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Defining community corrections.

At the commencement of her term in office, Bobbie Huskey provided a challenging charge to the Community Corrections Committee. She requested that the committee prepare a statement describing the community corrections purpose and mission and prepare an initial set of principles that would drive the development of community corrections.

After reviewing President Huskey's charge at the ACA Winter Conference in Dallas in January 1995, the committee initiated a very useful, as well as difficult, dialogue on the definition of community corrections. Committee members decided that it would be necessary to develop a definition of community corrections before embarking on the creation of a mission statement and supporting principles.

Attempts to define community corrections usually have met a series of problems. Most practitioners are aware of the usual method of defining community corrections; namely, describing what it is not. "Community corrections is not incarceration," has been the main beginning point, but, as we are aware, there are many programs providing more structured residential services that are more like traditional incarceration.

David Duffee, co-author of Community Corrections: A Community Field Approach, notes that "while it may be difficult to derive an authoritative definition of community corrections, it is important to understand that simple definitions are becoming increasingly more difficult to sustain."

The committee debates bear out Duffee's conclusion regarding simple definitions - especially since the growth of intermediate sanctions also has fostered a certain element of confusion when attempting to define community corrections.

Again, Duffee notes that "changes in sentencing practice, prison policy, and probation and parole supervision have blurred considerably what once may have been a clear line between community and non-community corrections."

It is clear that the use of probation detention centers, restitution centers and boot camps has contributed to the widening of the concept of community corrections. Also, the changing role of jails and their development of programs that resemble traditional community corrections has added to the confusion.

With the help of ACA and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the committee continued to work on the challenge of defining community corrections. At an all-day meeting at ACA headquarters in Lanham, Md. on May 10, 1996, members attempted to bring closure to their discussions.

The committee found that defining community corrections was a difficult task. Members had struggled during the past two years with all the nuances, contradictions and paradoxes surrounding the current debate on community corrections. The committee did not want to fall into the trap of defining community corrections in terms of what it was not, and every effort was made to seek positive and accurate descriptors of what is involved in a community corrections endeavor. The result of their deliberations may not be perfect but, it still is a line in the sand, and like any line in the sand, it is subject to some movement as the climate changes. However, the committee is confident that it has made a significant gain in efforts to set boundaries around the concept of community corrections.

In arriving at a proposed definition, the committee noted that there were some elements of a definition of community corrections that needed to be taken for granted. These elements included the following:

* Community corrections is part of the justice system, which involves both adults and juveniles and also includes a broader context containing elements of social justice.

* Community corrections agencies are involved in administering sanctions and providing services. Services are provided to victims, defendants and offenders.

* Community corrections agencies acknowledge that they exist to enhance public safety.

* Community corrections is effective and efficient when it works in partnership with local communities and other agencies interested in safer communities and justice.

Considering these taken-for-granted statements, the committee offers the following as a definition of what community corrections involves:

"Community corrections is that part of the justice system providing sanctions and services to enhance public safety and maintain offenders/defendants within the community. These goals are accomplished by selecting appropriate participants, holding offenders accountable, repairing the harm done to victims and the community, supervising and treating offenders/defendants, involving citizens, and maintaining positive ties between the community and the offender."

For me, the acknowledgment that community corrections is a part of the broader justice system is a key element in the definition. It provides for the growing interest in what is being referred to as community justice (Barajas Jr., 1996 and Reeves, 1992) and is inclusive of adult and juvenile systems and human service systems that are important in tackling crime.

The second part of the definition stresses the two key tasks of community corrections - the administration of the court's sentence and the provision of services that will enhance public safety. This twinning of sanctions and services is in keeping with recent research that underscores the value of providing appropriate interventions with sanctions in order to reduce reoffending. But, the services also are linked to notions of restorative justice that involve victims and communities in solutions to the problems created by offending behavior.

Finally, the definition stresses that the work of community corrections is accomplished by maintaining offenders within the community. The definition explains how community corrections can accomplish its goal of enhanced public safety by listing six important tasks:

* assessment of offenders for community placement;

* responsibility of offenders for their behavior;

* emphasis on reparative strategies for victims and communities;

* provision of supervision and treatment interventions geared to reduce reoffending;

* the encouragement of citizens to join in the challenge of creating safer communities; and

* recognition of the importance of positive relationships between the community and the offender.

These tasks support the definition of community corrections and help corrections practitioners decide when a program can be classified as community corrections.

The committee still has one more meeting to fulfill President Huskey's charge. Members finalized a definition and proposed a mission statement with supporting principles at the 126th Congress of Correction in Nashville.

Whether or not you agree with the committee's efforts, please recognize the work they've done as a starting point for your own rethinking of what defines community corrections.

As the committee's mandate draws to a close, members hope they have left a beacon to guide the next committee's work. Committee work is cumulative, and one needs to build on the efforts of those who have gone before.


Barajas Jr., Eduardo. 1996. Moving toward community justice. Perspectives. (Spring).

Duffee, David and Edmund F. McGarrell. 1990. Community corrections: A community field approach. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Co.

Reeves, Rhonda. 1992. Community justice. State government news. (November).

Donald G. Evans is president of Donald G. Evans & Associates and chair of ACA's Community Corrections Committee.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Evans, Donald G.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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