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December 2016 15

An Examination of the Impact of

Criminological Theory on Community
Corrections Practice

James Byrne
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Don Hummer
Penn State Harrisburg

CRIMINOLOGICAL THEORIES ABOUT parole officers in terms of practical advice; to other community corrections programs are to
why people commit crime are used—and mis- the contrary, we think a discussion of “cause” is be successful as “people changing” agencies.
used—every day by legislative policy makers critical to the ongoing debate over the appro- But can we reasonably expect such diversity
and community corrections managers when priate use of community-based sanctions, and flexibility from community corrections
they develop new initiatives, sanctions, and and the development of effective community agencies, or is it more likely that one theory—
programs; and these theories are also being corrections policies, practices, and programs. or group of theories—will be the dominant
applied—and misapplied—by line commu­ However, the degree of uncertainty on the influence on community corrections practice?
nity corrections officers in the workplace as cause—or causes—of our crime problem in Based on recent reviews of United States cor­
they classify, supervise, counsel, and con­ the academic community suggests that a rections history, we suspect that one group of
trol offenders placed on their caseloads. The certain degree of skepticism is certainly in theories—supported by a dominant political
purpose of this article is to provide a brief order when “new” crime control strategies are ideology—will continue to dominate until
overview of the major theories of crime causa­ introduced. We need to look carefully at the the challenges to its efficacy move the field—
tion and then to consider the implications of theory of crime causation on which these new both ideologically and theoretically—in a new
these criminological theories for current and initiatives are based. It is our view that since direction. We may—or may not—be at such a
future community corrections practice. Four each group of theories we describe is appli- watershed point in the United States today. See
distinct groups of theories will be examined: cable to at least some of the offenders under Table 1 below.
classical theories, biological theories, psy­ correctional control in this country, interven­
chological theories, and sociological theories tion strategies will need to be both crime- and 1. Classical Criminology
of crime causation. While the underlying offender-specific, if probation, parole, and Why do people decide to break the law?
assumptions of classical criminology have
been used to justify a wide range of sentencing
and corrections policies and practices over the TABLE 1.

past several decades, it is also possible to iden­ An Overview of Criminological Theories

tify the influence of other theories of crime Classically-based criminologists explain criminal behavior as a conscious choice by individuals
causation on corrections policies and practices based on an assessment of the costs and benefits of various forms of criminal activity.
during this same period. As we examine each Biologically-based criminologists explain criminal behavior as determined—in part—by the

group of theories, we consider how—and presence of certain inherited traits that may increase the likelihood of criminal behavior.

why—the basic functions of probation and

Psychologically-based criminologists explain criminal behavior as the consequence of individual
parole officers change based on the theory of factors, such as negative early childhood experiences and inadequate socialization, that result in
crime causation under review. criminal thinking patterns and/or incomplete cognitive development.
When considering the link between theory
Sociologically-based criminologists explain criminal behavior as primarily influenced by a
and practice, it is important to remember the variety of community-level factors that appear to be related—both directly and indirectly—to
following basic truth: Criminologists disagree the high level of crime in some of our (often poorest) communities, including blocked legitimate
about both the causes and solutions to our opportunity, the existence of subcultural values that support criminal behavior, a breakdown of
crime problem. This does not mean that crim­ community-level informal social controls, and an unjust system of criminal laws and criminal
inologists have little to offer to probation and justice.
16 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 80 Number 3

