Building Trust and Legitimacy Within Community Corrections

New Thinking in Community Corrections

December 5, 2016
Authors: Wendy Still, Barbara Broderick, and Steven Raphael

The Executive Session on Community Corrections released the third paper in the New Thinking in Community Corrections seriesentitled Building Trust and Legitimacy Within Community Corrections.

  • “In Probation, we’re really focused on achieving positive outcomes – less crime and fewer victims. Our clients are in the community, so it matters not just to us and them, but to the health and safety of our neighborhoods, that they succeed. In order to get these positive results, the culture must be rehabilitative, not punitive.  Our officers need extensive resources to focus on the high-risk clients who demand their attention.” – Barbara Broderick, Chief Probation Officer, Maricopa County (AZ) Adult Probation Department

In this new report co-authored by Executive Session members Wendy Still, Barbara Broderick, and Steven Raphael, the authors note that community corrections offers the most obvious alternative to incarceration, and yet probation and parole agencies must be strengthened and deploy their resources more strategically if they are to succeed in this important criminal justice reform role.

The authors find that the strength and success of probation and parole agencies must be rooted in trust and legitimacy. They propose six principles to guide agencies and policy makers in strengthening the field:

(1) Treat each individual on community corrections with dignity and respect. Recognize our common human capacity both to make mistakes and to make a change for the better.

(2) Realign incentives in the criminal justice system. Cost considerations at the local level should not systematically favor incarceration over alternative sanctions.

(3) Impose the least restrictive sanctions necessary, and minimize the collateral consequences associated with criminal processing and conviction.

(4) Restore communities, and facilitate their health and safety in a holistic way.

(5) Reduce institutional bias and work to ensure that all individuals receive fair, equal access to the justice system.

(6) Evaluate what we do, invest in practices that work, and abandon practices that do not.

The authors, two leading community corrections practitioners and a preeminent scholar who has done extensive research on California Realignment, arrived at these principles through their own experience driving change, from best practice in the field, and from research evidence on incentive structures and criminal justice outcomes and impacts.

  • “We know that our officers can help promote positive change in our clients’ lives. But a prerequisite for that change is a relationship built on trust. It’s a cultural shift, to have faith in people’s ability to change, to treat people with dignity and respect, to recognize that our clients are members of our communities – and we know that cultural shift is foundational to our officers’ wellness, to the success of individuals on our caseloads, and to healing for survivors of crime.” – Wendy Still, Chief Probation Officer in Alameda County, California
  • “We know that perverse incentives exist at many levels of the criminal justice system. There’s ample opportunity to develop clear and predictable incentives that encourage good behavior, and to realign cost incentives so that probation or rehabilitation—rather than incarceration—are the most affordable options for county justice systems. By realigning those incentive structures, we can achieve much more positive outcomes overall.” – Steven Raphael, Professor, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

Praise for Building Trust:

  • “Probation officers need to have big hearts. People are fallible. As rehabilitative entities, probation agencies must recognize that and empower its officers to recognize probationers’ humanity. We need to recognize we’re all working towards the same goal – reducing recidivism and creating safer communities – and that starts with treating everyone with dignity and respect, as the first tenet of the report calls for.” – Ron Corbett, faculty at UMass Lowell School of Criminology and Justice Studies, and former Acting Commissioner of Massachusetts Probation
  • "This report emphasizes that we need to focus on getting better outcomes from our criminal justice systems. And when we change the culture of our agencies to focus on good outcomes, we realize that public safety and the success of people involved in the criminal justice system are not two separate things - they're one and the same. So we need to plan for successful reentry from day one." – John Wetzel, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
  • “In Building Trust and Legitimacy Within Community Corrections, the authors make a powerful case for transferring substantial numbers of incarcerated people from prisons to community corrections. Importantly, they emphasize the critical need to change the culture of probation and provide adequate resources in order for community corrections agencies to be able to adequately respond to this new challenge.” – Vincent Schiraldi, PCJ Senior Research Fellow and former New York City Probation Commissioner
  • “What the authors of this report have done is exemplify the importance of community corrections. Probation has the power to keep individuals in their community, working toward positive change and better outcomes for themselves, their families, and their communities.” - Jim Cosby, Director, National Institute of Corrections
  • "This paper creates a road map for reforming community corrections through evidence-based practices.  If we want to make our communities safer, reduce recidivism rates, and make our system more cost-effective, this is the path we have to take.” - Anne Milgram, Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, NYU School of Law

Wendy Still is Chief Probation Officer in Alameda County, California; Barbara Broderick is Chief Probation Officer in the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department; and Steven Raphael is a Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Executive Session on Community Corrections is a project of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), the Malcolm Wiener Center, and the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Findings and conclusions in these publications are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

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“In Building Trust and Legitimacy Within Community Corrections, the authors make a powerful case for transferring substantial numbers of incarcerated people from prisons to community corrections. Importantly, they emphasize the critical need to change the culture of probation and provide adequate resources in order for community corrections agencies to be able to adequately respond to this new challenge.” – Vincent Schiraldi, PCJ Senior Research Fellow and former New York City Probation Commissioner

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