Community corrections refer to non-prison sanctions such as probation and parole that allow offenders to live in the community instead of being in jail or prison. The aim of probation and parole is to reintegrate offenders into society and help them become productive members. Additionally, probation and parole are designed to keep the community safe from any harm caused by these offenders.
Community-based sanctions are becoming more popular due to the rising costs of corrections budgets and the problem of overcrowding in prisons. It is more cost-effective to supervise offenders in the community rather than keep them in prison. The cost of community supervision varies depending on the type of supervision. Still, it can range from $3 to $17 per day per person supervised, while incarceration can cost an average of $31,286 per prisoner per year (National Institute of Justice, 2022).
To accommodate predatory offenders, there is a growing trend of increasing prison time for them and finding alternative solutions to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. This approach will help keep the community safe and reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.
Parole, a community corrections practice that allows prisoners to be released before the end of their sentences, has become an important part of the correctional system in the United States. The goal of parole is to help individuals reintegrate into society as productive members without serving their entire sentence in prison, which also reduces the cost of incarceration to society. Parolees are released from prison before completing their full sentence, provided they follow specific rules during the remaining period of their sentence.
Parole can be granted automatically after serving a certain portion of a prison term, or a board’s discretionary action can grant it. To ensure the success of the parolee’s reintegration, they are required to comply with specified conditions during their parole period, which restricts their activities beyond the usual limitations imposed by law on a regular citizen. For example, parolees may be forbidden from using alcohol or having contact with certain people, such as felons.
They must also obtain permission from their parole officers before taking certain actions, such as changing employment or housing arrangements, getting married, acquiring or operating a motor vehicle, traveling outside the community, or incurring substantial debt. Parolees must regularly report to their parole officers, who are part of the administrative system designed to assist parolees and offer guidance.
The conditions of parole aim to prohibit behavior deemed dangerous to the restoration of the individual into normal society. They also provide parole officers with information about the parolee, offering them an opportunity to advise and guide them. The parole officer has the authority to enforce these conditions and return the parolee to prison to serve out the remaining sentence if they violate the rules.
However, not every violation of parole conditions automatically leads to revocation. Parole officers typically counsel parolees to abide by the conditions of their parole, and revocation occurs only if the parole officer thinks that the violations are serious and continuing, indicating that the parolee is not adjusting properly and may engage in antisocial activity.
The broad discretion accorded to parole officers is inherent in some vague conditions, such as the requirement that parolees avoid “undesirable” associations or correspondence. Nonetheless, revocation of parole is not an unusual phenomenon, affecting about 35%-45% of all parolees, according to the Supreme Court in Morrissey v. Brewer. Sometimes revocation occurs when the parolee is accused of another crime. It is often preferred to a new prosecution because of the procedural ease of recommitting the individual on the basis of a lesser showing by the state.
As community corrections strategies, probation and parole share many similarities, and the legal issues involved in both are often identical. In many jurisdictions, the role of probation and parole officer is combined, and these officers work in departments of community corrections. The primary difference between probation and parole is that probationers are sentenced to community sanctions instead of a prison sentence, while parolees have already served some prison time. Some jurisdictions can sentence an offender to a split sentence, which requires the offender to stay in prison for a short time before being released on probation.
The roots of modern probation can be traced back to John Augustus, who believed that criminals motivated by alcohol could be rehabilitated by human kindness and moral teachings rather than incarceration. For 18 years, he served as a probation officer on a voluntary basis, and shortly after his death, a probation statute was passed so that his work could continue under the auspices of the state. With the rise of psychology’s influence in the 1920s, probation officers shifted from practical help in the field to a more therapeutic model. In the 1960s, the pendulum swung back to a more practical bent, and probation officers began to act more as service brokers, assisting probationers with obtaining employment, housing, managing finances, and getting an education.
Many jurisdictions have different levels of supervision, with the most common distinction being active supervision and inactive supervision. Probationers on active supervision are required to report to a probation officer at regular intervals, while probationers on inactive supervision have committed only minor offenses or have completed much of a long probation sentence without problems. The preferred method of checking in varies by jurisdiction, with some requiring in-person visits while others allow phone calls or checking in via mail.
