Community Corrections

IV. Types of Community Corrections Programs at the Sentencing Decision

A. Probation Supervision

Probation supervision is the most frequently used community sentence for convicted offenders. Probation is defined as the community supervision of an offender under court-imposed conditions for a specified time period during which the court can modify conditions for noncompliance. Probation is credited to Boston shoemaker John Augustus, who devoted his life to helping offenders who had been arrested. Beginning in 1841, using his own money, Augustus assured the court that the defendant would return if the court released the defendant to his care. Probation became a formalized practice in 1878, three decades after Augustus began his work. By 1900, probation spread to other states as a discretionary sentence for persons charged with any level of offense (Panzarella, 2002).

Probation continues to serve as the primary sanction for criminal offenders. Nearly 60% (4 million) of the almost 7 million adults currently under correctional supervision are on probation.

The duties of probation officers have changed very little since the practice began. Probation officers are involved in information gathering for the court to determine the offender’s suitability for probation. The probation officer monitors the whereabouts of the probationer and ensures that the conditions of probation are being followed. Officers have a predefined number of times they must contact offenders that they supervise; contacts consist of face-to-face meetings, telephone calls, and home visits. The officer refers offenders out to specialists who provide individual and group counseling to clients in areas such as drug and alcohol education, relapse prevention, and parenting education (Czuchry, Sia, & Dansereau, 2006).

Probation supervision includes standard conditions that every probationer agrees to abide by in return for remaining at liberty in the community. These conditions include full-time employment or attendance at school, obtaining permission before leaving the jurisdiction, submitting to searches without a warrant, avoiding association with persons having a criminal record, meeting with the probation officer on a regular basis, and paying monthly supervision fees. In addition, other more special conditions are ordered that relate directly to the crime or an identified victim. The offender may be required to repay the victim a specified sum of money or to perform a certain number of community service hours. The offender may also be required to pay for and participate in counseling, substance abuse treatment, or parenting classes.

Individuals on probation supervision serve 1 to 3 years, with an average of 2 years. An estimated 8 out of 10 people on probation successfully complete the supervision without any trouble. The remaining 2 people who do not complete their original probation sentence have either committed a new criminal act or have repeatedly failed to abide by multiple conditions of probation. When this happens, probation officers report the infractions to the judge. The judge makes the final decision, choosing either to modify existing probation conditions while the offender remains in the community or to revoke probation completely, which means that the offender is resentenced to jail or prison (Gray, Fields, & Maxwell, 2001).

B. Day Reporting Centers

Day reporting centers are a more intensive form of community supervision that occurs simultaneously with probation. Whereas probationers on regular supervision may be required to check in monthly or only every 3months, day reporting centers require probationers to visit a specific center 3 to 6 days each week for an average duration of 5 months. Some visits may be merely checking in, and other visits require participation in classes or outpatient treatment. Day reporting centers aim to provide offenders with access to treatment or services, and they typically supervise offenders who have previously violated probation conditions, such as those who continue to abuse drugs. Therefore, day reporting centers serve as a sanction between probation and jail (Bahn & Davis, 1998).

Day reporting centers operate on a behavior modification model of levels or phases, with the beginning phase being the strictest, with the least amount of freedom. For example, offenders are tested for drug use at random, five times each month during the most intensive phase. As offenders successfully work the program, the freedom gradually increases and the supervision decreases. Day reporting centers also have partnerships with local businesses and treatment facilities to provide numerous on-site services to address employment, education, and counseling.

C. Community Drug Treatment Programs

For offenders who have problems with drugs or alcohol, community-based treatment programs offer meetings between 1 and 3 times per week for a designated period of time while the offenders live and work independently. It is estimated that drug or alcohol use or abuse affects about 7 out of 10 people who get into legal trouble. Outpatient treatment may be used during transition from inpatient drug treatment, transition from prison, or solely as a part of probation conditions. Several options are available depending on the extent of the problem. Some programs are tailored to chronic abusers, while others are for occasional users (Alarid & Reichel, 2008).

Outpatient treatment for more chronic abusers typically includes a combination of medication and counseling. Some medication is designed to react negatively with alcohol, creating severe nausea and vomiting whenever alcohol is ingested. Other medications ease the discomfort of withdrawal from substances like heroin and cocaine (similar to the way nicotine patches and gum work to help people stop smoking cigarettes). Forms of therapy include relapse prevention that continues to enforce sobriety and ways of dealing with cravings and stress, and Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, based on a support system of recovery using a designated sponsor within a 12-step program. A third method includes involving the family as a social support system in the defendant’s drug treatment. Often, family members are not aware of how they subtly contribute to their loved one’s habit or how they neglect to provide healthy outlets for sobriety.

