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What are community-based corrections programs?

By Cooper Nelson

At a glance

  • Community-based corrections programs offer inmates opportunities for reintegration into society and access to education, employment, healthcare services and mental health care.
  • The goals of community corrections are to build stronger social networks, improve mental health and provide educational opportunities for inmates.
  • Probation, parole and work release are examples of community-based corrections programs.
  • Criminal justice degree programs at University of Phoenix can build a foundation for work in a number of criminal justice-related fields.

Community-based corrections programs are alternatives to traditional incarceration that propose a way to rehabilitate inmates and provide them with a more well-rounded life. These programs are more often used when the inmate isn’t violent or if the offender has served their time and is on parole. 

Proponents of community corrections believe these programs to be more effective than prison time in many cases, as a community-based approach humanizes inmates and gives them responsibilities to care for others in the area where they live and work.

 

Goals of community-based corrections programs

As the prison population has grown in the U.S., many states have begun implementing corrections programs with the goal of reducing recidivism rates and keeping people from returning to prison. These programs offer participants opportunities for reintegration into society and access to education, employment, healthcare services and mental health care.

Community-based corrections programs are designed to address the needs of incarcerated people and the communities where they live. The programs may strive for objectives such as:

  • Stronger social networks in the communities that support formerly incarcerated individuals
  • Improved mental health for formerly incarcerated individuals
  • Educational opportunities and learning experiences for individuals in correctional facilities

Who can benefit from community-based corrections programs?

Community-based corrections programs provide opportunities for individuals to reenter society as rehabilitated citizens after they serve their sentence. These programs are designed not only for offenders but also for their families and communities. 

Corrections programs offer various services, including substance abuse treatment, mental health diagnosis and counseling, employment assistance, housing opportunities and social support networks. The programs combine individualized attention with community participation.

Types of community-based corrections programs

There are multiple types of community-based corrections programs, including:

  • Probation: According to  the late Joan Petersilia, who was a renowned professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, probation as a community-based corrections program has become more proactive with goals that include reducing criminality, promoting public safety and providing offender rehabilitation. Community supervision has also become an essential component in this newer probation model. Dr. Petersilia noted that probationers are teaming up with other agencies to provide “wrap-around services,” such as substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and employment assistance.
  • Parole: Often, parole supervision provides an offender with some degree of freedom and the ability to reintegrate into society, but it isn’t an uninterrupted release back into the world. To be eligible for parole, prisoners generally must serve at least one-third of their sentence and have a record of good behavior. Because of its limited scope, many courts don’t often consider parole as sufficient oversight for offenders who pose a potential risk to public safety or general welfare.
  • Work release: A work-release program offers certain inmates the opportunity to leave prison for a specified period each day to work or complete other activities under supervision. Work release allows inmates to maintain employment, improve their skills and education and build a support network outside the prison. This often occurs near the end of an inmate’s sentence. Work release is considered a privilege, not a right. 
  • Study release: This option allows offenders a certain amount of time outside the correctional facility to study or pursue academic goals under supervision. Study release is ideal for offenders who are motivated and working toward self-improvement and academic pursuits but require resources, tools or support the correctional facility cannot provide.
  • Furloughs: A furlough is a form of temporary, supervised release from prison for a specific purpose, such as medical treatment, family visitation or on-the-job training.
  • Halfway houses: Halfway houses provide addiction treatment, as well as counseling options for offenders who formerly had substance-use issues.

 

Factors that impact success

Several factors can affect the success of community-based corrections programs, including:

  • Funding and workforce expertise: Some areas have more resources to adequately staff such programs than others; well-funded programs may be able to coordinate with stakeholders in the justice system and provide more services. Staff members who have the requisite expertise — such as cognitive-behavioral therapists or drug abuse counselors — may also positively impact program participants.
  • Physical space: Organizations need appropriate space to house programs and their participants, as well as exercise and recreation equipment. Some organizations may lack both the physical space and resources to adequately house programs that require such facilities.
  • Program coordination: Programs working with multiple integrated justice systems may be able to better coordinate services.
  • Program reputation: Issues with a program’s reputation can negatively impact the use of its services. While certain programs may be well known for high quality and success, others may not. They may meet participants’ needs but lack the resources to adequately expand their programs.
  • Program attendance: Participants need to regularly attend to make continued progress in a program. Programs with low attendance may receive inadequate funding to continue.
  • Participants’ perceived needs: Programs have different services and approaches but the specific needs of a program’s participants may dictate the type of program in which they are best able to succeed. For example, an organization that provides counseling for alcohol use or domestic violence but has no program available for those with mental health issues, may not be able to provide sufficient services for all its clients.
  • Program quality: The quality of programs and their services can impact program success. For example, programs might lack appropriate staff or lack an adequate treatment model, resulting in less effective support for participants.