Probationers must follow specific conditions, such as participating in treatment programs, paying fines, and not using drugs or alcohol. Violating these conditions results in being labeled a violator and can lead to probation revocation, which often results in a prison sentence. Some violators are given second chances, and others are sentenced to special programs for technical violations. Absconders, probationers, or parolees that stop reporting and “disappear” are often classified differently than other violators.
Over the past several decades, there has been a trend towards “mass community supervision” in the United States. In 1980, approximately 1.89 million adults were under community supervision. That number grew to 4.53 million by the end of 2020, which represents a decline from the peak of 4.65 million people under community supervision in 2007 (Carson & Anderson, 2021). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 1 in 48 adults in the United States were under community supervision at the end of 2020, including adults on probation, parole, or any other post-prison supervision.
Probation and parole officers are professionals who work in the criminal justice system to assist individuals who have been convicted of crimes. Probation officers supervise individuals who are sentenced to community corrections rather than prison time. In contrast, parole officers supervise individuals who have served at least some prison time and are released early under certain conditions. In many jurisdictions, these roles are combined into a single job description.
Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973) is a landmark legal case that involved the duties of probation and parole officers. The court noted that these officers have a dual responsibility: to their clients and to the general public’s safety. The officers must ensure that their clients follow the terms of their release and remain within the boundaries of the law. At the same time, they must ensure that their clients are provided with the resources necessary to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. This dichotomy often creates political tension, with liberals focused on rehabilitation and conservatives focused on public safety and just punishment.
Parole officers perform law enforcement duties similar to those of police officers. They also act as officers of the court, responsible for enforcing court orders. These orders can include mandatory drug and alcohol treatment programs, anger management programs, and other forms of rehabilitation. Officers may also be called to appear in court to give testimony regarding the activities of their clients.
Probation and parole officers also have the authority to conduct searches and seize evidence of criminal activity or technical violations. When violations occur, officers may recommend that the offender be sent to prison or continue on probation or parole with modified conditions.
There is ambivalence within the criminal justice community about the role of probation and parole officers. Some view their role as primarily law enforcement, while others view it as primarily social work. The officer’s personal beliefs, local office culture, policy dictates of agency heads, and legislative enactments all play a role in shaping each officer’s working personality. Effective officers are likely to strike a balance between law enforcement and social work, prioritizing public safety while also providing the necessary resources for rehabilitation and reintegration.
In the past, individuals who were convicted of a crime were typically given the option of either probation or imprisonment. However, in recent years, intermediate sanctions have been introduced to provide a middle-ground punishment that is more severe than probation but less severe than incarceration. The goal of these community corrections sanctions is to reduce prison overcrowding while still holding offenders accountable for their actions and promoting public safety.
One common form of intermediate sanction is Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP). This type of probation assigns offenders to an officer with a reduced caseload, allowing for more personalized attention. Frequent surveillance and drug testing are common in most ISP programs, and offenders are often chosen for these programs because they are considered to be at high risk for reoffending. Studies have shown that ISP can be an effective way to reduce recidivism, particularly for high-risk offenders.
Another form of alternative to prison is the work release program. These programs are designed to maintain control over offenders while allowing them to remain employed. Typically, offenders in a work-release program live in a designated center, which a county jail or the state prison system may operate. These individuals are permitted to leave the center for work-related purposes but must otherwise remain confined in a secure facility. Work release programs have been found to be effective in reducing recidivism rates, particularly when combined with education and job training programs (MacKenzie, Wilson, & Kider, 2001).
Correctional boot camps are another alternative to traditional incarceration. These programs are modeled after military boot camps, with strict discipline, structure, and physical training. Typically, nonviolent offenders who are relatively young are sentenced to three to six months in boot camps. However, research suggests that boot camps are not more effective at reducing recidivism than other sanctions, and many offenders actually view boot camps as more punitive than prison (MacKenzie, Wilson, & Kider, 2001).
Other examples of intermediate sanctions include home confinement, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, and community service programs. Home confinement involves offenders being required to stay in their homes for a designated period of time. Electronic monitoring involves the use of electronic devices to track the movements of offenders. Day reporting centers require offenders to report to a designated facility on a daily basis for counseling and other services. Community service programs require offenders to perform a specified number of hours of service in the community.