D. Community Service

Community service is a court-ordered requirement that offenders labor in unpaid work for the general good of the community. The appeal of community service is that it benefits the community through the offender’s expenditure of time and effort in less-than-desirable jobs. Community service dates back to the Middle Ages when small towns in Germany allowed offenders to clean the town canal and pick up refuse for an unpaid fine. Community service was first used in the United States in the mid-1960s as punishment for juvenile delinquents, traffic offenders, white-collar criminals, and substance-abusing celebrities. Community service may be used in a variety of ways, such as with diversion or with probation. It provides an alternative sanction for poor offenders who are unable to afford monetary sanctions and is also appropriate for wealthy persons whose financial resources are so great that monetary restitution has no punitive effect.

Faith-based organizations, homeless shelters, and other nonprofit organizations have benefited from the community service labor. Offenders must labor between 40 and 1,000 hours before their service is considered complete. Community service ironically remains an underused sanction. Nationwide, only 1 out of 4 felons on probation is required to perform community service hours. Among the reasons behind this underutilization are the lack of coordination with documenting the hours, the difficulty of enforcing compliance during the work, and the need to provide evidence of completion for the court.

E. Restitution

Restitution is court-ordered payment that an offender makes to the victim to offset some of the losses incurred from the crime. Victim compensation for harm caused is one of the oldest principles of justice, dating back to the Old Testament and to other early legal codes. Restitution is an essential means of repaying the victim and is a step toward offender rehabilitation (Ruback & Bergstrom, 2006).

In the past, restitution payments were cancelled if offenders went to prison. As a result of the victims’ rights movement in the 1980s, victims demanded that offenders pay restitution and back child support regardless of their sentence. Restitution is now mandatory in some states for violent crimes such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, and property offenses. However, there are still areas of the country that do not require prisoners to pay restitution if incarcerated, paroled, or released from probation.

The other problem with restitution is its lack of enforcement, leading to low collection rates. Collection of restitution is enforced by probation and parole officers who collect the payment. The court mandates it as a condition of a sentence, but collection rates are surprisingly low. One reason for this is that offenders tend to be employed in low-paying jobs and have other financial obligations such as monthly probation fees and treatment costs. These obligations seem to take precedence over restitution, which is of lower priority. Research shows that offenders who were most likely to make full payments were the ones who were employed or had strong ties to their community.

One method of increasing compliance rates is to get the victim actively involved. Victims who attended offender mediation sessions were significantly more likely to receive full restitution payments from youthful offenders than were victims who were uninvolved. A second method of increasing compliance rates is the use of restitution centers—residential facilities that aid in restitution payment collection while an offender resides there (Outlaw & Ruback, 1999).

F. Fines

A fine is a fixed amount imposed by the judge, defined by the severity of the crime. In the United States, fines are typically used for traffic offenses, misdemeanors, and ordinance violations, where the average fine is $100. Because traffic and misdemeanor violations are so numerous throughout the United States, fines are actually the most frequently used sanction of all. Fines are used more frequently in smaller jurisdictions than in larger urban counties.

If fines are used for felony crimes that are punishable by one year or more in prison, fines are typically in addition to probation or parole. An average fine for a felony case is $1,000 and could go as high as $10,000. The only exception here is organizational or corporate defendants involved in corporate crime. Fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars are routinely used in lieu of imprisonment for the vast majority of white-collar crimes. In other countries, fines are used for a wider variety of street crimes as standalone punishments—meaning a fine is used as a substitute for incarceration (Ruback & Bergstrom, 2006).

G. Correctional Boot Camps

Correctional boot camps are modeled after the military and target first-time felony offenders between the ages of 17 and 24. These young adults have committed a crime for which going to prison for 1 year or more was a possibility, and boot camp offers them an alternative chance to spend 90 to 180 days in an intense situation before being transferred out to community supervision. The programs use the military’s philosophy of breaking down and rebuilding one’s character, physical conditioning, labor, and drills to transform an offender into a responsible adult and hopefully to deter them from future law-breaking behavior (Wilson, MacKenzie, &Mitchell, 2005). Work assignments involve clearing land, digging ditches, or draining swamps in addition to facility maintenance and cleaning. Some boot camps involve inmates in projects benefiting the community such as cutting firewood for elderly citizens or separating recyclables. In addition, treatment and educational components enhance the needs of this young population.

Correctional boot camps began in 1983, and within a decade, over 7,000 offenders were in these programs in 30 states. Program participants often showed short-term positive attitude change, increased self-respect, and improved self-confidence after release. But it seemed that the positive attitudes were not sustained for the long term, and the recidivism-rates were no different from comparison groups who had not been to boot camp. These were also the most expensive community corrections programs to operate because of the skills and abilities needed for drill instructors to work with each platoon. Over the last 10 years, boot camp programs have decreased in number or completely closed due to a high cost with negligible long-term benefits (Bottcher & Ezell, 2005).

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