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Sentencing: Alternatives - The Changing Face Of Sentencing Alternatives

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Today we still face the same questions that motivated the alternative sentencing movement of the 1980s—prison crowding, probation overload, few resources, and a public demand for accountability and punishment. But some program administrators are using evaluation evidence to redesign programs so that they integrate surveillance with treatment opportunities. There is also evidence that the public is willing to support, both politically and financially, effective offender treatments (Applegate, Cullen, and Fisher). This is particularly true in the area of juvenile justice programming, but also applies to adults, particularly drug offenders.

The OJJDP Comprehensive (COMP) Strategy for Youth endorses graduated sanctions, and incorporates two principle components: increasingly strict supervision and a continuum of treatment alternatives (Howell). Many states are adopting the COMP's strategy, a program for delinquent youth that requires both surveillance and treatment and draws heavily upon the intermediate sanctions program evaluations.

Most boot camps are enhancing the therapeutic parts of their programs and shifting away from their total reliance on physical, militaristic programming. The state of Maryland has adopted a "coerced abstinence" initiative, which will provide drug testing (a main ingredient in surveillance programs) plus treatment in and out of prisons, followed by intensive aftercare upon release. A key component of this program is swift and certain response to drug use violations.

Wisconsin has called for the elimination of probation for felons. They recommend that felony probation be replaced with an arrangement called Community Confinement and Control or CCC. CCCs would include mandatory electronic monitoring, mandatory urine testing, mandatory work or community service, and eighteen to twenty contacts a month, with a probation officer who has a caseload of seventeen offenders. CCC officers would do "community-oriented probation" (similar to community-oriented policing), where they would provide "active" as opposed to "passive" supervision, and be required to engage the offender's community, family, employers, and neighborhoods to create a support and supervision network (Dickey). The Wisconsin legislature is piloting the project in two jurisdictions.

The state of Washington is experimenting with "community" probation, where probation officers partner with the police and community members to reduce the public safety threats posed by offenders in their midst. This is accomplished by having probation officers take an active role in community building, and not just offender restraint. Some have referred to this emerging model as "community justice" or "neighborhood probation," and the probation and parole officers who were involved in alternative sentencing programs are emerging as key players.

These are just a few of the ways in which the ISP research results are directly influencing the design of future programs, and there are several others. It is safe to say that most involved in corrections are keenly aware of the ISP findings, and are using them to design local programs.

But the legacy of the intermediate sanctions experiment is likely to be far more important than simply the redesign of individual programs. ISPs, it seems, have set the stage for an emerging model of "community" probation similar to the Washington experiment described above. Interestingly, as community corrections officers were moving toward a "tougher" form of probation that some likened to police work, police officers were embracing community-based policing, which some likened to probation or social work. Both of them were getting out from behind their desks, out of their cars, and into the community. "In-your-face probation" meant home visits, stopping by the offender's work site, and working with community agencies to develop and supervise community service obligations—a much more "active" probation.

Police, too, were getting out in communities, holding neighborhood meetings, trying to take the pulse of neighborhoods they served—under comparatively well-funded community policing programs. One of the keys of community policing is getting to know the persons on the beat—offenders as well as law-abiding citizens. Police kept hearing over and over again about the residents' fear of offenders, and the lack of justice and accountability for persons who were arrested and placed on probation or released on parole. Victims felt their crimes had been trivialized by a justice system that simply slapped the wrist of offenders and sent them home—or imposed conditions that were not monitored. Repeat victimization was common, and the community wanted serious criminals taken off their streets . . . and once that was done, they wanted programs to help the next generation become responsible citizens.

Police came to realize that to truly reduce crime they had to get out in front of it—not merely react to crime reports. They needed to be proactive rather than simply reactive. But to be proactive, they needed a variety of sources of information—and much of that information (and as it turns out, legal authority) existed in probation departments that were operating intensive supervision programs. Historically there has been animosity between police and probation officers—police believe they catch criminals, and probation lets them out. But the new "community justice" model creates a three-part collaboration among the police, probation, and members of the community.

Early program results of these communitybased collaborative efforts are positive, and it is likely that the next generation of "sentencing alternatives" will be modeled after them. Judges report having greater confidence in probation terms—feeling that curfews and geographical restrictions might be enforced. Police now have information on conditions of probation, and feel they can count on probation to hold offenders accountable when police report violations of probation conditions.

By combining police and probation resources, probation supervision has become a twenty-four-hour-a-day reality. So what was impossible for probation to do alone (even in the most intensive ISP programs) has become possible once they began partnering with the police and the community.

Initially, probation officers were reluctant to partner with police, and police did not want to connect with "social workers." Over time, however, they have begun to realize that each has something to gain from the other. Police have begun to learn from community corrections and others about community resources—employment programs, school prevention, and so on. Police officers in Boston have started attending joint training seminars, participating in strategic planning sessions at the others' organizations, and jointly participating in research projects. The police, probation, clergy, and laypeople now attend monthly community meetings—and most recently, gang members and street workers have begun to attend as well. And the Boston program is expanding. New initiatives have begun that involve the "teamed" approach. For example, police now help probation officers monitor high-risk domestic violence cases, and operate school programs to reduce truancy. Probation absconders now receive priority arrest status by police. The program has now spread from Boston to a dozen other probation jurisdictions throughout Massachusetts (for a full description, see Corbett, Fitzgerald, and Jordan).

These programs mainly provide more surveillance. But study after study has shown that both probation and police officers, once they become familiar with individual communities and the persons who live there, tend to develop less hardened attitudes.

These and other alternative sentencing programs show promise as part of a comprehensive strategy for sentencing criminal offenders. We have become so preoccupied with debating whom to imprison, for how long, and under what conditions that we often ignore sentencing alternatives and community-based sanctions. It is currently true—and has always been so—that three-fourths of all convicted criminals will continue to reside in the community. And for those who are initially sent to prison, they, too, will return to the community, usually within a period of less than two years. So the development of effective alternative sentencing program has major implications for public safety and the offender's prospects for rehabilitation. We now have evidence that alternative sanctions can balance the goals of costs, safety, and accountability—and give the public what they most want, which is increased public safety.

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