Community-based corrections in the criminal justice system are programs that offer an alternative to imprisonment for convicted offenders in the community setting according to Alarid, Cromwell & Carmen, (2007). This is based on the fact that convicted offenders will eventually return to the community and the punishment system is essentially based on corrections. Mays & Winfree, (2008) outline that the perpetrators of probation and community corrections argue that there is a need to find an alternative to imprisonment of non-violent offenders which is low cost given the financial constraint the federal government is facing. The proponents also believe that only a small percentage of these crimes committed necessitate capital punishment or incarceration. The petty offenders can also be punished using more humane and productive modes that consume fewer resources. There is a need therefore to understand this alternative and how it works in the criminal justice system.
The history of probation and community corrections
In its early application, probation was based on a need to tamper the often harsh criminal justice system with some leniency. The nineteenth-century English judges could give judicial reprieves to convicted offenders or postpone sentences for a certain period of time in exchange for behavior change on the part of offenders according to Gibbons & Rosecrance, (2004). This gave offenders a chance to prove that they can live crime-free and therefore petition the crown for a partial or full pardon. On the other hand, it gave the crown time to arrange transportation programs for moving convicted offenders destined for imprisonment or isolation in the colonies.
The United States adopted the judicial reprieve system a century later with some modifications. In the judicial reprieve, judges suspended the imposition of punishment indefinitely until another crime is committed in which case the offender could be punished for both offenses. The origin of probation in the USA and indeed nearly all aspects of it could be traced to John Augustus, a shoemaker in Boston in 1841 as it is given in detail by Clear, Cole & Reisig, (2008). In a case of a person convicted of drunkenness in a Boston court, Augustus convinced the judge to suspend sentencing the offender for three weeks and release him to his custody. After the three probationary weeks, the convict convinced the judge that he was changed and was later fined instead of serving a jail term. From that time until his death eighteen years later, Augustus bailed and supervised almost 1800 offenders who could have otherwise been confined to the Boston House of Corrections. He carefully investigated potential probationers’ backgrounds before deciding on which one to bail and put under his supervision. During the period they were under his supervision he would help them find jobs and shelter and for those capable, some education. The probation thought in time was adopted in other states and federal jurisdictions. In its development and implementation, it underwent a major divide with Augustus and his followers going the humanitarian way with reformation as their focus and law enforcement probationers emphasizing surveillance and close control of offender’s behavior. The humanitarian-oriented social workers emphasize supportive services that meet the offender’s needs. This difference in opinion still exists today as Clear, Cole & Reisig, (2008) continue to say.
Hanser, (2009) defines correctional programs as a system in which, the offender remains in the community where he is in contact with factors of stability in his life such as family, jobs among others. This model assumes that the offender must change and equally the factors within the community that influence criminal behavior must change. The goal of the model is to find an alternative that punishes the offender as much as needed to maintain public safety and satisfy the public. The proponents of this model support their view by citing that many of the offenders have not committed serious crimes that deserve incarceration; community corrections is cheaper than jail term; chances of returning to crime for those under community supervision are not worse than those in prison, and ex-convicts still require support and supervision as they are reintegrated into the society. There are three ways through which community correction programs are carried out. These are through probation, intermediate sanctions, and parole with the first two being administered by the judiciary at county and municipal levels and the last one being a responsibility of the state governments as Champion, (2007) adds.
Probation means that convicted offenders are ordered by the sentencing court to remain in the community under the supervision of probation officers for a specified period of time instead of serving a jail term (Lurigio, 1996). This is based on the theory that it would be more economically and humanly viable to place a certain type of offender found guilty of a crime in the community albeit under some conditions. This benefits the community in that offenders are rehabilitated without incurring the cost of incarceration.
Administration of probation and community correction
Probation is meant to reduce the incidences and impacts of crime in the community by protecting public interests and safety. In this regard investigations and reports on the offender are made to the court which helps them to make the appropriate dispositions (Lurigio, 1996). Other services are provided which encourage the offenders to become more law-abiding in addition to putting in place and collaborating with other stakeholders in activities meant to prevent incidences of crime and delinquency. Furthermore, community correctional programs help in propagating fair and individualized justice for the good of the community as Read, (1998) adds.
Probation is based on several beliefs as Gaines & Miller, (2008) outline. These include the right of every individual in the community to be protected from harm meted out by people regardless of their motive for doing so. In this regard, probation takes the responsibility to control and treat some offenders that endanger that right. Secondly, offenders have a right to fair and individualized sentencing in a democracy and thus probation protects this right. Thirdly, probation recognizes the right of victims of crime to be protected and loss incurred whether financial, emotional, or physical be compensated. Lastly, probation believes that human beings are capable of transforming their behavior and this is the reason it commits to changing and reintegrating offenders into the community.
Three major decision points in the criminal justice system in regard to community corrections
There are three major decision points after the arrest of a suspect in which community corrections plays a role according to Champion, (2007). Pretrial and bail decision comes after the arrest and subsequent charge by a prosecutor in a court of law. In some instances, especially in the federal system, the defendant is released on pretrial supervision. The sentencing decision comes after the offender is found guilty by a judge and a sentence is imposed. Such a convict may be released to community corrections agencies for supervision if he/she is considered fit for the program. Finally, a reentry decision is made when an incarcerated offender leaves prison and is ready to be reintegrated back to society. This process is left to the community corrections agencies who prepare him/her to return safely to the community and to become a law-abiding citizen.
Community correction goals fit correctional goals in that they punish offenders while at the same time addressing the victim’s needs, protecting the public, and curbing repeated criminal behavior. This is achieved through four objectives according to reading, (1998). Protection of the public through helping the offenders conform to behavioral expectations; rehabilitation through addressing the inadequacies that lead offenders to commit the crime; community reintegration through programs that allow offenders to learn skills and offer opportunities that help them settle in a community; and restorative or community justice that focuses on the individual victim and the community in general through the process of healing and serving justice.
Community-based corrections offer an alternative punishment to imprisonment due to various reasons such as saving on costs. This originated from English courts where it was offered in various forms such as judicial reprieves. In the USA it originated in Boston from a man named John Augustus who bailed and supervised offenders released to his custody. The administration of community corrections is based on the theory that most offenders don’t deserve incarceration and that they can change and the conditions in the community that influenced their criminal behaviors can also change. The main goal of these programs is to address the needs of those affected especially individual victims, offenders, and the community in general.
Alarid, L. F., Cromwell, P. F. & Carmen, R.V. (2007). Community-Based Corrections. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Champion D. J. (2007). Probation, Parole, and Community Corrections in the United States. USA: Pearson Education.
Clear, T. R., Cole, G. F. & Reisig M. D. (2008). American Corrections. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Cole, G. F. & Smith, C. E. (2006). The American System of Criminal. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Gaines, L. K. & Miller, R. L. (2008). Criminal Justice in Action. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Gibbons, S. G. & Rosecrance, J. (2004). Probation, Parole, and Community Corrections in the United States. USA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Hanser, R. D. (2009). Community Corrections. London: SAGE Publications Inc.
Lurigio, A. J (ed) (1996). Community Corrections in America: New Directions and Sounder Investments for Persons with Mental Illness and Co-disorders. Washington: Diane Publishing.
Mays, G. L. & Winfree, L. T. (2008). Essentials of Corrections. Belmont: Cengage Learning.
Read, E. M. (1998). Partners in Change: The Twelve Step Referral Handbook for Probation. Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.