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Correctional System in the United States


In the recent years, the prison population has grown considerably. The states and federal government began to experience difficulties as the resources for keeping the inmates decreased. For this reason, it was necessary to develop alternative ways of punishment. Back in history, the alternatives to imprisonment had been practiced wide although they had different forms. Judicial institutions made a research of the past experiences. Those experiences had to be adjusted to the requirements of the modern judicial system to become practical and effective in the community correction services of today.

Alternative ways of punishment has become very important. It is considered by high-level judicial authorities in the United States; for this reason, the issue of community corrections is worth of a careful study. Current research will describe the development of the community-based corrections, including the developments at the institutional level. It will also evaluate the effects of alternative ways of punishment that occurred in the past and the trends of today.

The Idea of Community Corrections

The idea of community-based corrections was raised in the Department of Justice since this judicial institution was responsible for the development of retributive justice system. The Department of Justice has also formulated the definition of community-based corrections. According to the institution,

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“Community corrections involve the management and supervision of offenders in the community. These offenders are serving court-imposed orders either as an alternative to imprisonment or as a condition of their release on parole from prison. This means they must report regularly to their community corrections officer and may have to participate in unpaid community work and rehabilitation programs” (Community Corrections, 2013).

From this definition, it appears that community corrections do not consider the programs that employ imprisonment. Besides, the program offers rehabilitation for the offender by means of community work. Thus, the offender is given an opportunity to reintegrate into society.

Larry Gaines (2012), in his book Criminal Justice in Action: The Core, remarked that reintegration stimulates the offender to follow the rules set by the society. The community corrections program also allows the offender to contribute into society in terms of material value. While the offender is not paid, the amount he or she earns can cover the expenses on court fines and compensation to victims.

It is important to note that the alternatives to incarceration can be applied only to those offenders who are not violent. The alternatives will also preserve them from debilitating effects of the incarceration and, therefore, will decrease recidivism.

Historical Development

In the past, there had been used four major sanctions as alternatives to the imprisonment: sanctuary, benefit of clergy, judicial reprieve, and recognizance. The sanctuary was based on Christian values such as God’s mercy and love. As Jason Jolicoeur (2012) noted in her article, the term “sanctuary” referred to the practice that provided alleviation, delay, and even alteration of the penalty for the accused by entering a special location and pleading for mercy. The special location was usually a church where the offender could avoid imprisonment until that kind of punishment would be changed for the alternative to imprisonment.

The benefit of clergy had been applied to the church believers. The believers were given to the church authorities for judgment and discipline. This form of community-based corrections allowed the church members to avoid harsh sentencing structure of the secular system. The benefit of clergy was abolished in the beginning of the 19th century since the judicial system changed and the harsh sentencing structure was eliminated (Royster, 2012).

The judicial reprieve served as another alternative to incarceration. It suspended the sentence of incarceration to show mercy and kindness. Thus, the offenders were granted freedom and liberties until they could receive a full pardon. It was practiced when the judges did not consider incarceration as an adequate punishment for the offender. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the punishments were severe, and the conditions in prisons were very bad. For this reason, judges tried to find alternatives to preserve some of the offenders (Weins, 2012).

The fourth form of alternative to incarceration was called recognizance. It can be traced to the case of Commonwealth v. Chase in 1830. That case was described in the Federal Probation journal,

“It is believed that the first recorded use of recognizance in this country was in 1830 by Judge Thacher in the case of Commonwealth v. Chase in the Boston Municipal Court. In this case, Jerusha Chase pleaded guilty to the charges, but was not sentenced, as Judge Thacher yielded to the pleas of her friends with the consent of the prosecutor” (Lindner, n.d.).

This case applied the recognizance for the first time in judicial practice of the United States. It demonstrated the attitude of mercy and kindness not only among the judges, but in the American society.

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The Development of Community Corrections in the 20th Century

The judicial system of the United States considered the past experiences and the developments of the alternatives to imprisonment although in the early 20s, the system still heavily relied on imprisonment. During the time of the Great Depression, the level of crime was very high; thus, many Americans wanted to be tough on criminals. This attitude influenced the judicial system to be strict towards offenders.

Since solitary confinement was the trend for the judicial system of the United States, there was given little attention to the rehabilitation and well-being of inmates. Not only inmates suffered in prisons, but the correctional officers were affected as well (Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, 2009).

Nobody really cared about the inmates’ well-being. Many Americans believed that imprisonment was the best solution to prevent criminal activity. However, as the rehabilitation and reintegration of the inmates were not available, recidivism increased. Solitary confinement did not seem to be a solution to this problem. The solution came with the emergence of the financial problems in the early 1950s. The legislators recognized the necessity of community-based services and began to develop them in place for imprisonment programs. This change in judicial system resulted in the promotion of community corrections; in the 1960s, the alternatives to imprisonment became common in judicial practice.

In the early 1970s, another economic crisis took place, and the shift to alternative sanctions continued. As the crisis resulted in considerable decrease of financial resources, the development of community-based corrections appeared to be a way to save money for the U.S. government (The John Howard Society of Alberta, n.d.). For this reason, the government invested in further development of the community-based corrections, and for the next 40 years, they became a large part of the judicial system.

Current Development of Community Corrections and Their Effects

For the last decades, there was witnessed a considerable increase of the prison population. Thus, the need in the development of community corrections has become even more obvious. The support of inmates required more finances for health care. This problem was intensified with a shortage of medical personnel. The conditions in prisons and dealing with difficult patients were not attractive experiences for doctors and nurses. In fact, it was not easy to retain even those who were involved in prison health care. Thus, the hope to provide a necessary number of medical personnel was faint. At the same time, patients in prisons required not only medical aid but social rehabilitation as they were affected by the influence of antisocial communities. The majority of the patients did not have the necessary educational training to understand behaviors required by the prevention programs (Snyder, 2007).

In order to solve these problems, it is not sufficient just to improve health care or develop educational programs. These initiatives can be helpful, but they are costly and require sufficient resources. The development of community-based corrections can be an alternative way to deal with the issues of imprisonment. It is particularly a good option for non-violent criminals as it allows them to reintegrate in the community and preserve their family ties. They can also pay retribution to the society and do not experience guilt before it. The change of life style of the offenders may help to reduce recidivism which can result in the decrease of the prison population. The implementation of community-based corrections is less costly, and thus it may help to save finances for the needs of prisoners. It may also result in lowering stress of correctional officers in prisons.


Throughout the history, people involved in judicial activity have been looking for the best solutions to prevent crime. Some of the judges supported the punitive ways in dealing with the offenders. Others considered rehabilitation and reintegration to be a better option. In the past, in the United States, the preference was given to the solitary confinement. Today, the judicial system gives more and more consideration to the incarceration alternatives. The community corrections offer rehabilitation, reintegration into society, and other benefits for the offender. It is obvious that the American society also benefits from the alternative form of punishment.