In the recent years, states and federal government have experienced a dramatic growth of the prison population. As the resources began to decrease, there emerged a need in the development of alternative ways of punishment. The alternatives to imprisonment were practiced back in the history, though they had different forms. The judicial institutions study the past experiences, and apply them according to the challenges of today. The terms of the judicial system in the past may sound strange now, but the basic principles of their alternative ways of punishment are still the same. Nowadays when a person gets on the site of the Department of Justice, he or she will find about community correction services. The issue of community corrections is now being discussed at high levels of judicial authority in the United States, and, therefore, this topic is worth of extensive study. Current research focuses on the dynamic of the development of the institutional and community based corrections. It includes an evaluation of the past, present, and future trends of alternatives to imprisonment in the judicial system.
Since the goal of this research is to trace the development of the community based corrections, the definition of the community corrections is very important. To be precise in defining this term, it will be wise to address to the reputable source, knowledgeable in this area – Department of Justice. According to Community Corrections (2013), community corrections are concerned about the management and supervision of offenders in the community. These offenders are imposed to accept an alternative to imprisonment correction or as a condition of their release on parole from prison. This includes regular reports to their community corrections officer and participation in unpaid community work and rehabilitation programs.
From this description, it is obvious that community corrections exclude the programs that employ incarceration. Since it provides community work and rehabilitation program, there is a definite reintegration component. According to Prezi (2012), this reintegration component is highly important for the inmates as it helps them to be back into society. A part of it is that it enables the offender to contribute into society in terms of material value. Though the work is unpaid to the offender, it can provide the payment for court fines, victim compensation, and treatment programs. The alternatives to imprisonment are an option for those offenders who are not violent. They can spare them from the debilitating effects of prison, and thus, will reduce recidivism. Another important aspect about community corrections is that it allows the offender to continue his or her provision for parenting of one’s own children, and, thus, it helps to prevent collateral consequences of incarceration, such as chaotic childhoods.
While studying the historical development of community-based alternatives, a careful observer will discover four specific sanctions used in Europe centuries ago: sanctuary, benefit of clergy, judicial reprieve, and recognizance. The sanctuary began during the 4th century, and it was based on Christian beliefs, appealing to the mercy of the church. According to Jason Jolicoeur (2012), who wrote her article Sanctuary in Encyclopedia of Community Corrections, the offender had a right for escape in the church, and, thus, to avoid imprisonment until some form of negotiation for alternative kind of punishment could be provided. In case the accused confessed his crime, he was usually granted abjuration, and had to leave England for good. This form of leniency served for over a 1000 years in European history.
The benefit of clergy was originally implemented for the church believers, and required them to be given to church authorities with the purpose of discipline or punishment. This form of community-based alternatives enabled the church members to avoid criminal processing in the secular court system. The church courts had a great authority at that time, and if necessary they could enact life sentences. However, the major purpose of the benefit of clergy was to protect persons from a bulky and brutal sentencing structure. Michael Royster (2012), in his article in Encyclopedia of Community Corrections explained, “Because of a desire to protect personal property, crimes such as petty theft and arson carried sentences of death.” It was abolished in 1827 since the judicial system changed, and there was no necessity to protect persons from the brutal sentencing structure.
Another alternative to imprisonment was a judicial reprieve, which was used when the judges did not believe that imprisonment was an adequate punishment to the crime. Jesse Weins (2012) in her article in Encyclopedia of Community Corrections notes that due to the routine application of harsh punishments and the hard conditions in prisons, by the 1700s judges attempted to find the ways to prevent harsh punishments for some offenders. It was particularly common in 18th and 19th centuries. The judicial reprieve was a judicial form to suspend sentences of imprisonment, in order to demonstrate kindness and mercy. It provided liberties and freedoms for the offender until he could apply for full pardon. The judicial reprieve also provided a rehabilitative perspective, that is, the reintegration of the offender was of a higher priority than a desire for punishment.
