The Negative Impact of the Growing Number of offenders in Community Corrections

Critical Issue In Community Corrections 

The goal of community corrections was to create ties that can effectively integrate the offender with the community. Their operations are based in believe that the offenders can change and becomes productive members of the society. Given the diverse nature of community-corrections, their main objectives remain the same. According to (Barton-Bellessa, 2012) the primary objectives of community-corrections are to facilitate rehabilitation, re-integrate offenders into the society, and assist offenders in becoming more accountable for their actions. The author provides another main objective for corrections centers, which is to provide punishment and sentencing options as a way of reducing prison overcrowding.  However, despite the positive impact that community corrections play in offender re-integration and reduction of recidivism, it faces serious challenges of overcrowding. For example, it is the major source of burnout among corrections practitioners; it has increased case workloads which reduce efficiency, it has significant impact on offenders, and is a corrections cost driver.

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Implications of Growth in Number of offenders in Community Corrections

            The number of people under incarceration in the United States has grown to staggering numbers over the past 40 years. According to (Desmarais, Johnson & Singh, 2016) in 2013, the number of offenders under supervision was 7 million, which represented 1 in every 35 Americans. The author asserts that this represents approximately 1 in 51 adults on parole or probation and 1 in 110 adults in prison (pp. 206). Although the population of the United States constitutes less than 5% of global population, yet its number of offenders is close to the quarter of the world’s prison population. The authors point that this numbers is over four times the average number of prison populations in most countries. The ever increasing number of offenders under prison and community corrections in the United States poses challenges to the community corrections, practitioners and the offenders themselves.

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            The major source of concern among the community practitioners that arise due to high number of offenders is the increase in burnout. Rhineberger-Dunn, Mack & Baker (2016) defines burnout as the syndrome of emotional exhaustion, and a reduction in personal accomplishment, which is observed among people working with others in some capacity. The authors further assert that burnout is associated with on the professionals as well as the clients that such professionals worked with (pp. 1).

Burnout has been shown to have significant implications on health and safety f community corrections staff and the successful rehabilitation of offenders who are under community corrections. According to (Rhineberger-Dunn, Mack & Baker, 2016) parole/probation officers often share intimate relationships with offenders, which is a significant predictor of emotional exhaustion compared t residential officers. Given that the number of offenders entering the community corrections is higher than those in prison, and keeps increasing, this is going to increase impact of burnout among the corrections staff.

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Since the number of offenders continues to increase, this poses another great challenge to the community corrections. The high numbers of offenders who are transferred to alternative form of punishment, in form of community corrections has led to an increase in case workloads. According to (DeMichele & Payne, 2012) the parole and prison officers are assigned different tasks, which can be classified under either supervision or administrative tasks. These tasks vary across the various jurisdictions, but include verification of offender contacts, conducting presentence investigations, performing drug tests, visiting the homes of the offenders, administrative tasks, processing of violations, taking the offenders in and out of jurisdictions, verifying employment status, performing motivational talks, appearing in courts, and other tasks that may be assigned and which are specific to the offender. All these tasks become tedious, and given that the increase in number of offenders is not proportional to the increase in the number of corrections staff, it increases the work pressure on the few correctional staff.

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            Moreover, the increased workloads have led to diversion of the focus from the correctional officers. It is imperative to note that the major role of a correctional officer is to meet the goals of supervision. However, since they have a lot of tasks to complete, their focus is shifted a bit towards meeting those tasks other than performing the actual supervision of the offenders. DeMichele & Payne (2012) notes on average, the correctional officer spends 105-114 hours a month in supervision of offenders. This excludes time spend in the training, sick leave, vacation, time for performance of administrative tasks, and breaks.

            However, there has been a growth and total shift in the system perspective in the community corrections. According to (DeMichele & Payne, 2012) the past decades have seen the emergence of a number of new tasks that must be performed by the correctional officers.  For example, the Michigan parole and probation agents have adopted new changes such as intensive monitoring, SCRAM- a new form of electronic monitoring system, GPS, financial assessments after collection as well as their monitoring, polygraphs to be used for sex offenders, and other specialized case lads such as drug curt, mental health, and felony nonsupport (pp. 376). Considering the weekly time available to the correctional officers and the increasing tasks that correction officers must accomplish, it means that these officers afford less time to the supervision of the offenders. In addition, the increase in case workloads means correctional practitioners have to devote more energy in the completion of the administrative and the supervision tasks. Given that there is already evidence of burnout owing to the correctional officers supervising a high number of offenders entering the community correctional facilities, the increase in number of case is even likely to compound on the problem. These two factors have significant impact on the performance of the correctional officers and their ability to meet the goals of the community corrections.

