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Running head: IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY 1

Improving Community Corrections: Improving rehabilitation, recidivism, and the community


Rebekah M. Oliva
Cal Baptist University

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

For over the past thirty years, the United States has been known to overly rely on
incarceration as a response to crime. The desired outcome of using incarceration is punishment,
deterrence of crime, and rehabilitation of offenders (Washington D.C.: The Pew Charitable
Trusts, March 2009). However, history will show the desired outcome has only been successful
in regards to punishment. Incarceration has done little to successfully deter crime or rehabilitate
offenders and their victims. Since the 1970s, the reliance of incarceration as a response to crime
has only increased the prison population. The Pew Center on the United States revealed that in
2008, 2.3 million people or one in 100 adults were incarcerated. Scientists Blumstein and Beck
discovered through their research that incarceration of drug offenders was the major component
of the growth of mass incarceration rates. These explosive growth rates were not driven by
increases in offenses being committed but by tough on crime policies, such as drug policies
and mandatory sentencing. In fact, Blumstein and Beck also discovered that only twelve percent
of the increase in incarceration rates were due to more crimes being committed and 88 percent
were due to an increase of arrests because tough on crime policies. The drastic increase in the
prison population has inevitably lead to prisons overcrowding. This forces the state to release
offenders early or give them alternative sentences in lieu of incarceration.
The rise of the prison population is not the largest category of growth in the criminal
justice system. The category with the largest growth are those serving probation or parole
sentences (Mackenzie 2001). Parole and probation, commonly referred to as community
supervision, are intended to be used as alternatives to incarceration for offenders who are not
deemed a threat to public safety (Walshe 2012). Typically, these sentences are given to those who
commit nonviolent crimes, majority of them drug related. According to the Public Safety
Performance Project published by the Pew Center on the States, property and drug charges

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

accounted for more than 50 percent of probationers, followed by driving while intoxicated and
other criminal traffic violations (18 percent), violent crimes (17 percent) and other offenses (13
percent). Mass incarceration has received significant attention politically and socially, though,
not as much is known about how many offenders are sentenced to community supervision. In
2009, one in 45 or 5.1 million adults were under one of the forms of community supervision
Warren et al. 2009). This number will only continue to grow because more offenders are being
sent to prison and in order to meet budgets and population caps. A sad reality is two-thirds of
those released will go back to jail within three years (Kleiman & Hawken 2008). These programs
were designed to be rehabilitative and reduce recidivism, yet they do the complete opposite.
Therefore, there clearly is a problem with the community supervision system. This can largely be
contributed to lack of state funds which hinders supervision and increases recidivism rates. 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 probation and parole (Washington D.C.:
The Pew Charitable Trusts, March 2009). The lack of resources and attention from supervision
fails to improve the lives of offenders or better communities in which they return to live.
Probation and parole not only fails in improving lives, it also contributes to the high recidivism
rates. This casts much doubt on whether community supervision is able to achieve deterrence or
rehabilitation or if it just is complicating the task of reducing the amount of people incarcerated.
The financial cost to the community have increased along with the rise in the population
of the incarcerated and the growth of those under community supervision. The criminal justice
system costs the taxpayers 68 billion dollars a year and despite spending this much money
recidivism rates have yet to decrease. The tax payers money is contributing more to keeping
offenders in jail than to actually fixing the problem. In fact, the solution of community

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY


supervision costs significantly less than incarceration. In 2008, the daily cost of keeping an
inmate in prison 78.95 dollars while it was only 3.42 dollars to supervise an offender in a
community supervision program (Washington D.C.: The Pew Charitable Trusts, March 2009). It
is easily justifiable to have these high costs to keep a dangerous violent criminal behind bars. As
for the thousands of nonviolent criminals behind bars, the cost to taxpayers is more than it
actually saves in preventing crime. National research found in the Pew Center on the States
report, states that we are past the point where more imprisonment will prevent less crime.
Therefore, the costs of imprisonment increasing with little to no benefit from doing so increases
the importance of better managing the five million offenders on community supervision.
Research has shown that successful community supervision programs for low risk, nonviolent
offenders not only cost less than incarceration, but when they are properly executed can reduce
recidivism by at least 30 percent (Vera Institute of Justice 2013). By redirecting more of the tax
payers dollars to community supervision more could be done to increase the quality of
supervision rehabilitate non-violent offenders, reduce recidivism, and deter crime.
The lack of funding and resources has made it difficult for community supervision
officers to effectively do their jobs. Caseloads have increased in the last 30 years from 45
parolees to 130 parolees (Petersilia 2000). Community supervision officers are left to prioritize
offenders into high risk and low risk based on the chances of reoffending. Most offenders fall
into the high risk category. Therefore, many offenders are left without adequate supervision to
prevent destructive behavior or committing crime. The caseloads being high are not the only
problem, the restrictions placed on the offenders have become more difficult to 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

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

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 are 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

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

community-corrections system, will have not only more violations but more punishments
than the orderly classroom.
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. A community supervision system that relies on
swiftness and certainty of punishment would result in deterrence of crime and less recidivism.
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 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).

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

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
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.

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

The efforts to improve community supervision need to be strengthened. By allocating


more tax dollars to community supervision performance could be improved, which would
significantly decrease recidivism and deter crime. Diverting more tax dollars to community
corrections instead of prisons would aid policymakers in developing better programs to
rehabilitate offenders. Improving the budget would give more resources and support to officers
so they could effectively manage offender safely. This would better the community by aiding the
offender in bettering their life so they could become a successful member of the community. This
would aid in decreasing the prison population which would also decrease prison costs. In
reducing the prison population more violent offenders would remain behind bars thus keeping
the community safer. Community supervision such as HOPE is an essential program in reducing
recidivism, rehabilitating offenders, and deterring crime which is exactly what they were
designed to do.

IMPROVING REHABILITATION, RECIDIVISM, AND THE COMMUNITY

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/hopeand-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

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-of-communitycorrections.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
Reentry Policy Council, January 2005; and Joan Petersilia, 2000.
National Institute of Justice. (2011, January 20). Retrieved from
https://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=49