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Community Corrections: Improving offenders lives and the community

Rebekah M. Oliva

Cal Baptist University

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For over the past thirty years the United States has been known to overly rely on

incarceration as a response to crime. In 2008, one in 100 (2.3 million) adults were behind bars

(Washington D.C.:The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009). According to the Sentencing Project

Organization, the prison population has increased over five hundred percent over the last thirty

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years. Though, mass incarceration has received significant attention politically and socially, it is

not the largest category of growth in the criminal justice system. The area with far more growth

and far less attention is community corrections, more commonly known as probation and parole.

In 2009, 5.1 million adults were under one of the forms of community corrections (McGerry,

2013). Community corrections supervises offenders who are under the authority of the criminal

justice system but are completing their sentences while living in the community. Community

corrections is intended to be used as an alternative to incarceration for offenders that are not

deemed a threat to public safety (Walshe, 2012). Typically, these sentences are given to

(Walshe, 2012). Typically, these sentences are given to offenders who commit nonviolent crimes, majority of them

offenders who commit nonviolent crimes, majority of them drug related. The purpose of

community corrections is to rehabilitate offenders, reduce recidivism, and deter crime. Yet, it

does the complete opposite. About two-thirds of those in a community corrections program will

go back to jail within three years (Kleiman & Hawken 2008). Therefore, there is clearly a

problem with the community corrections system. This can largely be contributed to the lack of

state funds which hinders supervision and increases the chance of offenders violating the terms

of their probation or parole. In 2008, 34 states spent 88 percent of the corrections spending

(18.65 billion dollars) on prisons, while only 12 percent (2.52 billion dollars) was spent on

community corrections (Washington D.C.: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009). The budget

constraints, lack of resources, and lack of supervision fails to help rehabilitate the lives of

offenders. Research has shown that successful community correction programs for low risk,

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nonviolent offenders not only cost less than incarceration, but when they are properly executed

can reduce recidivism by at least thirty percent (McGerry, 2013). By allocating more of the state

budget dollars to community corrections and restructuring the probation and parole more could

be done to increase the quality of supervision, rehabilitate nonviolent offenders, reduce

recidivism, and deter crime.

nonviolent offenders, reduce recidivism, and deter crime. The largest group of offenders under community corrections

The largest group of offenders under community corrections are those on probation. In

2009, 4 million offenders about 84 percent of the community correction population were on

probation (McGerry, 2013). Probation is a court ordered period of supervision in the community.

Probation can sometimes be part of a combined sentence, either prison or jail, immediately

followed by a period of community corrections. The other form of community corrections is

parole. Parole is a period of conditional supervised release in the community following a prison

term. Parole is very similar to probation with only a few minor differences, mainly that it is

served after their prison term. The courts set the rules and the conditions of the supervision. The

rules and conditions could be reporting to their supervision officer, passing drug tests, and

maintaining employment. If a probationer or parolee violate the terms of their supervision by

committing a new offense or failing to follow the rules, they can be arrested and have to appear

in court for a punishment for the violation. If violation is discovered to be committed the

violation. If violation is discovered to be committed the probationer or parolee can be sent back

probationer or parolee can be sent back to prison.

The number of offenders in the community corrections system has increased since the

1980s from 1.6 million to five million (McGerry, 2013). Along with the increase in the

corrections populations came an increase in the financial costs. Total state spending on

corrections is estimated at $52 billion a year, majority of that being spent on prisons (McGerry,

2013). Despite spending this much money on corrections the recidivism rates have yet to

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decrease. Bureau Justice of Statistics stated in 2015 an estimated three quarters of prisoners will

be rearrested within five years of release and six out of ten will be reconvicted. The state budget

money is contributing more to keeping the offenders in jail than making an effort to rehabilitate

them. In fact, community correction costs significantly less than incarceration. In 2008, the daily

cost of keeping an inmate in prison costs $78.97, while it was only $3.42 to supervise an

offender under community corrections (Washington D.C.:The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009). It

is easily justifiable to have these high costs to keep a dangerous criminal behind bars. For a

significantly lower cost, the community has the chance to try and rehabilitate a nonviolent

offender, to not only lower the correction cost but provide better public safety.

When probation and parole officers successfully manage offenders under community

corrections, it produces budget cost savings and positive offender rehabilitation outcomes.