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            When parole and probation were established in 1876 and 1841 respectively, their core mandate was to shorten imprisonment for rehabilitation or to steer individuals from harsher punishment into supervision in the community. However, the increase in the number of offenders has increased case workloads, which has negatively hampered on the efficiency of the community corrections practitioners and their ability to meet the intended jurisdictionally appropriate goals. DeMichele & Payne (2012) points that correctional staffs in charge of parole and probation spend so much time performing tasks that are not relevant to the core purpose of rehabilitation. Researchers begun to ask whether this alternative form of punishment was serving its purpose or was it was just a form of social control.

            Moreover, (DeMichele & Payne, 2007) argues that the growth in the number of offenders under the community corrections over the past years has further complicated the caseload and workload decision making process. For purposes of clarification, caseload refers to the number of offenders under the supervision of an officer, whereas workload refers to the amount of time that an officer needs in order to accomplish the various tasks related to their caseloads. The authors assert that though the caseloads have witnessed growth over the years and the offender population increased, the workload per officer has remained stagnant. This has meant that there are now many working hours for every correctional officer in each day, week, month and the year. The increase in workload do not only impact the workload decision making process, but has negative impact on the efficiency of the officers, which negatively impacts on their ability to meet the locally designed correctional goals. Similarly, there could be a potential for a spill-ff effect, which may be experienced in increased rates of recidivism among the offenders, who may end up in the prison, which is already under scrutiny for its huge funding.

            In addition to the caseloads and workloads, the there is a growth in supervision conditions, while ultimately adds up to the already huge workload.   According to (DeMichele & Payne, 2007) as the offender number increase, so do the conditions of supervision provided by the policy makers and other non-community professionals. The offenders who are released from prison to serve their sentences under community corrections are often released under certain conditions determined by the judges, releasing authorities, and legislators. However, these authorities make their decisions based on the style of “one size fits all”, creating an application of standard conditions on the offenders. This reduces the consideration of the specific offender characteristics that determine individual behavior and their criminal tendencies. For example, regardless of the history of substance abuse, an offender, o ne must be available for drug tests done on periodic basis.  

            The other challenge that arises from the growing number of offenders in the community corrections is the rising costs of maintaining community corrections. The United State prison population has kept growing and many of the offenders who exit prisons to serve shorter term sentence end up in community corrections. In addition to those who exit prisons, there are offenders who are ordered by courts to undergo rehabilitation under the community corrections as an alternative to prison sentence. This creates new challenges of managing the ever increasing number of offenders in community corrections under the limited resources. According to (Lawrence, 2014) states spend about $40 billion to incarcerate and supervise offenders. This represented an increase of about 2.5% compared to the previous years’ allocation. Forty of the states in the country have seen an increase in allocation to prison and community corrections than the previous year, while six states that included Nebraska, Maine, Mississippi, Connecticut, Puerto Rico, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, had spend by over 5%.

            The state budgets often cover services such as environment, social services, education healthcare, transportation and other areas that are critical to the lives of the citizens. Most state corrections take about 5% of the general funds and this is projected to increase.  The increasing spending in corrections continues to take substantial amount of money meant for the vital services such as healthcare, Medicaid and education. Lawrence (2014) asserts that corrections rely almost entirely on state general funds in funding its operations. Whereas there is no alternative source of funds for prisons and community corrections other than the general funds from state budgets, their continued growth is going to create a huge challenge.

            In spite the large and ever increasing budgetary allocations, the prisons consume a huge percentage of the general fund allocation to the prisons and other correctional facilities. According to (Lawrence 2014) for every 10 $ spend on corrections, almost 9 $ are allocated to cater for the prisons. This occurs despite the fact that majority of the offenders are in the community corrections compared to those in prisons. Also, the offenders that leave prison continue to be released to the community corrections. This creates inadequate funding which further compounds on the problem of burnout and increased workload among community corrections officers. As unlined earlier in the paper, most of the community corrections officers have been burdened with high number of offenders, leading to long working hours. The inability of the community corrections to receive adequate funding despite the increasing allocation of funds to the corrections department is likely to derail the ability of the department to meet their locally designed goals. The High number of offenders and fewer community corrections staff will continue to be a common occurrence. This will have series negative implications on the offenders as well.

            The implications of high offender growth does not affect only the ability of the community corrections to meet their goals but also produce negative impact on the offenders themselves. First, community corrections officers are tasked with the challenges of handling a workload of over 100 and improving life of offenders who are mostly mentally ill, substance abusing, homeless, sometimes unemployed, and poor. Tasked with the responsibility of assuring public safety in an external political environment that shows almost zero tolerance to risk, the community correction officers are often forced to issue revocations for the offenders who are serving on probation or parole in the community corrections centers. In effect, this would negatively affect the reintegration efforts, as the re-incarcerated offenders lose the benefits fund in community corrections centers such as counseling, job training, and other psychological treatments.

