Balancing the privacy of all Americans with the right to safe and secure communities is a contentious subject – especially when discussing how police and court agencies monitor people. But when it comes to sentencing criminal offenders, meaningful monitoring can help keep communities safer.
In his recent book, “The Myth of Overpunishment,” professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice Dr. Barry Latzer concludes with an interesting proposal. One way to have less incarceration and less crime is with the robust use of electronic monitoring.
Large evaluations of electronic monitoring programs generally find they reduce offender recidivism. One large National Institute of Justice-funded evaluation of an electronic monitoring program in Florida found the program was associated with a 31% reduction in recidivism among participants.
Other types of non-electronic monitoring programs include intensive supervision probation programs. Perhaps the most well-known of these kinds of supervision arraignments is the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program. These programs focus primarily on non-violent offenders with histories of addiction. The goal of these kinds of programs is to impose proportionate sanctions every time a probationer violates the clearly established terms of their probation.
Probationers in these programs are also given individualized treatment plans. As long as the probationer complies with those rules, the entire program takes place outside of prison. However, short stays in prison are the most common punishment for violation of the terms of probation.
In a one-year, randomized, controlled trial, HOPE probationers were:
55% less likely to be arrested for a new crime, 72% less likely to use drugs, 61% less likely to skip appointments with their supervisory officer and 53% less likely to have their probation revoked. As a result, they also served or were sentenced to, on average, 48% fewer days of incarceration than the control group.
A long-term follow-up study found probationers who were referred to HOPE in the original pilot had an average of 0.19 new charges after 10 years, compared to an average of 0.78 new charges for those who were in the group which received routine supervision. That same study found that three-year recidivism rates for HOPE probationers were much lower than those of the control group. Over the three-year evaluation period, individuals assigned to HOPE had a return-to-prison rate of 13% compared with 27% for individuals assigned to the control. Further experimentation with these kinds of programs is warranted.
Finally, sentencing judges and corrections officials ought to have all the tools possible to ensure an individual defendant is punished appropriately and given the correct tools post-sentencing to succeed. One of the most important is the implementation of valid risk-assessment tools. When used effectively, these tools can decrease crime and improve court outcomes.
Between risk assessment tools, intensive probation supervision programming and appropriate use of electronic monitoring, the criminal justice system can better protect the public in ways that are minimally invasive and do not infringe on the general privacy of the public.