However, the lack of funding and resources has made it difficult for community supervision

officers to effectively do their jobs. “The average probation officer now has about 100 offenders

on his or her case load, while parole tends to be slightly lower, about 60 offenders per officer”

(Washington D.C.:The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009) . Community supervision officers are left to

prioritize offenders into high risk and low risk based on the chances of reoffending. Therefore,

many offenders are left without adequate supervision to prevent destructive behavior or

committing more crime. The caseloads being high are not the only problem, the restrictions

placed on the offenders have become more difficult for officers to successfully monitor with

such a high case load. The restrictions include living restrictions, curfews, drug tests, and

imposition of fines and fees (Mackenzie, 2001). Constraints in the budget also prevent officers

from having adequate office support and resources. Without the proper resources community

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supervision officers have trouble managing their workloads. These programs need adequate

budget allocation so that they are able to deliver positive outcomes for offenders.

A reform in the budget policy is needed to strengthen the failing community supervision

system. These programs need to become reliable options for nonviolent low risk offenders in an

effort to reduce recidivism and deter crime. The large caseloads that officers have make it

difficult to deliver swift and certain justice. The idea of swift and certain justice is two of the

most important factors in the effectiveness of deterring crime (Kleiman & Hawken 2008). In

order for officers to complete this task it requires officers to detect and take action to violations

quicker. The problem is that low violation individuals receive much less attention than high

violation individuals and not all violations are able to be addressed. This problem is best

described by Kleiman and Hawken in their study of swift and certainty of punishment. Kleiman

and Hawken use the example of a teacher in the classroom dealing with misbehaving students.

“The contrast between the low-violation and the high-violation equilibriums can be

illustrated by imagining two different classrooms. If a teacher faces a class of mostly

well-behaved students, when Johnny starts throwing spitballs, the teacher can call him to

order, making him less likely to misbehave again and reminding other students not to

imitate him. But now consider the same teacher facing a classroom where Johnny is

throwing spitballs, Judy is passing notes, Jane is doodling in her textbook, and Jim and

Jerry have started a fistfight. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of misconduct, the

teacher likely will deal first with the fistfight, ignoring the other violations of the rules.

But this action conveys to those miscreants and others that misconduct does not lead to

sanctions. That disorderly classroom, which has a strong resemblance to the current

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community-corrections system, will have not only more violations but more punishments

than the orderly classroom” (Pg. 3).

The effectiveness of the threat of punishment is not taken seriously because offenders feel that

they can get away with violations without being given a punishment. This is best described by

economist Thomas Schelling, “the effectiveness of any deterrent threat in enforcing a rule

depends in part on how likely it is that someone who breaks the rule will actually be punished.”

The likelihood that the violator will be punished is directly correlated to how often the violation

is committed and when the officer finally addresses it. A solution do this is shortening of time

between the violation and the consequence. In order to shorten the time the community

correction officers need more resources and support staff to successfully manage all the

offenders under their supervision. A community supervision system that relies on swiftness and

certainty of punishment would result in deterrence of crime and less recidivism.

Budget allocation is not the only solution to this issue of community corrections. By using

community supervision to aid in crime prevention and recidivism it will have to be successful at

doing so. In addition to allocating more state fund dollars to community corrections, more will

need to be done by supervision to ensure offenders are successful in the long term and not return

to prison. This can be done by shifting from a law enforcement orientation program to a behavior

management program (Justice Policy, 2009). This prioritizes assisting offenders in leading

successful crime free lives in the community.

In the state of Hawaii, a program like this is already in existence. In 2004, Judge Steven

Alm, a judge in Hawaii began to recognize that there were flaws in Hawaii’s probation system.

He decided to implement a pilot program called Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with

Enforcement known by the acronym HOPE. HOPE is a community supervision program for

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offenders that are struggling with substance abuse. The main objective of this program is to

reduce recidivism, incarceration, and drug use (Alm 2015). HOPE chooses offenders that have

an extensive history with the criminal justice system and are likely to violate the terms of their

probation. “HOPE was designed with a theoretical foundation that emphasizes clearly defined

behavioral expectations for probationers, the use of swift and certain sanctions when

probationers fail to comply with those expectations, and elements of procedural justice that make

it clear to probationers that probation officers and supervising judges want them to succeed”

(Alm 2015).

Alm developed a new court procedure called “warning hearings” which put the offender

on notice that each missed appointment or positive drug test results in an immediate stay in jail

that can range from days to months. This conveys to the offender that violation of the terms of

their parole or probation will not be tolerated. Alm also took a different approach in how

offenders would be drug tested. Each offender is assigned a color which represents the frequency

in which they are tested. The offender is required to call the hotline every day and if there color

is chosen for the day they are required to appear at the court for drug testing. When starting the

program, the offender is required to be tested six times per month or once per week. As the

offender goes through their program they could be assigned a new color which require less

testing as a reward for complying with their terms. However, if they fail to show up for drug

testing or fail it will result in an immediate issue of a bench warrant.

