Week 6a Readings
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Week 6a:  Community Corrections



  • Blomberg and Lucken, Chapter 11
  • Latessa et al., Chapters 29, 30, 31, and 32
  • Johnson, Chapter 10
  • Blomberg and Cohen, Chapters 8 and 19

Chapter 11 of Blomberg and Lucken’s American Penology provides the reader with a historical overview of the development of community corrections, maintaining a special focus on the decentralization of juvenile corrections.  Blomberg and Lucken’s discussion begins with the development of labeling theory, and how this theoretical perspective led to the development of correctional approaches in the community.  The following questions can be used to guide the reader through this discussion:

·        What do the varieties of labeling theory tell us?

o       Why, and how, does society label some people and their behavior as deviant?

o       What effects to labels have on the future lives and behavior of people labeled?

·        When, and how, did the decentralization movement begin?

o       What programs were developed?

o       What does research tell us about these programs?

With public discontent on the rise in the 1960s, America experienced a crisis of legitimacy concerning the efficacy of its correctional institutions.  If prisons were effective in their efforts to reform offenders, why did so many offenders recidivate?  In efforts to answer this question, criminologists began to change their focus concerning the causes of crime.  Perhaps crime was not a functional response of the normal person adapting to abnormal conditions, but a function of a justice system that labeled them as deviant.

The basic premise of labeling theory purports that individuals will not be reformed by criminal justice interventions, but, as stated above, they will be labeled.  In response to the label of “deviant” or “criminal,” they will begin to see this label as their master status and will no longer be able to disassociate their past and future behavior with this new identity.  Early labeling theorists, such as Tannenbaum (1938) and Lemert (1951), emphasized the social processes that occur during the labeling of offenders.  In the 1960s, Howard Becker reorganized the labeling concept with a radical approach to the criminal justice system, thus stating that powerful groups in society, often acting with a moral agenda, socially constructed deviance and crime.  In turn, rules and laws were applied to “outsiders.”  The mass media and interest groups aided this agenda, and officials within the criminal justice system selectively enforced laws perpetuating the advancement of the powerful at the cost of oppressing, and thus labeling, outsiders.

Upon taking note of the harmful effects of labeling, the federal government developed tasks forces to study the problems of addressing crime from traditional viewpoints and approaches.  These actions led to the passing of special government acts allocating funding for the development of diversion and deinstitutionalization programs for youth.  Early research addressing these initiatives was positive; however, as with many penological reforms in America, studies of the late 1970s and early 1980s depicted the unintended consequences of net-widening and accelerated social control of delinquent youth.  Studies concerning adult programs designed to be similar to those of youth provided mixed results, with successful sites showing receptivity to programs, adequate resources, a lack of overcrowding in facilities, and trained, enthusiastic staff to work with offenders.  Nevertheless, all localities providing services for adults did not exhibit many of these characteristics; thus, many of these programs failed as well.

The following sections provide a historical and conceptual overview of three key community correctional approaches:  (1) probation, (2) intermediate sanctions, and (3) parole/early release programs.


The concept of probation originates from the idea that instead of imprisonment, the offender is given a unique opportunity to remain in the community and demonstrate a willingness to abide by the laws.  John Augustus, a Boston shoemaker, is accredited for being the first probation officer.  He was also the first person to use the word probation, and develop the concepts/practices of pre-sentence investigation, social casework, and reports to the courts.  In 1841, Augustus posted bail for a man charged with being a common drunkard.  The judge deferred the sentence for three weeks and released the accused into Augustus’ custody.  At the end of this probationary period, the man convinced the judge of his reform, and he was in turn charged with a nominal fine and released.  Augustus’ interest in other similar offenders increased as he became more involved in the court’s sentencing processes.  It is estimated that between 1842 and 1858, Augustus supervised 1,152 men and 794 women.  As a result of his actions, the criminal justice system in the United States adopted the new practice of probation.

Investigation and supervision are the two major functions traditionally performed by probation officers.  The investigation function includes the preparation of a pre-sentence investigation report (PSI), which is used by the judge when sentencing an offender. The PSI is usually ordered by the court following an offender’s conviction.  Once a date for sentencing is chosen, the probation officer begins to conduct the investigation and prepares a report.  The role of the probation officer as a supervisor involves two simultaneous responsibilities: (1) enforcing the law, and (2) assisting the offender.  The various aspects of a probation officer’s duties are usually in conflict.  At times, they must exercise the functions of a social worker.  This, in turn, evades the use of their authority as a law enforcement agent.  Thus, the job of a probation officer is frustrating, and at times, unrewarding.

