Using Technology to Monitor Offenders: A Community Corrections Perspective

By DeMichele, Matthew; Payne, Brian | Corrections Today, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Using Technology to Monitor Offenders: A Community Corrections Perspective


DeMichele, Matthew, Payne, Brian, Corrections Today


Everyone involved with the criminal justice system is aware that correctional population figures have grown steadily for the past 30 years. Currently, the community corrections field monitors more than 5 million adults, and prisons and jails hold around 2.3 million adults, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports. As the country works through a major economic downturn, the community corrections field is searching for ways to improve organizational efficiency by instituting a series of systematic practices to identify optimal procedures. Referred to as evidence-based (or data-driven) practices, they encourage community corrections agencies to use social science evaluation methods to improve organizational functioning. (1) Technologies that monitor offenders have gained the attention of the community corrections field and, thus, are constantly being studied and evaluated to determine effectiveness.

Exaggerated claims and beliefs about what any particular technology can do for the monitoring process, however, have created misconceptions of monitoring strategies. (2) It is important to note that technologies used to monitor offenders in the community have both benefits and drawbacks. They are inanimate objects, machines or devices that should be understood as tools that have the potential to improve community supervision when appropriately implemented, evaluated and adjusted. However, they are not magical, they require humans to operate them and they will not solve all correctional population issues. (3)

Community corrections populations are likely to increase in the near future as states look for alternatives to prisons and jails. This movement is what Rios and Greene (4) refer to as a justice reinvestment movement in which policymakers and correctional authorities in a number of states are looking for, implementing and evaluating a "comprehensive strategy" that will use tax dollars more wisely by "investing" in effective community supervision practices. In fact, in reaction to the economic downfall, some states have called upon community corrections officials to use monitoring technologies to allow for the early release of offenders from jail or prison as a strategy to offset declining state budgets.

Understanding the Concept of Monitoring

Before anyone can say what a technology should or could do for monitoring offenders in the community, it is necessary to first understand what is meant by "monitoring." Research suggests that effective monitoring strategies should incorporate several key practices, including risk assessments, positive and negative reward structures, powerful officer-offender interactions, cognitive-behavioral treatments, vocational training and education. (5)

Indeed, many different practices are used to monitor offenders in the community, including classifying offenders by risk, needs and change levels. Once these determinations are made, officers can design a monitoring strategy that (hopefully) involves treatment, surveillance and enforcement. Paparozzi and DeMichele (2008) (6) build on prior research to offer definitions of these terms: "Treatment [utilizes] risk assessment, case supervision planning and service delivery; surveillance involves the rigorous monitoring of the case supervision plan; and enforcement requires coerced compliance with case supervision plans through a variety of mechanisms including return to jail or prison."

Paparozzi and DeMichele go further to suggest that the community corrections field occupies a unique position within the U.S. criminal justice system. While prisons and jails seem to shift between either providing treatment or providing punishment through incapacitation, community corrections agencies have always been mandated with achieving the dual role of providing mechanisms to motivate offender behavioral change as well as restrictive mechanisms that incapacitate offenders through an assortment of conditions that suspend several civil liberties. …

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