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Convicted criminals in our society serve their sentences either (1) as inmates incarcerated in a jail or prison or (2) in the community, at home and at work, under the supervision of probation or parole agents. This text deals with this second major category, community-based corrections. For the most part, this text describes probation, traces its advantages over incarceration, and some of the dimensions of serving time at home.
Probation is not simply leniency; it is a sentence with rules and controls imposed on the offender and enforced by the probation service. This text presents probation as the major form of felony sentencing in our society and describes the world of supervised living while free from incarceration. Most convicted offenders serve all or part of their sentences in the community under the supervision of parole or probation staff. Probation is a sentence handed down by the judge to serve entirely in the community without first going to jail or prison. Parole, on the other hand, is a part of a sentence served in the community after the offender has spent some part of the sentence in prison. Probation, then, is a judicial function and parole is an executive release function.
At present more than half of all sentenced offenders are placed on probation by courts, and nationally about 70 percent of prison inmates are released on parole. Community-based corrections is viewed as an alternative to incarceration, a less intrusive response to the criminal offense.
Arguments in favor of community-based corrections usually rest on dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in prisons. Almost every argument against prisons can be restated as an argument for community based programs. Cost-effectiveness. The total expenses of incarceration are difficult to assess. Prison building costs have escalated in recent years toward "$70,000 per bed," meaning that a prison designed to house 1,000 inmates can cost as much as $70 million, often not counting a wall if this is desired. In addition to capital investment, the costs of operating a prison vary from a low of about 112,000 to above $30,000 per inmate per year. Food, medical services, vocational and educational programming, 24-hour-daily guarding year-round, and the other necessities of prison life are very expensive. In fact, today it costs as PDF created with pdfFactory Pro trial version www.pdffactory.com much to send an inmate to a maximum-security prison as it does to send a student to Harvard or Yale. Direct costs do not take into account the "invisible" costs of confinement, the loss of tax and social security revenue while an otherwise able-bodied person is confined, the social welfare costs of maintaining a prisoner's family during incarceration, the loss of any major contribution to the overall economy. Community-based programs are operated at a small fraction of the cost of incarceration. Capital costs are considerably lower, for there are no expensive security devices.
Office space is all that is needed. The expense of providing social services and other correctional programs is much less than in prison, because other social agencies within the community provide these services. Moreover, since the offender usually maintains employment while under community supervision, the "invisible" costs do not accrue. Instead, the offender contributes to his or her own upkeep as well as through taxes, socially security, family support, and in some cases even restitution to victims. In short, prisons are financial liabilities, but community-based corrections can be assets.
Effects of incarceration. Community-based programs help avoid the harmful effects of incarceration. Disenchantment with imprisonment as a corrective measure has been widespread among criminologists for some time. Indeed, imprisonment has been found wanting as a rehabilitative device, a deterrent, and a punitive response. Even with the considerable advances in penological practices in this century, one cannot avoid concluding that prisons do more harm than good.
Community-based programs, on the other hand, are not "total institutions"; they maintain some semblance of the social qualities, of free life.
Prison existence does not resemble life in the free world, and to assume that people will learn to live law-abiding lives in the" real" world by spending a period of years in prison is untenable. In prisons, we house together, in intimate interactions, the worst among us. To think that such an institution will rehabilitate anyone is ridiculous. Probably the worst behavioral treatment setting in the nation is the maximum-security prison. Prisoners have virtually all decisions made for them from when to get up in the morning to what to wear and what to eat. Every physical
need is met. Such treatment is poor preparation for the demands of living on the outside. PDF created with pdf Factory Pro trial version www.pdffactory.com Community and family relationship. Community-based programs help avoid social surgery, that is, the severing of a person's community and family relationships. Prison inmates are effectively cut off from spouses, children, employers, parents, friends, school, church, social services organizations, and fraternal and professional contacts. After release from prison, the reestablishment of any of these relationships is difficult.
Prisons tend to be remote from the community from which the prisoners come, making continued relationships with family and friends difficult to maintain. Community-based programs allow person to live with his family and to maintain other relationships including employment. Agencies that may prove beneficial in rehabilitation such as Alcoholic Anonymous, drug treatment programs, marital and vocational counseling, and religious organizations can be utilized within a community as well.