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New attitudes toward corrections determine programs and policies.

The past two decades have brought profound change for corrections in the United States. Organizational structures of state and local corrections agencies have changed, and traditional lines separating probation, jails and prisons have been blurred. The term "intermediate sanctions" has become part of our vocabulary. In the mid-1970s, corrections abandoned its rehabilitation goals in response to public perception that crime was out of control and efforts to rehabilitate offenders did not work. Indeterminate sentences crafted to offenders' needs were replaced with mandatory, lengthy prison terms as the key to public safety. Today, after nearly 20 years of this philosophy, the wisdom of official punishment as the cornerstone of corrections policy is under scrutiny. Many questions exist about whether punishment gives society the protection and safety it seeks. No empirical evidence has been found linking punishment with a reduction in crime.

The public's desire for safety, as opposed to punishment, is swinging corrections back toward the goal of providing meaningful interventions that change offenders' behavior. Strong public support exists for programs that return offenders to society as law-abiding citizens.

Successful interventions include the use of community resources for meeting individual needs, family therapy, diversion and treatment for substance abuse or sexual deviation. Effective programs also take into account the issue of risk--the higher the potential for criminal activity by the offender, the greater the intervention must be. This trend toward treatment intervention has been explored in recent years in various programs sponsored by the NIC Community Corrections Division.

Last year, NIC funded a limited risk-management project in the New York City Department of Probation to revise intervention services for dangerous violent offenders. The department screens probationers for their potential for future violence. Among the resources devoted to this group are biweekly group treatment sessions.

Appropriate intervention with offenders is just one of the goals of the 15 states and 25 jurisdictions that are participating in NIC's four-year-old Intermediate Sanctions Project. Co-sponsored with the State Justice Institute, a private, nonprofit agency that is funded by Congress and works to improve state court operations, the project guides the jurisdictions in setting up an array of sanctions between probation and prison.

Currently, NIC and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, as part of the Intermediate Sanctions Project, are jointly providing consulting services to groups of agencies in three states. NIC also is providing direct technical assistance and small grants to advance the use of intermediate sanctions.

Treatment intervention also is one of the strategies explored in two other NIC Community Corrections Division projects that have been offered since 1990. The Design, Development and Implementation of Community Corrections Options Project assists agencies in designing and implementing a program of community-based options. The Probation and Parole Violation and Revocation Project examines treatment intervention as one strategy to avoid incarceration due to probation or parole violations.

A training seminar titled "Treatment Programming: An Element of Offender Risk Management" was offered at the NIC Academy twice in 1993 and will be offered again in April 1994. This seminar, presented to corrections administrators who are responsible for programming, supervision and offender treatment, focuses on how treatment programming can be used to reduce the risk of future criminal activity. The program helps participants define the relationship of specific intervention services and performance outcomes. Other upcoming training programs offered by the academy include "Cognitive Approaches to Changing Offender Behavior" and "A Systems Approach to Managing Substance-abusing Offenders." Dave Dillingham is a correctional program specialist with NIC's Community Corrections Division in Washington, D.C.
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Author:Dillingham, Dave
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Feb 1, 1994
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