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

Neo-classical Models

The immediate theoretical successors to the rehabilitation model of community supervision were grounded in the neoclassical assumptions of "volition, equity, proportionality, and fairness" (Thomson). Neoclassical models such as the "just deserts" model or the justice model emphasized the proportionality between crime and punishment, diverting attention from the offender back to the offense. Proponents opposed to the individualization of penal sanctions raised fundamental questions about the equity of the rehabilitation model. For example, Kay Harris, a justice model advocate, posed the question of whether it was fair to sentence one offender to three years of probation with the requirement to abstain from alcohol, earn a high school diploma, and obtain employment, while another offender guilty of the same offense but of higher socioeconomic status is given a shorter term with no special conditions.

In contrast to the rehabilitation model, offenders sentenced under a neoclassical sentencing scheme are punished for what they have done in the past, not for what they are likely to do in the future. The idea was to develop a system in which the exact, fair and just penalty for a crime is clearly articulated in advance and uniformly applied to all (O'Leary). Models of community supervision that fall under the rubric of neoclassicism include just deserts, retribution, commensurate deserts, and the justice model (Thomson).

Another important critique of the rehabilitative model articulated by justice model proponents is the tendency of the rehabilitative model to treat persons as if they were objects (Harris). The justice model views punishment as a kind of debt owed by offenders because of the crime they have committed; the treatment model sees it as a means of influencing offenders' future behavior.

While neoclassical reformers joined by other anti-Progressive groups have been largely successful in replacing indeterminate sentencing schemes with determinate ones, their impact on the actual practice of community supervision has been far less profound. Most supervising officers continue to do what they had always done. There were, however, changes in the sentencing process. Many jurisdictions passed laws to eliminate parole and return to the early flat or determinate sentences. Furthermore, to eliminate discretion and disparity many jurisdictions developed sentencing guidelines to be used by judges to determine appropriate sentences for offenders. Using the severity of the crime and the history of past convictions, the guidelines gave judges recommendations about the appropriate length of sentences.

Incapacitation/control models. The reluctance to implement models of probation grounded in neoclassical ideals may be attributed to several factors that contributed instead to the adoption of incapacitation or control models of community supervision in the 1980s. For example, according to David Rothman the neoclassical schemes were unpersuasive because they failed to address crime control concerns. The argument in support of the justice model focused on equity of sentences not on controlling crime in the community. Further, the exploding prison populations and skyrocketing correctional costs led to increasing numbers of felons being released early from prison or placed on probation caseloads (Petersilia, 1990). As a result, feelings of vulnerability to crime were intensified.

Empirically, one well-known study of felons sentenced to probation in California revealed that 65 percent of the sample (N=1,672) were rearrested and 51 percent were convicted of new crimes during a forty-month follow-up period (Petersilia and Turner). Replications of the study in other jurisdictions produced results that proved less cause for alarm, however (e.g., Clear et al.). Nevertheless, the movement to more effectively control offenders during community supervision gained considerable momentum throughout the 1980s.

Ultimately, the preeminent philosophical rationale for sentencing shifted from the neoclassical assumptions of the 1970s to a preference for incapacitation and control limited by the principle of just deserts. The just desert model failed to address crime control concerns and most likely this led to its demise as a widely accepted sole purpose of sanctioning. Another old-fashioned purpose for sentencing emerged—the notion of incapacitation. From this perspective, sanctions are used to control offenders so they cannot continue to commit crimes. Ideally, offenders would be locked away in prisons so they would be unable to commit crimes.

One obvious by-product of the new sentencing philosophy has been the reemergence of intensive supervised probation and parole programs (ISP). First implemented in the 1960s, the early ISPs were attempts at discovering the caseload size that would maximize the intensity of supervision. Intensity was assumed to be related to successful outcome. The second wave of ISPs surfaced in the mid-1980s despite the less than enthusiastic findings of the earlier movement.

Without doubt, the new ISPs clearly demonstrate the shift toward control-oriented probation. The Texas ISP manual is particularly illustrative with its focus on more surveillance, more control, and more contacts than traditional supervision. The emphasis of this ISP program is on offender control. Similarly, Harland and Rosen (1987) delineate the primary goals of ISP programs as minimizing the risk that probationers will reoffend or breach other conditions of their release, by restricting their opportunity and propensity to do so. ISP's goals are primarily incapacitation and deterrence through the intensive regulation and monitoring of offenders' whereabouts and conduct, and corresponding increased threat of detection and strict enforcement of consequences in event of violations.

The shift in the philosophy/practice of community supervision came at a time when the institution of probation was considerably demoralized (Tonry). Not only was probation publicly perceived as merely a "slap on the wrist" (as it has been by some since the days of John Augustus), faith in the ability of community supervision to rehabilitate had slowly eroded. The reemergence of ISPs and the control philosophy in general, therefore, seemed to have given probation and parole administrators a chance to rebuild the credibility, influence, and material resources for probation and parole (Tonry).

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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