The Benefits of Accreditation for Probation and Parole Agencies
Taylor, David K., Corrections Today
Probation as a formal correctional sanction began in Boston in 1841, when a shoemaker named John Augustus offered to take an offender into his care and help him, according to the American Probation and Parole Association. Since then, probation has become the primary sanction used in the United States. The number of people under adult correctional supervision at the end of 2001 stood at 6,594,000, according to the Department of Justice. Of these offenders, 71 percent were on probation or parole. When it comes to accreditation, however, probation and parole are sorely underrepresented. The American Correctional Association publishes three manuals related to probation and parole: Adult Probation and Parole Field Services, Juvenile Probation and Aftercare Services, and Adult Parole Authorities. The most recent ACA statistics show that there are 38 agencies accredited under one of these manuals, which represents 3 percent of the agencies or facilities accredited by ACA. It is clear that probation and parole have not embraced the concept of accreditation. With thousands of probation and parole agencies in the United States, less than a fraction of a percent have chosen to undertake this process.
The value of accreditation for probation and parole has not gone unnoticed in correctional literature. In 1983, Robert Fosen identified in his Perspectives article, "Accreditation: A Vehicle for Professionalism in Probation and Parole Field Services," the value of accreditation standards as "important progress toward the completion of a professional knowledge base for probation and parole." A decade later, James Dare identified the numerous benefits of accreditation for probation and parole in his Corrections Today article. "Accreditation in Probation Services: Looking Beyond the Basic Benefits," concluding that "courts, politicians, community leaders and corrections professionals can't afford not to have their probation departments involved in the accreditation process." Another decade has passed and little has changed.
The Standards for Adult Probation and Parole Field Services, Fourth Edition, contains 228 standards broken down into three general areas: administration and management (126 standards), supervision (85 standards), and presentence investigation and report (17 standards). The first section addresses a variety of areas, including hiring, employment qualifications, fiscal management, staff training, case records, information systems and research, and citizen/volunteer involvement. This section also contains four mandatory standards relating to firearms. Part 2 covers all aspects of supervision, from initial sign-on to termination, and includes standards on offender assessment, arrest and revocation, absconders and interstate compact. Some standards in this section apply to probation and parole agencies--some to probation only and some to parole only. The final section discusses presentence investigations and specifies the need for innovative alternatives and supervisory review. Not all standards will be applicable to all agencies, as the function of agencies can differ.
Probation and parole agencies express various reasons for not pursuing accreditation:
Accreditation is too expensive. Although it is true that accreditation is not an inexpensive process, it is workable in most agency budgets. The accreditation fee is necessary to cover the cost of the audit and the panel hearing, during which formal accreditation is awarded.
Accreditation is too intrusive. Many agencies are under the impression that accreditation dictates how an agency conducts business and that they lose control of their operations. ACA standards are broad and do not attempt to dictate an agency's day-to-day operations. An agency is required, for example, to assess offender risk to determine supervision levels and to review those levels periodically. …