The warning hearings were extremely effective. Offenders that were chosen to participate

in this pilot program reduced their failure to appear and positive drug test results by 90 percent

compared to the first three months before being selected for this program (Alm 2015). Offenders

behavior was able to improve overtime with the aid of the HOPE program. The violations for

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offenders that were not chosen to participate in the HOPE program increased over time by 37

percent in which the offenders were punished with incarceration (Washington D.C.: The Pew

Charitable Trusts, March 2009). The HOPE program was expanded to over thousand offenders

and the results of this program matched the results of the pilot program. There have been efforts

to create programs such as this in other states that include Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas,

California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

Despite the success that the HOPE court has had, the critics of the program have pointed

out some flaws. Many of the critics feel that the swift sanctions come at a cost to probation

officers, police department, and jails. They feel that the strict drug testing rules HOPE seeks to

enforce create more work for probation officers and drug testers. It also creates a larger work

load for the police department who have to issue warrants for probationers on the run and strain

on the local jails housing probationers as punishment for violation. One of these critics is

Honolulu City prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, he thinks that judges should put more offenders

behind bars at the first violation of the terms of probation. Kaneshiro thinks that HOPE keeps

offenders on probation for too long and gives offenders too many chances. He feels that having

more drug testing does not equate to more supervision or accountability. Kaneshiro feels that

drug testing is only one form of supervision and that is not enough. He forms his opinion

because of the few situations where offenders under the HOPE program reoffended by

committing more serious crimes such as rape and murder. Judge Alm states that HOPE is not

perfect and there will be offenders who re offend by committing new crimes just as they would

under regular probation. However, statistics have proven that offenders under the HOPE program

will commit new crimes less often than if they would have if placed under traditional probation

terms.

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Improving the community corrections system not only improves the offenders lives but it

improves the community over all. Society should not turn their back on those who are considered

criminals. There are always circumstances that are not entirely known and instead of shunning

the offenders the community should seek to help them improve their lives. Matthew 25:41-43 45,

tells us that we should help our neighbors no matter what they circumstance because as

Christians it is not our right to judge. “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave

me a drink. I was homeless and you gave me a room. I was shivering and you gave me

clothes. I was sick and you stopped to visit. I was in prison and you came to me.”…”I’m telling

the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that

was me—you did it to me” Matthew 25:41-43,45. Helping those that are in need, such as

offenders, is not always seen as a positive thing to some in the community. Ministry is not

always perfect it is messy and uncomfortable. In this case it is not only a matter of helping an

individual but an entire community.

Redirecting more of the state budget dollars to community corrections can help improve

the quality of supervision, deter crime, reduce recidivism, and rehabilitate offender’s lives. The

lack of resources and support for community corrections officer makes it extremely difficult for

them to successfully monitor offenders. The inability for officers to deliver swift and certain

sanctions increases the chances that an offender will ultimately end up back in prison. By

reallocating more funds to community corrections more programs such as HOPE could be put

into place. This will help offenders become more accountable for their actions and help them to

better their lives. Offenders bettering their lives not only reduces the prison population, conserve

the state budget, and deter crime. It also serves as a way to improve the community as a whole

such as public safety. The process of improving community corrections will take time but to sit

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and let the system stay the same is unacceptable when there has been evidence that other

programs can work. It all comes down to the budget and if it can be properly allocated so that

more can be done to successfully rehabilitate offenders for the better.

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11 Works Cited Alm, S. S. (2015). HOPE Probation and the New Drug Court: A Powerful

Works Cited

Alm, S. S. (2015). HOPE Probation and the New Drug Court: A Powerful Combination.

Minnesota Law Review, 99(5), 1665-1696. Retrieved from http://hopehawaii.net/assets/hope-

Blumstein, A., & Beck, A. J. (1999). Population Growth in U.S. Prisons, 1980-1996. Crime and

Justice, 26, 17-61. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147683

Kleiman, Mark A.R., and Angela Hawken. “Fixing the Parole System.” Issues in Science and

Technology 24, no. 4 (Summer 2008).

McKenzie, D. L. (2001, July). Sentencing and Corrections in the 21st Century: Setting the Stage

Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections (Washington

D.C.:The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009) Retrieved From

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Pruning Prisons: How Cutting Corrections Can Save Money and Protect Public Safety. (2009,

May). Retrieved from

Reentry Policy Council, January 2005; and Joan Petersilia, 2000.

The Federal Prison Population: A Statistical Analysis. (2004). Retrieved from

Walshe, S. (2012, April 26). Probation and parole: A study in criminal justice dysfunction.

Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/apr/26/probation-

parole-study-dysfunction