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Community Corrections: Improving offenders lives and the community


Rebekah M. Oliva
Cal Baptist University

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
years. Although, 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. The number of offenders in the community corrections system has increased since the
1980s from 1.6 million to five million (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 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, 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 probation
and parole programs more could be done to increase the quality of supervision, rehabilitate
nonviolent offenders, reduce recidivism, and deter crime.
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
probationer or parolee can be sent back to prison.
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 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 costed $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
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
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 to 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 Hawaiis probation system.
He decided to implement a pilot program called Hawaiis Opportunity Probation with
Enforcement known by the acronym HOPE. HOPE is a community supervision program for
offenders that are struggling with substance abuse. The main objective of this program is to
reduce recidivism, incarceration, and drug use (Alm 2015). HOPE selects 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 conveyed 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 their 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
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. Also, creating 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.
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 in peoples lives that are not entirely known. 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.Im telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone
overlooked or ignored, that was meyou 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 offenders 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
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 state budget and if it can be properly allocated so

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

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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-and-new-drug-court-(2015).pdf
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).
McGerry, P. (2013, July). The Potential of Community Corrections to Improve Safety and
Reduce Incarceration (Rep.). Retrieved
http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/potential-ofcommunity-corrections.pdf
McKenzie, D. L. (2001, July). Sentencing and Corrections in the 21st Century: Setting the Stage
for the Future (Rep.). Retrieved https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/189106-2.pdf
Pew Center on the States, One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections (Washington
D.C.:The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2009) Retrieved From
http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/pre
ss-releases/0001/01/01/one-in-31-us-adults-are-behind-bars-on-parole-orprobation
Pruning Prisons: How Cutting Corrections Can Save Money and Protect Public Safety. (2009,
May). Retrieved from
http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/09_05_REP_PruningPrisons_AC_PS
.pdf

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


The Federal Prison Population: A Statistical Analysis. (2004). Retrieved from
http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/sl_fedprisonpopulation.pdf
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/probationparole-study-dysfunction