            The decreasing prison populations and the increasing number of offenders in the community corrections place great pressure on the limited resources in such programs. Research has shown that community corrections programs play critical role in offender reintegration efforts, especially offenders that have mental problems and those who abuse alcohol and drugs. Frazier, Sung, Gideon & Alfaro (2015) points that the large number f prisoner releases calls for adequate treatment services in the community. When prisoners are released from prison or those ordered to serve on probation or parole by the courts, it is the community under the community corrections centers that are tasked with the provision f treatment and other services in order to reduce recidivism.

            However, in their study, (Frazier, Sung, Gideon & Alfaro, 2015) fund that the change in prison populations was negatively associated with the rate of abuse f substances and mental health admissions in the community corrections. What these means is that though the populations reduce in prisons, there is negative change in terms of substance abuse and mental admissions among the ex-offenders, which highlights the lack of adequate facilities and services. This negatively impacts the achievement of the rehabilitation goals. The inadequate services provisions may be lined to high offender growth coupled with minimal or no growth in community corrections services and the personnel who serve in these jurisdictions.

Conclusion

            The community corrections in the United States play a significant role in offender reintegration efforts. The increasing numbers of offenders who enter the community corrections highlights this critical role the sectors plays in the community. The rising populations of people under incarceration sparked a huge debate on its sustainability, which led t o the de-incarceration efforts, leading t o many offenders being placed under the community corrections. This has seen the number of offenders under the community corrections rise over the years, while those in prison have declined remarkably. Whereas this can be regarded as a massive step, in a country with the highest number of incarcerated people in the world, it has become another source of challenge to the community corrections practitioners. The growth in the number of offenders entering the community corrections has increased costs of management of community corrections, which has worsened owing t o reduced allocation of funds commensurate with the offender growth. In addition, the increased offender growth has led to burnout among community corrections officers; it has increased workload, and has led t o negative impact on the efficiency of the programs thus negatively affecting the offenders.  There is need for urgent measures if this core component of the criminal justice system is to continue meeting its core community specific goals.

Recommendations

Adopt evidence-based practices in order to allow courts to makes better decisions based on offender needs.

It was earlier pointed that one of the major causes of growth in offender populations in community corrections is due to “one size fits all” thinking among the court judges and other sentencing jurisdictions. However, DeMichele (2014) asserts the need for use of evidence-based practices that involves the use of target interventions for effective correctional programmes. The courts and other sentencing jurisdictions should consider the target interventions that work for the offender through liaising with appropriate community corrections programs to ensure they place the offender in right programs. This will not nly assist offenders but will also help in reducing workload among the correctional officers and avid arbitrary release of offenders into community corrections. The same practices should be adopted within the community corrections as this would help in reducing recidivism among offenders and their likelihood of readmission into prison.

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Increase funding into community corrections for employment of more correctional officers.

As outlined in the paper, on average, due to growth in offenders in community corrections, a correctional officer spends 105-114 hours a month supervision offenders. This creates huge workload among the community corrections officers, who are sometimes forced to revoke the parole or probation of some of the offenders, sending them to incarceration. Increasing funding, which stands at 1 in every 10 $ spend in prisons will ensure the community corrections are able to acquire more facilities and hire more correctional officers. This will reduce e workload, increase efficiency and ensure the overall goals of community corrections are attained.

Early prevention as a remedy towards delinquency.

The major cause of burnout and huge workload affecting the community correctional officers can be reduced by reducing the number of youths and other offenders who are involved in criminal activities. As outlined the number of offenders entering the community corrections is increasing wing to the increase in the number of the offenders leaving prison. This group represents people who have been incarcerated for different crimes. However, this group who leave prison or those who are sentenced by the sentencing authorities to serve in community corrections without going to prison can be reduced through effective prevention strategies. Many studies done have shown that early prevention of deliquescent behavior is critical in prevention of future offending. MacKenzie & Farrington (2015) found that strategies such as early interventions based on restorative methods and skills training are very effective.

Eliminate the paperwork and employ support staff to handle them.

The high offender populations in the community corrections have been linked with reduced motivation, increased workloads, and increased burnout among the community correctional officers. DeMichele & Payne (2012) points that the directors may not realize the amount of time that administrative tasks done by community corrections officers consume yet it is one of the major factors that cause the increased workload. These tasks must be demonstrated to the directors, who might realize the need to provide support staff to handle them leaving the correctional officers to focus on offenders.  This will ensure rehabilitation gals are attained, thus reducing recidivism which is another source of offender re-incarceration.

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