II. Goals of a Community Sentence
Community corrections programs attempt to accomplish many goals. These goals include easing institutional crowding and cost; preventing future criminal behavior through surveillance, rehabilitation, and community reintegration; and addressing victims’ needs through restorative justice. Each of these goals is discussed below.
A. Easing Institutional Crowding and Cost
Two things are abundantly clear. First, building jails and prisons is a costly endeavor. Second, there are legal limits that define how many prisoners a single correctional institution can hold. Correctional institutions that exceed their capacity may incur civil lawsuits and fines. Therefore, one goal of community corrections programs is to ease institutional crowding in jails and prisons by drawing from the population of convicted offenders who are predicted to be less risky to the outside community. Given that there are far fewer beds available than the number of people arrested, community corrections programs control crowding by separating out the people who need to be in jail from the people who pose less risk (Harris, 1999).
Another way of controlling prison populations historically has been to allow prisoners who have served the minimum amount of time on their sentence the opportunity for early release on parole. Parole is the privileged and discretionary release from prison on community supervision until the remaining time on one’s sentence has expired. Parole has thus been used to make room for incoming prisoners.
Safety of the public is an important concern for any offender supervision program. To maintain public safety, offenders under supervision should be assessed to determine the degree of risk posed by their participation in community programs. Offenders who pose a serious danger to society or to themselves should not be in a community corrections program. Instead, these offenders should be incarcerated in jail or prison until they are no longer dangerous to themselves or others. For those on community supervision, compliance with court-ordered sanctions is carefully monitored by trained community officers. Finally, violations of supervised conditions are taken seriously for those who cannot or will not comply with the conditions.
C. Addressing Problems Related to Criminal Behavior
Correcting some of the problems that are directly linked to criminal behavior and continued involvement in the criminal justice system is another goal. Some of these problems include drug or alcohol addiction, lack of emotional control, inadequate education or vocational training, parenting problems, and mental illness or developmental disability (Alarid & Reichel, 2008). The offender attends classes to address these issues while on supervision with greater access to treatment programs than the individual would have had in jail or prison. The basis of effective rehabilitation is the use of cognitive-behavioral techniques and selecting offenders who have the desire to change.
D. Community Reentry
Community reintegration is an important goal for offenders released from jail or prison to gradually ease their reentry into society. Community-based correctional programs help in this endeavor with a minimal level of supervision while simultaneously allowing the offender to assume responsibilities and parental roles. In this way, getting released from prison is not such a culture shock, and this will hopefully decrease the probability of recidivism (Austin, 2001).
E. Restorative Justice
Restorative justice assumes that a crime harms the community and that sometimes there are individual victims involved. Often, victims of property crimes just want to be paid back or have things restored to their former condition— something that may not be possible if the offender goes to jail or prison. Restorative justice emphasizes offender responsibility to repair the injustice that offenders have caused their victims. Through victim and community involvement, such as face-to-face mediation sessions, victim impact panels, and volunteer mentoring, the offender remains in the community, completes community service, and pays victim restitution. Restorative justice is most effective for property crimes, particularly those committed by juveniles or first-time adult felony offenders (Bazemore & Stinchcomb, 2004).
Community-based programs are available at three decision points in the criminal justice process: at pretrial release before a defendant is convicted, after an offender is sentenced as an alternative to incarceration, and as an aid in reentering the community following a prison sentence (Alarid et al., 2008). Within these decision points, a wide variety of community programs are available, including residential halfway houses; nonresidential options such as probation, parole, and electronic monitoring; and economic sanctions such as restitution, fines, and forfeitures.