et al., 2012). Normally, probation agreements integrate conditions intended for controlling as well as rehabilitating the offenders (Prendergast et al., 2015). For example, some contracts may require offenders to meet regularly with probation supervisors as well as adherence to strict curfews. If the offender breaches the conditions prescribed in the contract, the probation contract provides for a revocation (Prendergast et al., 2015). The court reinstates the offender’s suspended sentence upon revocation of the probation contract. In this regard, the offender is incarcerated for the remainder of the sentence. It is vital to let the offender understand the significance of the probation contract. Courts achieve this objective by letting the offenders begin their sentences with brief period of incarceration before they are released to community-based supervision.

  Intensive probation is a more advanced form of traditional probation that involves closer supervision and a higher degree of control over the offender’s behavior. The offender ought to consent to more rigorous monitoring contracts and meet with their probation supervisors several times on a daily or weekly basis. This program entails much smaller caseloads per probation worker than the traditional probation counterparts. For instance a supervision worker in an intensive probation may have 20 caseloads whereas the inn traditional probation the workers handle over 100 offenders.  Intensive probation programs are the most widely utilized in the United States given the contracting budgets that have made incarceration an avenue of last resort. There has been a mutual willingness to supervise more offenders through community correctional programs as a cost-effective alternative to formal confinement and sentencing.

Lastly, house arrest and electronic surveillance has increasingly become a popular community corrections program in many states (Downey & Browning, 2011). It offers a high degree of offender supervision and control yet evades confinement costs. Principally, electronic monitoring is a punishment program that uses surveillance and control as the primary objectives (Prendergast et al., 2015). Offenders subjected to electronic monitoring programs are confined to the home, where an electronic device is used to enforce the court order. The program compels the offender to wear an electronic and non-removable bracelet that transmits signals to confirm the presence of the client in the confined home (Prell, 2013). The confirmation is done when the supervisor makes a call using a customized phone to the offender’s home (Prendergast et al., 2015). In case the offender attempt to leave the designated area or home of arrest, an automatic call is made to the probation office. Violations of the conditions leads to infractions to the probation agreement and often results in the offenders’ incarceration (Downey & Browning, 2011). In some cases, the offenders are subjected to face-to-face or telephone conversations with the probation officers and electronic surveillance to ensure a high degree of control. For this reason, the programs are sometimes referred to as house arrest plus (Prell, 2013).

These community corrections programs are described and evaluated as alternatives to incarceration. The evaluation is done based on their impacts on recidivism where a comparison is made with the effects of incarceration. Community corrections programs are applicable where offenders are charged with misdemeanors, minor substance abuse offences, less property crimes among other cases that do not end up in incarceration (Prendergast et al., 2015). Nonetheless, the use of community corrections programs has been criticized. There has been a feeling that judicial systems use community corrections programs as supplements rather than substitutes for incarceration (Prendergast et al., 2015). The optimal benefits of these programs can be maximized only when the clients are obtained from the offenders’ populations facing incarceration (Button, DeMichele & Payne, 2009). Otherwise, if the clientele is drawn outside the net where offenders are less likely to be incarcerated the effectiveness and impact of community corrections programs will not be felt. This in turn increases the scope and costs of the justice system (Shannon et al., 2015).

Strategies of Increasing Efficacy of Community Corrections Programs

For community corrections programs to be effective in reducing the rates of incarceration, a number of strategies have been proposed to guide them. Various sources and researchers suggest about eight evidence-based principles and practices underpinning the effectiveness of community-based correctional programs. First, the programs ought to target highest risk offenders (Shannon et al., 2015). Correctional programs will be effective if the clients are drawn from the highest risk pool of offenders mist likely those that face incarceration. The idea is to provide alternative to incarceration. Second, assessment of thee offenders’ needs is critical to community corrections programs. Alternative programs should evaluate the offenders’ criminogenic requirements with the application of research-based tools. The primary objective of programming should focus on diminishing those needs. Third, the programs should design responsivity into programming (Shannon et al., 2015). In this strategy, programming should be aligned with the individual characteristics of the offenders that might impair or enhance the offender’s learning capability and motivation.

Additionally, the community corrections programs should devise behavioral management tactics, where the programming takes place in the context of a wider behavior managing strategy created for individual offenders (Button, DeMichele & Payne, 2009). The plan should take into account the priority and order of treatment plans, the evaluation tools, and the overall goals and benefits of crime routine. Moreover, Shannon et al. (2015) notes that cognitive-behavioral treatments are more effective that than other correctional intervention strategies (Shannon et al., 2015). This is because treatment programs address criminal thinking and behaviors of offenders. In light of this research revelation, the community corrections programs should deliver treatment programs using cognitive-based strategies.

Also, the alternative programs should motivate and shape offender behaviors. This strategy allows the programming to include structure or capacity for recognizing positive behavior outcome as well as punishing negative behaviors of offenders. Furthermore, it is important to stimulate the community to gain support for offender reentry, reintegration as well as engendering unity against recidivism (Button, DeMichele & Payne, 2009). Community programs stand a better ground to be more effective when the family institution and the wider social perspective convinced to support the offender’s returning (Prell, 2013). This ensures deliberate community efforts against recidivism and elimination of criminal tendencies. Lastly, community corrections programs need to identify outcomes and measure progress through the use of integrated methods (Prell, 2013). The system should establish performance measurement tools to evaluate the progress and informing improvements.


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