Finally, the fourth form of alternative to imprisonment, called recognizance can be traced to the case of Commonwealth v. Chase (1830). The Federal Probation journal wrote that the recognizance was first practiced in this country in 1830 by Judge Thacher in the case of Commonwealth v. Chase in the Boston Municipal Court. In that case, Jerusha Chase was guilty to the charges, but was not sentenced, as Judge Thacher responded to the pleas of her friends with the consent of the prosecutor. This example of the use of recognizance is the first precedent to probation in the United States, considering the fact that the accused was released into society.
The experience of the past has been taken into consideration by the judicial system of modern time. Though, in the beginning of the 20th century, there was a tendency to rely more on incarceration. At that time, the American society preferred to be tougher on crime, and this trend influenced a conduct toward the inmates in the prisons accordingly. According to Prezi 2012, there was little concern for rehabilitation of the inmates, but the tendency was to put them in the solitary confinement. Nobody really cared about their well-being. It was believed that imprisonment was the best solution to prevent criminal activity. However, due to the lack of rehabilitation and reintegration for the inmates, the increase of recidivism took place. Nobody knew how to find a solution of this problem. The answer came when there emerged financial concerns, and it was necessary to look for other ways of punishment. It is not to say that recidivism disappeared, but the dynamic has changed, and some reduction of recidivism has been eventually observed.
In the early 1950s, the attention of the legislators was focused on alternative to incarceration community-based services. As a result of a promotion of these services, in the 1960s, there emerged many diverse programs that were developed as alternatives to the traditional justice system that mostly relied on imprisonment of the convicts. Among the reasons of the shift to the alternatives were economic problems in the United States. The John Howard Society of Alberta, in their article, Community Corrections, noted, that while fiscal pressure on the state was getting greater in the 1960s and 1970s, alternatives to incarceration became an option for consideration for criminal justice planners and policy makers. Community corrections allowed an opportunity for governments to save money while simultaneously giving their policy a humanitarian gloss. As a result, during the next 30 years, the community corrections have been developed, and became a large part of the justice system.
At the same time, during the last decades, the prison populations in the United States have increased considerably, and, thus, the need in alternatives to incarceration has become even greater. Since health care was expensive, a demand on resources became an issue. As a result, there emerged a need in tightening budgets. To the financial problems, there was added a difficulty with recruitment and retention of nurses in the prisons. In his article Past, Present and Future, Howard Snyder (2007) explained that considering the shortage of medical workers in the medical community in general, and the conditions in the prisons with their difficult patients, there was not much hope to expect the nurses coming to the prisons. Inmate patients were usually affected by life in the streets and in antisocial communities. Many of them were drug users, malnourished, with no childhood immunization. Few of them have had the educational background to understand behaviors offered in prevention programs.
To overcome these obstacles, it is not sufficient just to improve health care or start educational programs for inmates. Though these initiatives are important, they are very costly, and require a good budget. Today, the issues facing prisons and prison administrators can also be dealt with a different approach. Community based corrections is an option to be considered for finding a solution, and, nowadays, there is a tendency for implementation of this form of punishment in place for imprisonment. According to Prezi (2012), alternate corrections allow non-violent criminals the opportunity to stay in the community, work, and continue family ties. At the same the criminal can repay his or her debt to society.” As it was observed earlier, the alternatives to incarceration may help the accused to have more chances to reintegrate into society, and thus, to quit the former life-style. Such a change, in its turn, will contribute to the reduction of recidivism, and will decrease the prison population. Community based corrections are far less costly. The implementation of these alternatives may help to safe a budget for the needs of inmates. The advantages of the community corrections are obvious, and the prediction can be made that this tendency will continue to develop. However, much will depend on the trends within the criminal justice system as it influences the operations and developments of institutional and community based corrections.
The development of judicial institutions seems to be influenced by two major view-points, such as punishment and rehabilitation. In any time of the history, there could be observed a struggle between these opposite philosophies. However, in the past, the trend of judicial system was solitary confinement with little concern for reintegration of the inmates into a society. Nowadays, this situation has changed. There emerged alternatives to imprisonment, which consider the reintegration component, and this trend will probably continue to develop.