Intermediate sanctions offer several advantages over traditional imprisonment, including reduced costs, reduced recidivism rates, and greater flexibility in responding to the needs of individual offenders. However, the effectiveness of these sanctions can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the type of offender, the severity of the offense, and the availability of support services. Nonetheless, intermediate sanctions are an important tool in the criminal justice system for addressing the needs of offenders and promoting public safety.
Job Outlook: Probation Officer
In the United States, probation officers and parole officers are both responsible for supervising individuals who have been convicted of crimes, but their job duties and requirements differ. Probation officers supervise individuals who have been sentenced to probation, which is a community-based alternative to incarceration. Parole officers, on the other hand, supervise individuals who have been released from prison before their sentence is complete.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2029 to 2039, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is expected to result from the continued need for probation services and increasing demand for offender treatment services.
As of May 2020, the median annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $54,290, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $93,450 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $34,080. Parole officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median annual wage of $55,690, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $96,770 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $35,100 (BLS, 2023).
The BLS reports that federal executive branch agencies offer the highest pay for probation officers and parole officers. However, the vast majority of probation and parole officers are employed by local or state government agencies, which typically offer more modest salaries. In addition, probation and parole officers who work in areas with higher costs of living may earn higher salaries than those in other areas (BLS, 2023).
The job outlook and pay for probation officers and parole officers vary depending on location, with federal agencies offering higher pay but fewer job opportunities and state and local agencies offering more job opportunities but more modest salaries. The future of employment for these occupations is projected to grow for probation officers but decline for parole officers due to budgetary constraints and the increasing use of alternative sanctions.
Section 6.4 of this text discusses community corrections, which refer to non-prison sanctions such as probation and parole that allow offenders to live in the community instead of being in jail or prison. These programs are becoming more popular due to the rising costs of corrections budgets and the problem of overcrowding in prisons.
Parole is a form of community corrections that allows prisoners to be released before the end of their sentences, provided they follow specific rules during the remaining period of their sentence. Probation, on the other hand, is a community-based sentence that requires offenders to follow specific conditions, such as participating in treatment programs, paying fines, and not using drugs or alcohol.
Probation and parole officers are professionals who work in the criminal justice system to assist individuals who have been convicted of crimes. They have a dual responsibility to their clients and to the general public’s safety and must strike a balance between law enforcement and social work.
This section also provides an overview of intermediate sanctions that have been introduced in recent years as middle-ground punishments between probation and imprisonment. The goal of intermediate sanctions is to hold offenders accountable for their actions while promoting public safety and reducing prison overcrowding. Examples of intermediate sanctions include Intensive Supervision Probation, work release programs, and correctional boot camps.
Intensive Supervision Probation is a form of probation that assigns high-risk offenders to an officer with a reduced caseload, allowing for more personalized attention. Frequent surveillance and drug testing are common in most ISP programs. Work release programs are designed to maintain control over offenders while allowing them to remain employed. Correctional boot camps are modeled after military boot camps, with strict discipline, structure, and physical training.
Other intermediate sanctions include home confinement, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, and community service programs. Home confinement requires offenders to stay in their homes for a designated period of time. Electronic monitoring tracks the movements of offenders using electronic devices. Day reporting centers require offenders to report to a designated facility on a daily basis for counseling and other services. Community service programs require offenders to perform a specified number of hours of service in the community.
Absconder, Active Supervision, Community Corrections, Conditions of Parole, Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973), Inactive Supervision, John Augustus, Parole, Parole Officer, Parolee, Revocation, Split Sentence, Technical Violation, Violator, Work Release Program
Last Updated: 07/13/2023
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, March 31). Parole officers and correctional treatment specialists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- Carson, E. A., & Anderson, E. (2021). Prisoners in 2020. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- MacKenzie, D. L., Wilson, D. B., & Kider, S. B. (2001). Effects of correctional boot camps on offending. The Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews, 2, 1-70.
- Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972)
- National Institute of Justice. (2022). Community Corrections.