Thursday, August 28, 2008

Does jail work as an intermediate sanction?

With so many jurisdictions now using some version of so-called problem solving courts, the question arises: What are the best intermediate sanctions to use for probationers as opposed to revoking them to prison? In particular, are short jail stints the answer?

Recently Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation urged the House Corrections Committee to follow the lead of Hawaii's HOPE program, which routinely uses jail time to punish minor infractions, reportedly with great success.

By contrast, Doc Berman the other day wrote about a study out of Multinomah County in Oregon that reached the opposite conclusion, published this month in a new Vera Institute report (pdf): "The use of jail as an intermediate sanction was correlated with higher rates of recidivism, a relationship that should be examined more closely." I reacted to this news in the comments thusly:
With a massive shift occurring toward use of so-called problem solving courts, it's really important to identify what are appropriate intermediate sanctions. If it's jail, great - everybody's got one already. But if the Oregon numbers are right and using jails that way boosts recidivism, there needs to be more study and empirical testing about which intermediate sanctions DO work.
A commenter in response suggested that perhaps the issue is not whether jail works as a sanction but how it's used, with the HOPE program showing better results because of the "apparent genuine concern for keeping [probationers] violation free." That writer argued that "Judge Steven Alm's "warning hearings" alone are a cut above the usual assembly line indifference" and could account for the differing results.

Another possibility: It may also be that jail is not best used as the ONLY intermediate sanction but as one of an array of options. In Multinomah County, jail was nearly the lone alternative: "Of the 30 percent of the supervised population who were sanctioned, 92 percent received jail time at some point during their supervision."

Multinomah County sounds like its probation program is not using methodologies from drug courts and other strong probation initiatives like HOPE. "Most people (70 percent) did not receive any type of sanction or intervention while on probation or under post-prison supervision in Multnomah County." So perhaps jail sanctions in the HOPE program work better because they more closely supervise probationers in the first place, actively seeking to identify violations instead of just checking in once per month.

This question requires an evidence based answer. If it hasn't already been done, some researcher needs to define the entire array of possible intermediate sanctions used by problem solving courts and test them individually for effectiveness.

We've got enough specialty courts and strong probation programs in Texas where CJAD (the division in charge of probation out of the Department of Criminal Justice) should be be able to perform such an analysis if it hasn't already been done.

My own guess is that not that all uses of jail to sanction probationers increase recidivism, but that the problem lies instead with overreliance on jail and underutilization of alternatives. That's just speculation, though, in the face of conflicting empirical outcomes. If jail really does boost recidivism and other intermediate sanctions work better, practitioners need to know that.

14 comments:

JSN said...

When we started our mental health diversion program at our jail one of the outcomes was our MHD director made contact with the staff at community based correction and was able to help them reduce the use of jail as an intermediate sanction.

Because our district court is overloaded jail as an intermediate sanction is a bad deal because they can sit in jail longer than necessary because we can't get the to appear before a judge.

Anonymous said...

CJAD is incapable of performing any relevant analysis of programs or initiatives. If it is going to be done, it should be contracted out to a university that can conduct an independent study.

Anonymous said...

How does Jail solve anything. It keeps people off the streets that have been charged, committed, railroaded, or suspected of crimes. It does not solve anything however. The individual in jail is not being trained to rethink how they do things, they are not being taught skills that might actually help them leave jail for a non-offending style life.

Instead we lock a guy up fo smoking hemp with a dude that cooks meth, or robs people, then we release them to the streets after their time is done with their newly learned 'skillz'. How does that help anything.

Social management, or order, is not in the minds when people are put into jail, nor will it be when they leave.

Yeah, it is very off topic from what the article states, as far as what you are trying to get across. I just find the need sometimes to point out that we jail for more minor offenses than most 1st world nations, and because of that, we breed our own criminals.

Anonymous said...

Conditions of probation require that the probationer maintain gainful employment. How then do you suppose that they will KEEP a job if they are routinely jailed for "Minor and Technical" violations. Answer: NO!
CJAD has FAILED miserably to efficiently run the ADULT probation system. Most employees at CJAD have NO EXPERIENCE with the real world of probation. Caseloads are to large to deal with, morale is poor and turnover is a big problem at most departments. Then we have to deal with manical Chief's and out of control Judges who could care less about the recommendation of Community Supervision Officers at a Motion to Revoke probation hearing. And they certainly don't care about public safety.
Tired!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I've worked as a probation officer for over 20 years in three different states. In my experience, Texas is the only state that does not routinely use jail as an intermediate sanction. Forget about a CJAD study on the subject. I can assure you that not every probationer responds to the carrot. Probation must also use the stick to get the attention of those who do not take probation seriously. When jail is used as a punishment for violating probation, the punishment must be swift and certain so that violators understand the connection between their actions and the punishment. As a rule, probationers do not like jail and will modify their behavior if they know there will be consequences for noncompliance.

Don said...

I agree with Anon. 9:07 AM. Let's please not give CJAD anything meaningful to do. They can't. If they were capable of even collecting the data, they would no doubt interpret it in some wild, off-the-wall fashion that would astound you. Again. Actually, all the comments here are right on, I think.

Anonymous said...

No one can work, pay taxes and support themselves while in jail.

The first question I would ask is:

Are people that have a job being put in jail as an intermediate sanction?

If the answer is yes, the probation department is making a bad situation worse, not better. The result is recidivism because the probationer is denied the ability to support themselves and lead a law abiding life.

The research needs to be done on what works for successful probatiners. Looking at the failures is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

A probationer can still maintain a job and serve weekend custody as an intermediate sanction. It is not an either or proposition.

JSN said...

Anonymous 12:11

We have a waiting list to get into jail on a weekend and that is rather common.

The levels of supervision range from unsupervised, supervised, electronic monitor, intensive supervision, work release, jail to prison.

An intermediate sanction means to move to a higher level of supervision but not as high as prison. Using jail as an intermediate sanction should mean that the next level is revocation and prison and we are not kidding.

Cycling from supervision to jail and then back to supervision more than once is not a deterrent for people who have been in jail frequently.

Anonymous said...

The range of supervision,i.e, intensive supervision, electronic monitor, and work release don't have much impact in terms of modifying recalcitrant behavior. Basically, these alternatives are analagous to threatening to use the stick but, in reality, are not sufficiently painful enough to get one's attention. The system, at times, must actually use the stick, which means placing the uncompliant probationer in jail, where he/she must endure hours of monotony and green baloney sandwiches for lunch. If jail doesn't get their attention, then they are probably more suitable for prison.

Anonymous said...

What about "debtors jail"?
If you don't pay your fines and fees,
off to jail you go.

Anonymous said...

Yes...exactly! CJAD and their influence is laughable. It's all about the money... not supervision. You can do drugs, break the law, drink drive, and the only time they really respond is if you miss a payment.For the main, they are glorified bill collectors with the power to put you in prison.

Anonymous said...

Madden/Whitmire:
Do us all a favor and get rid of that massive waste of tax-payer money known as CJAD! They are the most incompetent group of baffoons in this state!

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