To a classical criminologist, the answer is be linked to tougher sentencing policies, while sex offenders, based on the belief that if these
simple: The benefits of law breaking (such as three quarters of the decline have been attrib­ offenders know they are being monitored,
money, property, revenge, and status) simply uted to other factors (such as the economy, they will be less likely to re-offend. The use
outweigh the potential costs/consequences of education, and immigration). of electronic monitoring for sex offenders,
getting caught and convicted. When viewed A careful review of the evaluation research domestic violence offenders, and others on
from a classical perspective, we are all capable on the latest wave of deterrence-oriented probation and parole has been justified using
of committing crime in a given situation, but community-based sanctions does not support similar logic. However, the research reviews
we make a rational decision (to act or desist) the notion that increased surveillance and on the effectiveness of electronic monitoring
based on our analysis of the costs and benefits control reduces recidivism (that is, an offend­ do not support this strategy (Byrne, 2016).
of the action. If this is true, then it is certainly er’s likelihood of rearrest, reconviction, and/ A good example of how classical crimi­
possible to deter a potential offender by (1) or re-incarceration). There are two possible nology can be applied in the community
developing a system of “sentencing” in which explanations for these findings: (1) the under­ corrections field is found in David Farabee’s
the punishment outweighs the (benefit of the) lying assumptions of classical criminologists monograph, Reexamining Rehabilitation. In
crime, and (2) ensuring both punishment (i.e., most people are rational, and weigh this review, Farabee offered several recom­
certainty and celerity through efficient police the costs and benefits of various acts in the mendations for corrections reform that focus
and court administration. “Classical” theories same manner) are wrong (e.g., people com­ on deterrence-based intervention strategies.
of criminal behavior are appealing to criminal mit crimes for emotional reasons, because of He argued that since his review of the avail­
justice policy makers, because they are based mental illness, and/or because they believe the able research reveals that a prison sentence
on the premise that the key to solving the criminal act is justified, given circumstances does not either deter or rehabilitate offenders,
crime problem is to have a strong system of and prevailing community values); or (2) the we need to reconsider our current reliance
formal social control. In other words, the clas­ current sentencing strategies and community on this sentencing strategy. While the use of
sical theorist believes that the system can make corrections programs need to be even tougher incarceration can be justified for those vio­
a difference, regardless of the myriad of indi­ and deterrence-oriented (in other words, the lent offenders who require control through
vidual and social ills that exist. During the past theory is correct; it just has not been imple­ incapacitation, it cannot be justified using
four decades, a number of federal, state, and mented correctly). the logic of offender change (through deter­
local programs have been initiated to improve In the short run, it appears that policy mak­ rence or rehabilitation). Because prison does
the deterrent capacity of the criminal justice ers and program developers favor the latter not appear to deter non-violent offenders, he
system, including proactive police strategies explanation; prison populations and incarcer­ believes that we need to experiment with the
to ensure greater certainty of apprehension, ation rates in the United States remain among use of deterrence-based community-supervi­
priority prosecution/speedy trial strategies the highest in the world (Byrne, Pattavina, & sion strategies, not only as a sentencing option
to ensure greater celerity (speed) in the court Taxman, 2015), while community corrections but also as a response to offenders who refuse
process, and determinate/mandatory sentenc­ populations and probation rates also remain to comply with the conditions of community
ing strategies to ensure greater punishment high, and continue to use multiple condi­ supervision. The key features of Farabee’s
certainty and severity. To further our deter­ tions that emphasize surveillance and control model are highlighted below in Table 2.
rent aims, we have significantly increased our (through drug testing, electronic monitoring, Perhaps the most intriguing component
institutional capacity during this same period curfews, and now social media monitoring). of the above strategy is the recommendation
and passed legislation that includes manda­ For example, in the name of deterrence, that offenders under community supervision
tory minimum periods of incarceration for legislation has been passed in several states should be closely supervised in order to detect
drug-related crimes, while simultaneously allowing the lifetime supervision of paroled violations of the conditions of community
developing a series of surveillance-oriented
intermediate sanctions (e.g., intensive proba­
tion supervision, electronic monitoring/house TABLE 2.

arrest) for a subgroup of the offenders under David Farabee’s Model of Corrections

community supervision. Recommendation 1: “De-emphasize prison as a sanction for nonviolent offenses and increase
It is apparent from these initiatives that clas­ the use of intermediate sanctions...Furthermore, minor parole violations....should be punished
sical assumptions about crime causation are by using a graduated set of intermediate sanctions, rather than returning the offender to prison”
still being used as the basis for current crime (p 63).
control strategies. Some have argued that our Recommendation 2: “Use prison programs to serve as institutional management tools, not as
four-decade-long emphasis on “deterrence­ instruments of rehabilitation” (64).
based” crime control policies has resulted in
Recommendation 3: “Mandate experimental designs for all program evaluations” (66).
safer communities; in fact, by most standard
measures (crime rates, victimization rates) we Recommendation 4: “Establish evaluation contracts with independent agencies” (67).
have less crime and less violence today than
Recommendation 5: “Increase the use of indeterminate community supervision, requiring three
at any point since the early 1970s. However,
consecutive years without a new offense or violation” (68).
there is disagreement among academics on
the source of this decline (see Byrne, 2013 for Recommendation 6: “Reduce parole caseloads to fifteen to one, and increase the use of new
tracking technologies” (71).
an overview), with most experts estimating
that about a quarter of the crime decline can Source: Farabee (2005)

