VI. Advantages and Disadvantages of Community Corrections Programs
Community corrections programs offer some distinct advantages. The first is a cost issue. Compared to jail and prison, most community programs cost less. Offenders live at home, and in the small number of residential programs where the offender lives at the facility, they help subsidize the cost of living. In addition, offenders who remain in the community can continue financially supporting themselves and their family through receiving wages and paying taxes. They are also more likely than incarcerated offenders to compensate their victim through restitution and to complete community service (Petersilia, 2001).
Second, community programs can ease jail and prison crowding by allowing convicted offenders the chance to complete a drug program, boot camp, or other corrections program, and are thus another form of cost savings.
A third aspect to community corrections is the flexibility of the programs in that they can be used at many points in the criminal justice process. Community punishments limit the freedoms of convicted offenders and mandate treatment. They can also be used as a pretrial release option and as a diversion to avoiding a conviction altogether. Community supervision also aids in the reentry process after a period of incarceration.
Finally, community corrections programs avoid exposing offenders to jail and prison conditions that may be unsafe and at times even violent. Some people might be helped more in other ways. For example, community sentences can be beneficial for those needing medical attention, such as terminally ill, physically disabled, or elderly offenders, who may be better suited for a sentence within their own residence. Other offenders such as developmentally disabled or mentally ill individuals experience higher rates of victimization in prison and may be appropriately placed and treated elsewhere. An institutional environment is not for everyone, and may cause more harm than good (Alarid et al., 2008).
Perhaps the most prominent advantage of community corrections can also be its greatest disadvantage. As previously mentioned, drug programs and boot camps might ease crowding by placing prison-bound offenders in a program that allows them the chance to avoid incarceration, but such programs might also be filled with offenders who actually should have received a less severe sentence. This is a situation known as net widening, and it happens when judges and prosecutors fill the program spaces with offenders who do not necessarily require such a high level of care or intervention rather than the ones the program was actually designed for. Not only are prison-bound offenders not getting their chance to be placed in appropriate programs and have access to services, but the cost of punishment actually increases. Officials often feel they must maximize program capacity because it is there (Alarid et al., 2008).
Another disadvantage is that public safety may be compromised. Offenders are more easily able to continue criminal behavior than if they were confined in jail or prison. With funding going to jails and prisons, resources have not kept pace with community corrections growth. With resources spread so thinly, officers now supervise more offenders and are able to spend less time on each person. Technology is slowly replacing human supervision. However, even when home confinement is combined with electronic monitoring technology, authorities cannot be completely assured that offenders will refrain from criminal activity. For example, being that home confinement programs allow offenders to leave their residences for activities such as work and shopping, it is possible that crimes can be committed even when offenders are legitimately away from home.
Many community supervision programs are disconnected from the various treatment services that exist to address the multitude of problems offenders face. This becomes a disadvantage to an offender’s success when treatment attendance is lacking because of transportation problems and inability to miss work. Programs like day reporting centers that comprehensively address drug abuse, job training, employment, physical or sexual victimization, parenting education, and anger management all in one location tend to have higher completion rates (Bahn & Davis, 1998).