Community corrections remain an important element of correctional system in the United States and a popular alternative to incarceration, which is partly demonstrated by the large number of adults under community supervision. According to the recent data, in 2011 the number of community supervision population has been more than twice as high and the rates in incarcerated population (Glaze & Parks, 2012, p. 2). Based on the analysis of empirical findings of the U.S. Department of Justice, it is possible to draw at least three conclusions in regard of the present state of community corrections. The number of individuals under community supervision has been increasing since the end of XX century. Also, since 2008 the rates of community supervision population have decreased. Finally, whilst general community corrections population has decreased in 2011, the number of individuals under parole supervision has increased from 2009 to 2010.
Number of adults under community corrections has been increasing steadily since 1980, which was often explained by the rapid urbanization and the higher level of crimes that characterizes urban areas. The reflection of the same tendency can be found in the correctional population in general. For instance, Maruschak and Parks (2012) argue that from 1980 through 2008 the United States faced the problem of the increasing number of adults under community supervision (Maruschak & Parks, 2012, p. 2). Namely, in 2003 more than six million people were on probation. It is, however, important to understand that crime is socially constructed, which means that something is defined as ‘crime’ only in terms of social relations. Crime is thus closely intertwined with specific values, norms and attitudes of a society. This might serve as an explanation of high rates of imprisonment in the USA. More specifically, the length of the prison sentence, as well as drug sentencing laws have contributed to the higher number of incarceration in the US. Apart from this, it is important to note that the United States system of safety is in general effective in terms of revealing, and then punishing the individuals for their criminal activity. The highest incarceration rate is not equivalent to the highest criminal activity. For example, imprisonment rate in Afghanistan is much lower than the one in the US, however, this can be explained by low social control and bad judicial system that fails (or does not attempt) to identify individuals who are engaged in criminal activity. Apart from this, in many countries, specific crimes, such as corruption, can be identified as ‘crimes’ by the law, however, certain social attitudes to corruption and difficulties in revealing the incidents of corruption often cause a situation in which individuals who are engaged in this activity are not punished and thus not included to the crime statistics.
The year of 2011 is the third consecutive year in terms of the decrease in the number of community supervision population. Glaze and Parks (2012) estimate that in 2011 approximately 2,015 per 100,000 adults were under supervision in community (Glaze & Parks, 2012, p. 2). Also, Maruschak and Parks (2012) state that this number shows the decline in community corrections population by 71,300 (Maruschak & Parks, 2012, p. 1). Namely, in 2011 for the first time since 2002 the probation population made less than 4 million (Maruschak & Parks, 2012, p. 1). This phenomenon might be explained by the positive effect of higher numbers of individuals under supervision in community on crime rates. Apart from this, the relatively recent decline in community corrections population might be the outcome of certain reforms in American criminal justice system, such as the end of the War on Drugs that led to the higher rates of the general number of individuals under the supervision of adult correctional authorities. Also, criminological theories that emphasize the role of social structure in influencing crime rates might be helpful in terms of explaining this phenomenon. Namely, improvements in economic conditions in 2011 might have led to the decrease in crime rates.
Whilst the general community corrections population has decreased in 2011, there were certain differences in the number of people under supervision among different segments of community corrections. For instance, Maruschak and Parks (2012) argue that the community supervision and probations rates have decreased, however, the number of individuals under parole supervision has increased from 2009 to 2010 from 353 per 100,000 adults to 357 per 100,000 (Maruschak & Parks, 2012, p. 4). This, however, only confirms the above mentioned hypothesis in regard of the reforms in American criminal justice system. It would be logical to assume that the criminal justice system has started to use alternative to incarceration ways of punishing criminals.
Thus, regardless of the steady increase in community supervision population in the beginning of the century, in the last several years there was a strong decrease in this segment of population that is punished with community corrections. This fact can also be supported by the comparison of trends in the number of correctional population in 2008 and 2011 (Glaze & Parks, 2012, p. 3; Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013, p. 7). For instance, whilst the total number of individuals on probation in 2008 was 4,270,917, in 2011 it declined to 3,971,319.
In the meantime, there are certain characteristics of community corrections that remained consistent. Namely, there is still a strong interdependence between non-incarceration sentences and the U.S. prison population. The interdependency between the community supervision population and incarcerated population can also be observed from the comparison of criminal statistics of 2008 and 2011 (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013, p. 7). Namely, the total number of individuals under correctional supervision such as probation and parole has declined approximately at the same rate as number of individuals in prison or jail: individuals on probation and parole – 5,099086 in 2008 and 4,056704 in 2011, compared to 2,304115 individuals in jail and prison in 2008 and 2239751 in 2011 (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013, p. 7; Glaze & Perks, 2012, p. 3).
- Cole, G., Smith, C., & DeJong, C. (2013). The Criminal Justice System. In Criminal Justice in America (7th ed.). Cengage Advantage Books.
- Glaze, L., & Parks, E. (2012). Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011. NCJ, (239972).
- Maruschak, L., & Parks, E. (2012). Probation and Parole in the United States, 2011. NCJ, (238686).