TABLE 3. with Enforcement (HOPE)—did not find

Classical Theory and Community Corrections Practice evidence to support these initial claims, and
the future of HOPE-based community correc­
Theoretical Assumptions Intervention Strategy Examples of Programs/Strategies tions initiatives is a matter of debate (Nagan,
Individuals are rational and General and Specific Mandatory Sentencing and 2016; Lattimore et al., 2016; Cullen & Pratt,
weigh the costs and benefits Deterrence Sentencing Guideline Schemes 2016). See Table 3.
of their actions similarly
Individuals will be deterred Establish clear links The use of either judicially 2. Biological Criminology
from committing criminal between illegal behavior imposed or administratively Criminologists who focus on biological expla­
acts if the costs of the illegal and consequences, imposed special conditions nations for criminal behavior do not share the
activity outweigh the benefit utilizing sanctions that of Probation and Parole same perspective on behavior (and motiva­
of the activity in the mind of include loss of freedom, Supervision
the potential offenders loss of rights and tion) as classical criminologists. The basic
privileges, drug testing, assumption of early biological criminolo­
and/or mandatory work, gists, such as the Italian criminologist Cesare
community service, Lombroso (1835-1909), was that crime was
fines, and treatment determined by an individual’s biological make-
There are three components Community corrections Day Reporting Centers up, i.e.,that some persons were born criminals
of the deterrence calculus personnel will monitor who could not control their actions. It is
(1) certainty of detection and compliance with important to keep in mind that Lombroso did
apprehension, (2) speed/ conditions of supervision Intensive Supervision Programs
not argue that all crime could be explained by
celerity of the criminal and respond quickly
justice system’s sanction, and and consistently to any biological factors. He estimated that offenders
Electronic Monitoring/ Home
(3) severity of the sanction detected violations, Confinement Programs with atavistic tendencies (i.e., throwbacks to
imposed for each prohibited utilizing a structured earlier more primitive man) were respon­
act hierarchy of sanctions sible for about a third of all crime. Although
linked to the seriousness HOPE probation initiatives
Lombroso’s research on the physical charac­
of the violation(s).
teristics of offenders was dismissed due to
its poor quality, most reviews of the available
supervision, such as curfews and prohibi­ potential users a simple choice: abstain from research have concluded that we simply have
tions on drug and alcohol use. If a violation drug use today and remain in the community, not yet studied the biology-crime connection
is detected, the three-year supervision “clock” or use drugs today and get locked up. They in sufficient detail to make any definitive
is pushed back to zero, which means that for argued that most probationers will quickly statements about the efficacy of the theory
some noncompliant offenders community comply, resulting in less overall jail time for itself. Interestingly, there has been a recent
supervision will result in several additional program participants and the need for treat- resurgence of interest in a range of biological
years under the watchful eyes of community ment in only a small percentage (1 in 5) of factors, including genetics and biochemical
corrections officers. David Farabee has sug­ all cases, due to continued drug test failures. and neurophysiological factors (e.g., diet, food
gested that the deterrence “tipping point” is The argument was that for most probationers, allergies, EEG abnormalities). Perhaps the
likely found when the odds of detection (of addiction was actually a choice, not a dis- most compelling argument in support of bio­
criminal acts or rule violation) are about one ease. The initial findings from the evaluation criminology was offered 30 years ago by James
in three (Farabee, 2005). To achieve this level of Hawaii’s HOPE program were impres- Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein. After
of monitoring, he argues for the hiring of sive, with significant reductions in drug use, reviewing all the available research on biol-
additional community corrections personnel recidivism, and jail time reported. However, ogy and crime, these two authors argued that
to allow smaller caseloads (15 to 1) and mul­ the follow-up multi-site replication study of at least one type of crime—predatory street
tiple conditions of compliance monitoring. this program—Honest Opportunity Probation crime—could be explained by “showing how
A more recent example of a deterrence-
based community corrections initiative is TABLE 4.

