How community corrections can cut down recidivism

Community corrections is the obvious answer when it comes to effecting change in the criminal justice system; here’s three ways we can make it happen

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, written in a personal capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, or any other governmental agency.

Society and public policy is the starting point for any change within a criminal justice or public safety setting. By implementing specific policies, procedures and theories, several benefits can be obtained, not only to society as a whole but also to the individuals who have made poor decisions that led to deviant behavior.

Our criminal justice system has done nothing but increase taxes to send individuals through a revolving door. The system has remained on the same path for hundreds of years under the retributive justice concept: Individuals break the law by committing an illegal act or exhibiting deviant behavior, and those that are caught or reported to the court in some form end up finding themselves at the doorstep to lady justice. If we consider the cost of deviant behavior, we can begin to understand just how important it is to identify an alternative way of reducing recidivism. If we elect to continue with the status quo, our society as a whole will continue down a path of self-destruction.

Not only does society end up paying the cost of sending individuals through this system, the end result is less than satisfying. People are alleged to have committed a crime, are sent through a legal system that is full of fluff and then are either placed on some form of supervision or incarcerated for their criminal acts. The retributive society would have us believe that this concept works, and that all people must be held responsible for their actions. While people certainly do need to be held responsible, there are much better ways at ensuring proper sanctions are provided. Not only do individuals need to be held responsible, but we as a society need to be held accountable for what happens to those individuals once they have paid their debt to society.

Starting with community corrections
Community corrections is without a doubt the number one place to begin if we ever want to successfully create positive change in the rehabilitation of offenders. Not only do many probation and parole officers deal with those that have been placed under supervision prior to incarceration, but they also deal with those that have recently been released from prison under parole status.

Either way, the ultimate goal of working with this population is to successfully rehabilitate them to the point that they are able to reintegrate back into society and lessen the risk of returning back into the criminal justice system.

Ultimately, the best way to approach reducing recidivism is for all key players within the justice system to work closely with community corrections in some capacity. Community corrections personnel have one of the most unique and underrated jobs within society today.

Adding evidence-based practices
A large majority of the US has already begun implementing what is commonly known as ‘evidence-based practices’ in an attempt to change behavior, reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The problem is that not all states have accepted this practice, which is extremely dynamic in nature. No one individual will fit within a mold or framework that would make implementing this type of change easy. The purpose behind using evidence-based practices is that personnel will be able to use specific tools that will help identify key areas to focus on while rehabilitating individuals.

Those tools involve using a risk needs assessment process. This entails asking a validated set of questions designed at not only identifying the potential for risk of re-arrest, but also to identify any criminogenic needs that may be flagged as a potential barrier to successfully completing supervision. Whether court-ordered probation or parole situation, implementing evidence-based practices has proven time and time again to be successful in reducing recidivism and positively effecting change in lives.

Using case planning unique to each individual is key to effectively creating change. Since every individual has unique behaviors, personalities, risks of re-arrest and certainly different criminogenic needs, each case needs to be handled differently. Before implementing evidence-based practices related to community corrections supervision, everyone was treated in a blanket format. One would be placed on supervision, and then ordered to comply with a set of sanctions.

The minute one of those sanctions was not completed successfully, officers would arrest the individual and request that the individual be sent to prison for non-compliance with court-ordered sanctions. In order for evidence-based practices to be implemented successfully, this previous approach needs to change. We can no longer fit everyone in the same box and expect to gain specific compliance each time. Every individual has barriers to success; it’s the job of community corrections officers to identify those barriers and learn the best way to hurdle over them.

Using a restorative justice model
When used appropriately, a restorative justice model in conjunction with evidence-based practices by community corrections can sustain a positive effect on not only helping the offender to change their behaviors, but can also with bringing closure to victims. Restorative justice can better be defined as “A process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offence come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offence and its implications for the future” (Sherman & Strang, 2007).

When community corrections officers attempt to deal with offenders by addressing criminogenic needs to reduce recidivism, they can take the process one step further if they begin to implement that process alongside using a restorative justice model of bringing those under supervision directly in contact with those that have been victimized. The human element that is associated with an individual who has committed a criminal act being brought face to face with their accuser has been known to be successful in some circumstances. Of course, this concept would not benefit all; in general, there is a possibility that this process could produce positive results. The human emotion that is brought to light could potentially push the offender over that “wall of change.”

Successfully creating change
It is clear that something needs to be done if we are to effectively bring change to the community corrections field. The old process of simply enforcing court-ordered sanctions has proven to be highly unsuccessful, resulting in prison overcrowding and a higher rate of recidivism. One of the major reasons for the increased rate of re-arrest was that those involved with rehabilitation failed to identify and meet the needs of the population under court-ordered supervision.

This quite often resulted in the “revolving door syndrome,” where people continuously cycled through the criminal justice system over and over, with no results in sight to create change. Research has shown that by effectively identifying risk and needs of offenders, and by incorporating scientifically proven techniques, also known as evidence based practices, one can actually change behavior and reduce the risk of becoming yet another statistic of re-arrest. Additionally, creating a culture of change within community corrections to avoid disintegrative shaming, while incorporating practices that are in alliance with the restorative justice model, positive change, reduced recidivism and an overall benefit to public safety can finally begin to take place.

Sherman, L., & Strang, H. (2007). Restorative Justice: the evidence. Great Britain, UK: The Smith Institute

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