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Probation and Parole: History, Goals, and Decision-Making

Changing Goals Of Community Corrections

Over the past thirty years, there have been major changes in the theoretical model guiding the practice of community supervision. During the twentieth century, most of the focus of probation and parole had been on the rehabilitation aspects of community supervision. However, since the 1960s, major changes have occurred in correctional philosophy and this has had a dramatic impact on the goals of community supervision.

Rehabilitation model. As described earlier, probation and parole were originally conceived in humanitarian terms—as a second chance or an opportunity for reform. Not surprisingly, the enactment of many community supervision statutes coincided with the Progressive period (1900–1920) in correctional history. Progressive reformers dismissed penal policies of the previous century as prohibitively rigid and advocated the adoption of the "medical model" (or "treatment" model) in conjunction with indeterminate sentencing. Deviant behavior was thought to be different for each offender. These individual differences were related to the particulars of an offender's life history either due to faulty environmental conditions or maladapted psychological mechanisms (Rothman). As a result, an attempt was made to individualize criminal justice procedures. In the presentence report the probation officer (social worker-expert) would diagnose the problems and this would be used to individualize the sentence.

Correctional practice was dominated by the rehabilitative ideal through much of the 1960s. During this period community supervision officers assumed the responsibility of changing offenders. Attention focused on the offender, not the offense, in an attempt to prevent future crimes. Officers possessed considerable discretion, as well as the power to utilize coercive means if deemed necessary, to further the process of rehabilitation (O'Leary). Consistent with the medical model, the presentence reports contained the "diagnosis" and prescribed the "treatment" necessary for a "cure." After sentencing, classification systems were used to identify and plan for the appropriate management and treatment of the offender. Parole boards would determine when the offender was "cured" and ready for release. It was the job of the supervising officer to counsel probationers and parolees as well as to ensure that the suggested interventions were in fact being realized.

The philosophy of the Progressive movement remained largely unchallenged until the early 1970s at which time it became the target of fierce attack. The assumptions of rehabilitation as a preeminent goal for sentence were questioned (Thomson). Critics such as Fogel (1975) and von Hirsch (1976) argued that the indeterminate sentences based on perceived offender characteristics and coerced involvement in rehabilitative programs were unethical and immoral.

In addition, empirical evidence widely disseminated in the mid-1970s cast doubt on the efficacy of rehabilitation (Thomson). In 1975, for example, Lipton, Martinson, & Wilks's evaluation of correctional treatment programs was published, leading to the oft-quoted, though overstated, claim that "nothing works." The demise of the rehabilitative ideal in theory resulted in modifications of probation practice, although by no means the wholesale abandonment of rehabilitative orientations. Empirical research argued that treatment programs were effective under certain conditions, for example, appropriate target groups, and properly implemented programs was published not long thereafter (see Ross & Gendreau) but such research did not overcome the popular cry of the period that "nothing works."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawProbation and Parole: History, Goals, and Decision-Making - Origins Of Probation And Parole, Changing Goals Of Community Corrections, Neo-classical Models, Probation And Parole Decision-making