Community Supervision Programs – an Alternative to Incarceration

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Community Supervision Programs – An Alternative to Incarceration CJS 230 Erin Wingfield University of Phoenix October 11, 2009 In the mid-1800’s, a local Bostonian civic activist John Augustus, began to identify criminal defendants who, in his mind, was ripe for rehabilitation. He sought to help some defendants out of their lives of crime by helping them obtain jobs and address the social problems leading to their criminal acts. Thus, the early roots of probation were born. In its inception, probation was seen as an opportunity for a potential probationer to complete a series of tasks that would eventually lead to a constructive and crime free life in the community. Augustus, along with volunteers, would supervise the offenders within the community, helping them find jobs, housing and act as mentors to the offender in the hopes his crimes would not be repeated. This “case management” style of supervision and monitoring outside of confinement became the seed of modern probation – a system of supervision within the community that allows an offender an alternative to removal from the community. Although there are now several modes of structured community supervision in place, they all follow the original idea of allowing an offender the opportunity to be held accountable for his crimes while working towards the goal of being a constructive society member. Simply put, probation is a type of sentence where the offender is placed under supervision in the community as opposed to incarceration. While under the supervision of a probation officer, a probationer is required to comply with various requirements and restrictions. Such requirements are generally offense specific, but fall into three broad categories: standard conditions, such as reporting to the probation officer, avoiding negative contact with law enforcement and being employed; punitive conditions, such as paying fines and supervision fees, restitution and drug tests; and treatment conditions, such as substance abuse treatment and anger management therapy. If a probationer successfully completes all requirements of their probation, the Judge will issue an order releasing the offender from probation, thus the offender has served their sentence, all while remaining in the community. Probation has become the one word used to describe a variety of community supervision programs. Both misdemeanants and felons can, at some point, be under some form of probation or parole (probation upon release from prison). Despite the reality of being a punitive “hard on crime” society, probation, in varying forms, is actually more common to incarceration. Although probation rates have slowed down since the 1980’s, there still remains an annual increase in community supervision rates of just over 3% annually. Even some felony offenders are placed on probation as opposed to imprisonment. Also, a court can issue a split sentence, where the offender serves a shorter period of time and is then placed on probation. Most misdemeanants, upon conviction, are placed on some form of probationary supervision. Whether because of the inhibitive costs of incarceration or an attempt to identify and respond to the causes of crime, probation is, in most cases, a preferred sentencing option. In 2007, nearly 7. 3 million persons in the United States were under some form of correctional supervision. As opposed to 2. 3 million in custody, as of December 31, 2007, nearly 5. 1 million people were under some form of probation or parole. Many of those under correctional supervision are white, women and have nonviolent or drug offenses. Some violent offenses are not eligible for probation, parole or any other community supervision program. The roles of probation officers differ among states and localities. In some states, probation officers supervise specialized case loads of offenders, such as parolees or drug offenders. Probation officers may also have a diverse caseload. In addition to monitoring behavior, probation officers may also complete presentence reports, drug tests probationers and conduct probation and parole revocations. Community supervision programs have many opponents, arguing that probation is “soft on crime” and not a deterrent to future crime. Considering the ongoing debates of whether incarceration is an effective deterrent, it is little surprise that “hard on crime” proponents (namely politicians and those industries profiting from prisons) would jump on any data indicating a high recidivism rate for probationers. According to BJS statistics, a high number of state prison inmates, 45%, were arrested and convicted while serving a period of supervision. This suggests that 45% of probationers are unable o successfully complete their probation. However, statistics are subjective and, when put under a microscope, may tell a different story. Nor do these numbers reflect the ongoing issues with adequate probation programs, well-trained officers and funding for programs addressing the underlying problems leading to arrest. It is a general requirement of probation that probationers have no negative contact with police and have no contact with other probationers or parolees. For a poor person who is unemployed or underemployed (possible due to a criminal history), depending on family or friends for shelter or transportation and living in an area with few economic or educational programs, complying with the simplest of requirements can be nearly impossible. Probation and parole does not address the core issues leading to crime, namely poverty and a lack of economic and educational opportunities. Therefore, statistics do not reflect recidivism resulting from these core issues. Additionally, a large minority of probationers are drug offenders (27% in 2007) On the other side, proponents argue that probation programs are effective if probationers are properly supervised and programs are well-funded. Unfortunately, probation officers in many areas are encumbered with heavy case loads, often unable to adequately supervise probationers or ensure compliance with terms of probation. Often, by the time a probation officer is aware of noncompliance, the probationer has been rearrested and awaiting a revocation hearing – to determine if probation will be revoked for jail time. Effective probation programs, such as those in Arizona, have low, specialized caseloads, allowing officers to closely and effectively monitor probationers and, often, prevent subsequent offenses. In copying such programs, states should also attend to ensuring adequate substance abuse programs and opportunities for meaningful and gainful employment. Even with these and other social programs, probation and other community programs are still significantly less costly than long periods of incarceration – which does not prepare an inmate to reenter the community in a positive way. Bibliography 1. Beck, Allen J. Ph. D. State and Federal Prisoners Returning To the Community: Findings from Bureau of Justice Statistics. (April 2000). https://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/. (Accessed October 9, 2009) 2. Cohen, Robyn L. Survey of State Prison Inmates 1991. Bureau of Justice. (August 1995). https://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/. (Accessed October 9, 2009) 3. Foster, Burke. Corrections: The Fundamentals. (2006). Prentice Hall. 4. Glaze, Lauren and Thomas Bonczar. Adults on Probation in the united States:1997-2007. (2008). Bureau of Justice. https://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/. (Accessed October 10,2009)

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