Community Corrections

VIII. Do Community Corrections Programs Work?

In the 1970s, sentencing disparity drew attention in the courts and from the parole boards. People were concerned with the fact that some offenders served significantly longer periods of time than others for the same crime. Community treatment programs were also criticized for not being able to do much about preventing future criminal activity while offenders were under supervision. Studies concluded that some strategies worked and other programs did not significantly reduce crime. The lack of confidence in correctional programming sparked a national debate about the efficacy of rehabilitation and influenced treatment offerings within all community-based programs. One positive outcome of this was the increased attention paid to the different types of offenders and situations in which certain treatment modalities will perform better.

Today, with more sophisticated computer technology and statistical tests available, there are more rigorous tests to determine what does and does not work in terms of both treatment and supervision strategies. The most common way of measuring program effectiveness is to determine whether or not offenders return to criminal behavior. This is better known as recidivism and is measured by rearrest, reconviction, or another term of incarceration. Recidivism should be measured during the period of supervision and after supervision ends, for a period of 1 to 5 years. Other outcome data that could be used to measure effectiveness might be specific components unique to that program, such as the collection rate for fines and restitution, the percentage of offenders who remain employed or in school, the number of GED certificates or high school diplomas awarded, and the number of community service hours performed. Since one of the goals mentioned previously is to ease crowding, effectiveness could be measured based on cost savings or whether a new jail or prison had to be built to accommodate the overflow.

To properly evaluate a program, a “treatment” group of offenders could be selected at random to participate in a program, and a “control” group would consist of the offenders who are sentenced to a form of regular probation supervision. However, the political nature of elected judges and appointed prosecutors rarely permits this type of evaluation to occur. Furthermore, many sentencing laws mandate a certain form of punishment for certain crimes, so random selection may be illegal in some cases. The following is a summary list of principles of effectiveness from various community corrections programs (Bottcher & Ezell, 2005; Deschenes, Turner, & Petersilia, 1995; Fischer, 2003; Padgett, Bales, & Blomberg, 2006; Wilson et al., 2005):

  • Offenders who are in day reporting centers, boot camps, and halfway houses have more complex problems and a higher risk of recidivism than typical probationers. As a result, offenders in residential facilities are more likely to receive a wider variety of treatment and counseling services than are offenders on traditional probation or parole.
  • Surveillance alone will not reduce recidivism. Regardless of the level of supervision or type of community corrections program, offenders need to be participating simultaneously in treatment programs while under supervision.
  • The closer the supervision, the more likely the officer will catch the offender in some sort of a rule violation. Treatment options, as opposed to punitive options, are recommended for offenders who violate supervision regulations.
  • Community programs that were the most effective tended to be longer in duration, offered treatment during the program, offered convenience to treatment services all in one location, and intertwined an aftercare program that gradually tapered off the supervision over a period of 2 years.
  • Programs that have high completion rates are probation and electronic monitoring programs where the supervision term is for less than one year.
  • Correctional boot camp participants overall had no difference in recidivism rates from groups of probationers and parolees. Although there may be some studies showing a small difference—particularly those programs with treatment programs—the overall effect is no different in terms of reducing crime in the future.
  • Paying fines and restitution has little effect on recidivism.

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