The long-term success of community corrections depends on several factors, including whether participants’ needs are appropriately addressed by correctional support services. Without such programs to help offenders reenter society, recidivism rates may rise, resulting in increased costs for the justice system and taxpayers. 

There is a confirmed decrease in recidivism rates in prisons that offer educational opportunities to inmates. A study by the RAND Corporation compared more than 400,000 released prisoners in 30 states and determined that the rate of recidivism decreased by 43% for the prisoners who had taken advantage of prison educational programs.

Changes in community-based corrections programs

Community-based corrections programs originated in the mid-1970s when a growing number of correctional professionals, policymakers and legislators began questioning the efficacy of prisons. They noted that prisons isolated offenders from their communities and rehabilitative programs. 

Prisoners were also less likely to have stable work histories or support networks before entering prison. Many returned to society with criminal records that limited their job prospects after they were released. 

Today, most programs focus on offenders’ needs rather than punishment. The criminal justice system is designed for keeping society safe, but not necessarily for helping people transition successfully from incarceration back into society. In the last 20 years, a more science-based approach to assessing the needs of offenders has been implemented.

Many community-based corrections programs now include:

  • Rehabilitative and reentry programs 
  • Housing services
  • Employment assistance 
  • Mentorship
  • Mental health care management
  • Family support services 
  • Drug prevention education

 

Outlook for the future of community-based corrections programs

The future of community-based corrections programs is uncertain. They have been successful in many ways, but major obstacles and challenges remain. 

Legislation has been proposed in some states to alleviate the negative effects of incarceration on long-term inmates. For example, Assembly Bill A2323  in the New York State Senate proposes an increase in funding to support postsecondary correctional education. The bill was created based on studies that showed a direct correlation between the education level of inmates and their ability to attain stable employment.

Careers and volunteer opportunities in community-based corrections

Many people know about the benefits of being a community corrections officer, but few people know about the many other rewarding career opportunities in community-based corrections and correctional support services. 

From justice and security administrators to healthcare providers to educators, several roles are crucial in a community-based correctional facility. 

Community corrections is not just for those who want to fight crime — it’s also for those who feel called to help others experiencing chronic issues related to mental health or substance use. These professionals often have an educational background in criminal justice, counseling or behavioral science, and may hold a certification in their field. 

Many positions within community corrections require some work experience in the field, whether it be in a similar position or with a related organization, such as the juvenile justice system or substance abuse treatment facilities.

Community corrections provide an alternative path to incarceration that may help criminal offenders build skills necessary to reenter the community successfully and live productively.

Online criminal justice programs at University of Phoenix

If you have an interest or passion in learning more about the criminal justice system, University of Phoenix offers six degree programs to consider.

Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice — This two-year program, in which courses are just five weeks, teaches enforcement, sociology and communication skills. No SAT requirements to apply.

Bachelor of Science in Correctional Program Support Service — This program equips students with skills to manage cases, facilitate programs and address the needs of people impacted by the criminal justice system.

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration — This program teaches skills to prepare for administrative responsibilities in law enforcement, criminal courts and corrections. There is a strong emphasis in communication, problem-solving, research and operations.

Bachelor of Science in Public Administration — This program prepares for roles in both the public and private sectors and covers everything from civil leadership, business and governmental law to finance and budgeting.

Master of Public Administration — This program focuses on teaching leadership, communication and problem-solving skills. It also emphasizes learning public policy and developing financial management skills.

Master of Science in Administration of Justice and Security​ — This program combines administrative training, policy development and problem-solving skills to prepare you for roles in law enforcement, corporate security and infrastructure security. 

 

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