|Building Trust and Legitimacy Within Community Corrections|
|By Wendy Still, Barbara Broderick, and Steven Raphael|
The following has been reprinted from The National Institute of Justice
Executive Session on Community Corrections
This is one in a series of papers that will be published as a result of the Executive Session on Community Corrections.
The Executive Sessions at Harvard Kennedy School bring together individuals of independent standing who take joint responsibility for rethinking and improving society’s responses to an issue. Members are selected based on their experiences, their reputation for thoughtfulness and their potential for helping to disseminate the work of the Session.
Members of the Executive Session on Community Corrections have come together with the aim of developing a new paradigm for correctional policy at a historic time for criminal justice reform. The Executive Session works to explore the role of community corrections and communities in the interest of justice and public safety.
Learn more about the Executive Session on Community Corrections at: NIJ’s website: www.NIJ.gov, keywords “Executive Session Community Corrections”
Harvard’s website: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ criminaljustice/communitycorrections
Corrections in the United States
Over the past three decades, the U.S. incarceration rate has increased to historic highs, while crime rates have dropped significantly. Today, the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. In addition to the 2.3 million people incarcerated in our nation’s jails and prisons, 4 million individuals are on probation or parole at any given time. The individuals on probation and parole — who represent the community corrections system in America — are the largest part of the correctional system. Yet, this aspect of corrections has been largely absent from the national conversation surrounding incarceration rates and criminal justice reform — this despite the fact that community corrections presents the most obvious alternative to incarceration for many and perhaps the best opportunity for reforming the criminal justice system in ways that will promote public safety, efficiency and fairness.
Similar to the growth of prison populations during the past three decades, the number of individuals on probation in the United States has also grown. While there were 492 people on probation for every 100,000 U.S. residents in 1980, this figure peaked in 2007 at 1,425, and by 2014 had declined slightly to 1,214 (see figure 1). With nearly 4 million people on probation at any given time, this represents the largest correctional population in the nation. Interestingly, long-term trends in crime rates and arrests for serious offenses should have militated toward a smaller probation population. Arrests for serious offenses are at historic lows, especially for the relatively young. Figures 2 and 3 compare the likelihood of being arrested in 1980 and 2012, by age, for violent and property index offenses. While arrests for violent and property offenses are somewhat higher for individuals over 30, we observe pronounced decreases in arrest rates for younger individuals in the highest risk age ranges. However, arrests for drug offenses are up, way up, for all ages (figure 4) as are overall arrests for non-index crimes (figure 5). On net, the aggregate age-arrest profile changes very little as increases in less serious arrests have offset the decrease in arrests for more serious crime (figure 6). With lower crime rates, these higher arrest rates for lesser offenses likely reflect shifts in enforcement. In conjunction with stiffer sentencing and net widening in the application of probation sentences, the proportion of U.S. residents on probation has grown alongside the prison incarceration rate. Today, many states and the federal government are reevaluating sentencing practices with the goal of using incarceration more sparingly. Some jurisdictions have scaled back their use of prisons through shorter sentences and greater use of alternative sanctions (for example, electronic monitoring, probation, short sentences to county jails). These reforms have been motivated in part by cost and population pressures. California provides perhaps the most salient example of a state being forced by a federal court to reduce its prison population to remedy overcrowded prison conditions. Notably, at least nine other states face capacity problems that would violate the conditions placed on California’s prison system by a federal court, suggesting that other states face the risk of losing partial control of their prison systems through prison overcrowding lawsuits. Beyond such instances, other state reforms have been motivated by concerns regarding the differential impacts of the criminal justice system on minority communities, evidence of diminishing returns to scale in terms of the effectiveness of prison as a crime control tool, and a notable shift in public opinion regarding the proper role and scale of the U.S. criminal justice system.
To read the full report click here.
Wendy Still is the Chief Probation Officer in Alameda County, California.
Barbara Broderick is the Chief Probation Officer in the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department.
Steven Raphael is a Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkley.
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