1.8: States Shifting Focus from Incarceration to Rehabilitation
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As the prison populations continued to climb through the decades, more and more states are looking for ways to ease the population. The current direction many states are taking is to release “non-violent” offenders and provide rehabilitation services. In this section we review the practice and policy of offender rehabilitation. Rehabilitation programs are nothing new, this idea, once called the medical model dates back to the 1940’s and seeks to treat criminal behavior through treatment as opposed to punishment and incarceration. It lost favor in the 1970’s when correctional professionals determined rehabilitation didn’t work. However, significant research into criminal behavior and new assessment tools have led to a renewal of interest in this method of dealing with crime.
Rehabilitation programs are nothing new to the criminal justice system. For many decades we have been providing substance abuse treatment programs, drug diversion programs, domestic violence and DUI treatment programs to deal with illegal behavior with varying success. However, as states have tried to address the overcrowding in jails and prisons, they have tried to apply more treatment programs to what they call “non-violent” offenders. Often this “non-violent” classification addresses drug offenders and offenders convicted of property offenses.
As previously indicated, The State of California passed legislation - AB 109 Realignment - that transferred the incarceration and supervision of these offenders out of state control (prison/parole) to local (jail/probation) control. The theory behind this transition was that local government could provide better treatment options to this non-violent offender and maintain public safety. The State awards local governments funding based on their treatment options and success in reducing recidivism. However, the State also required that the programs met specific goals and the agencies had to adopt “evidence-based” practices to be compliant with to receive funding.
According to the National Institute of Corrections, the definition of evidence-based practices is as following:
Evidence-based practice (EBP) is the objective, balanced, and responsible use of current research and the best available data to guide policy and practice decisions, such that outcomes for consumers are improved. Used originally in the health care and social science fields, evidence-based practice focuses on approaches demonstrated to be effective through empirical research rather than through anecdote or professional experience alone.
An evidence-based approach involves an ongoing, critical review of research literature to determine what information is credible, and what policies and practices would be most effective given the best available evidence. It also involves rigorous quality assurance and evaluation to ensure that evidence-based practices are replicated with fidelity, and that new practices are evaluated to determine their effectiveness.
In contrast to the terms "best practices" and "what works," evidence-based practice implies that 1) there is a definable outcome(s); 2) it is measurable; and 3) it is defined according to practical realities (recidivism, victim satisfaction, etc.). Thus, while these three terms are often used interchangeably, EBP is more appropriate for outcome-focused human service disciplines.
This shift in theory drastically changed the way in which correctional facilities and community correction officers managed the treatment of offenders. These agencies were now required to not only state they were making an impact through statistical date, but also needed to provide programs which could also show positive influence on offender behavior. New ways of assessing offenders’ risk to reoffend and determination of criminogenic needs were needed. These tools allow officers to not only use their “professional judgement,” but a validated tool that could provide scientific support to the likelihood and offender would reoffend. These tools also allowed officers to identify those offenders who were at the highest risk to reoffend. Officers could then focus attention (supervision/public safety) and support towards those offenders while allowing moderate and low risk offenders to be placed in more appropriate treatment.
Risk Assessments Tools and Criminogenic Needs
The ability to predict the likelihood to reoffend and determine an offender’s criminogenic needs is important to provide officers and offenders with the appropriate treatment plan. By identifying the offenders who need the most intensive supervision, agencies can allocate the resources to those high-risk individuals. This means officer can provide a higher level of supervision to the right classification of offender. It also allows means officers with these high-risk offenders have lower caseloads. Research indicates that officers who supervise high risk offenders should be in the range of 30-50 offenders. The next step in the process is to conduct detail comprehensive interviews with the offender to identify the specific criminogenic needs of the offender and prepare a case plan. This case plan is shared with the offender, so he become part of his/her rehabilitation. Offenders are not always willing to participate with treatment and this can cause delay in treatment and may require to be returned to custody.
Another important aspect of this approach is that by identify each offender’s risk to reoffend we avoid mixing the population of offenders. For example, high-risk offenders are generally more criminally sophisticated the low or moderate offenders. If we integrate all offenders in similar treatment programs we run the risk of affecting or influencing low/moderate offender with higher risk offenders thereby increasing their risk to reoffend. The higher-risk offenders could negatively influence low/moderate risk offenders when they interact. Significant amount of research indicate low/moderate risk will often complete community supervision with limited contact with supervision officers.