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

Research Assessing The Effectiveness Of Community Corrections

As noted above the recidivism rates for those on probation and parole are relatively high. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 43 percent of the felony probationers and 62 percent of the parolees will be rearrested within three years after beginning community supervision. The question is whether community supervision has any impact on reducing criminal activities. That is, would these offenders commit more crime if they were not being supervised in the community. Most research examining the effectiveness of probation and parole focuses on the effectiveness of increasing some component or condition of supervision, particularly the effectiveness of increasing different types of control. Disappointingly, the majority of these studies demonstrate no impact of the increased control; the recidivism rates for those who had the increased supervision or control over their behavior was approximately the same as the rates for the comparison groups (MacKenzie). In fact, frequently those who had more conditions requiring control had higher technical violation rates.

Several studies do give more hopeful signs. Most of the research examining the effectiveness of probation and parole has focused on the control aspects of community supervision; however, a few studies have examined the effectiveness of combining treatment and surveillance. The results of these studies are promising (MacKenzie). In several studies, the offenders who received increased supervision as well as increased treatment had lower recidivism than others who were not given the supervision and treatment. Many of these studies are exploratory and have not been replicated but they do present a hopeful sign that combinations of treatment and control may be effective in lowering recidivism.

Another indication that community supervision may have a positive impact on offenders comes from a self-report study completed by MacKenzie and her colleagues (1998). They asked offenders to report on their criminal activities during the year before arrest and during probation. Self-report criminal activity is important to study because few of the crimes committed result in an official record of arrest. The researchers found that the criminal activities of the offenders declined dramatically when the pre-arrest period was compared to the probation period. This suggests probation was effective in reducing the criminal activities of these offenders. Similarly, behaviors that constituted a violation of conditions of probation such as heavy drinking or illegal drug use were associated with increased criminal activity. The researchers found no evidence that increases in the intrusiveness of conditions, the agent's knowledge of misbehavior, or how the agent responded to misbehavior were associated with changes in criminal activity. Thus, while probation appears to be effective in reducing criminal activities and the violations of conditions signaled criminal activities, little else done during probation had a crime reduction effect.

The studies of the effectiveness of combinations of treatment and supervision and the findings from the self-report study of probation provide some encouragement that community supervision has the potential to be a valuable addition to the arsenal of activities criminal justice systems can employ to reduce crime in the community.

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