Intermediate Sanctions

The need for correctional strategies that fall between imprisonment and probation has led to the creation of intermediate sanctions.  These sanctions are based on the idea that imprisonment is too harsh a punishment for some offenders, and probation lacks sufficient offender supervision.  In addition, judges have also complained about the lack of options they have when it comes to rendering their sentences, often citing cases where the individual’s actions did not warrant prison while probation seemed inadequate.  The creation of intermediate sanctions enabled judges to better fit the offender’s sentence to the seriousness of the crime.

There are various types of intermediate sanctions.  These include, but are not limited to:  (1) community service and restitution, (2) intensive supervision probation (ISP), (3) home confinement, (4) electronic monitoring, and (5) residential community placement.  Latessa and Travis provide the reader with a discussion of the merits of residential community correctional facilities (Chapter 31 in Latessa et al.).  Different agencies may be in charge of operating intermediate sanctions’ programs.  Some of these include the courts, probation, and private corrections agencies.  It is important to recognize that intermediate sanctions are becoming more popular as prison overcrowding increases.

Intermediate sanctions have not gone without criticism.  Some scholars, such as Blomberg and Lucken, note that instead of their intended purpose---that being alternatives to prisons and probation---they often become supplements to our existing correctional system.  In other words, as new penal reforms are developed and implemented, older practices are not altered or discarded.  This process is termed net-widening.  “Net-widening refers to the tendency of penal reforms to sequentially extend control over more of the base population, rather than to provide alternative control as generally claimed in the promotion of various penal reforms” (Blomberg & Lucken, 2000, p. 4).  Furthermore, traditional probation and parole are often strengthened by intermediate sanctions when offenses and offender characteristics do not warrant traditional supervision and conditions.


During the past decade, a major change has taken place in the manner in which offenders are released from prison.  Determinate sentencing laws and parole guidelines have removed most of the discretionary aspects of release decisions.  These new laws allow the judge to exercise the right to give the offender a specific amount of time to serve.  In numerous states as well as in the federal system, felons are released to the supervision of the community as mandated by the law.

There are three types of releases that are in effect in the criminal justice system.  These include mandatory, discretionary, and unconditional release.  Mandatory release does not allow correctional authorities the ability to exercise their complete discretion when it comes to considering whether an offender is ready for community supervision.  This, in turn, may create frustration on behalf of correctional administrators.  Unconditional release involves the complete release from incarceration when the offender’s term expires (taking into consideration good time).  This type of release does not require further supervision of the inmate once they are released.  Some states follow the discretionary release procedures that allow the parole board to determine the exact date of release.  It is important to note that rehabilitation is the main objective that justifies this type of release.  Since the offender’s period of rehabilitation is not known, the correctional personnel reserves the right to release the inmate at any point they feel the offender has been successfully rehabilitated.  Many advocate for parole procedures for their value in enhancing rehabilitative efforts (see Martinson and Wilks, Chapter 30 in Latessa et al.)

In the United States, parole evolved during the 19th century out of such foreign practices as conditional pardon and apprenticeship by indenture.  All these methods of release allowed for inmates to be released from prison in response to overcrowding, the need for labor, and the rising cost of incarceration.  The use of parole in the United States was linked to the concept of indeterminate sentences.  Congress created the U.S. Board of Parole in 1930.  By 1932, 44 states and the federal government had this release mechanism in place.  Parole serves various functions as a method of release.  It reduces the amount of time an inmate spends in prison and affects plea-bargaining.  It also influences the level of discipline in correctional institutions.

Offenders’ experiences after their release from prison make a powerful impact on their adjustment to life in the free world.  Some argue that many recently released offenders experience tremendous difficulties adjusting to the outside world.  A recently released inmate faces three realities:  (1) the strangeness of reentry, (2) unmet personal needs, and (3) barriers to success.  The stigma and labeling of an ex-offender by society limits the offenders’ success as a crime-free citizen.