Hawaii’s HOPE program, which was designed Biological Criminology and Community Corrections Practice

to ensure certainty of punishment for offend­

ers who did not follow the rules of probation, Theoretical Assumptions Intervention Strategy Examples of Programs/Strategies
in particular the prohibition on continued Strategies designed to (1) The use of specialized
Some individuals have
substance abuse. The assumption of pro­ genetically-linked identify offenders with community supervision
gram developers was that on a day-to-day characteristics (such as low biological characteristics caseloads utilizing treatment
basis, addiction was a choice, and offenders IQ, learning disabilities, that increase their risk of and control strategies for sex
needed to know that the consequence of high serotonin levels, criminal behavior and offenders and for violent/
underdeveloped autonomic (2) provide individual assaultive offenders.
choosing to do drugs would be a short period treatment to address
nervous systems) that
of incarceration (Kleiman, 2016). To detect predispose them to criminal the problem identified
drug use, probationers were subject to fre­ behavior. through drug treatment
quent, random drug tests. Program developers and other behavioral
argued that increasing certainty would offer interventions.
18 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 80 Number 3

human nature develops from the interplay both short and long-term individual and fam­ to 10 percent of the probation population
of psychological, biological, and social fac­ ily counseling by trained therapists. Probation has absconded, while another 15 percent had
tors” (1986: 1). There certainly appears to be and parole officers could either be hired with their probation revoked for failure to com­
an emerging body of research examining the the necessary qualifications (e.g., a Master’s ply with the conditions of probation release.
linkage of biology, environment, and various degree in Psychology or Social Work) or the Comparable patterns of failure are found
form of criminal behavior (see Pratt et al., agency could refer offenders to existing com­ among parolees, suggesting that we need to
2016; Portnoy et al., 2014). munity treatment resources. To the extent rethink our current approach to offender con­
What are the implications of bio-crim­ that early identification of “pre-delinquents” trol in community settings.
inological theory for probation and parole is also recommended by advocates of the psy­ One strategy advocated by a number of
practice? This is a difficult question to answer. choanalytic perspective, (juvenile) probation corrections experts is simply to set fewer con­
No estimates are available on the size of the and parole officers would need to develop ditions, but to enforce those conditions we do
current offender population that is affected, collaborative agreements with local school set (Jacobson, 2005). Others have argued that
either directly or indirectly, by these biological boards regarding a comprehensive screening it is not the number, but the type, of conditions
factors, but it seems safe to predict that before protocol and the development of appropri­ that should be carefully examined. For exam­
probation and parole agencies could address ate early childhood intervention strategies. ple, should we mandate weekly drug testing
the needs of these offenders, money for treat­ Because of limited community corrections for probationers and parolees with admitted
ment would have to be found. Individual resources, we do not anticipate community substance abuse problems, even when the
treatment plans would vary by the type of corrections agencies focusing much attention agency lacks the necessary resources to place
problem identified. It also seems likely that a on pre-delinquents in the coming decade, but these same offenders in an appropriate treat­
policy of selective incapacitation would be dis­ given the current fascination with predic­ ment program? Answers to questions such
cussed as a means to “control” the treatment tive analytics, it is not out of the question. as this are critical to the success of probation
failures that inevitably would emerge from Nonetheless, the influence of psychoanalytic and parole strategies based on the two basic
these community-based programs. theory is substantial, since a wide range of assumptions of social learning theory:
treatment models are based (in whole or part) ●● People will repeat behavior when it is grati­

3. Psychological Criminology on these theoretical assumptions (e.g., indi­ fying, that is, when it is rewarded.
The field of psychology has influenced com­ vidual therapy, group therapy, reality therapy, ●● Punishment is immediately effective only

munity corrections in a number of important guided group interaction). for as long as it lasts and cannot be avoided.
areas: (1) the classification of offenders’ risk It will not extinguish unacceptable behav­
and needs; (2) the development of case man­ B. Social Learning Theories ior—unless some optional behavior is
agement plans and offender supervision Adherents of social learning theory make a found that is as rewarding to the person as
strategies; (3) the techniques used to inter­ common-sense claim: Behavior is learned was the original behavior.
view, assess, and counsel offenders; and (4) when it is reinforced, and not learned when It appears to us that probation and parole
the strategies used to foster compliance with it is not reinforced. Building on this basic officers spend too much time telling offend­
the basic rules of community supervision. premise, many residential juvenile treatment ers what to do and too little time explaining
Because of their focus on individual problems, programs include “token economies,” which why they should behave in a certain way.
it is the psychological theories of criminal reward juveniles for adherence to program Borrowing for a moment from the title of
behavior that have had the most direct influ­ rules, utilizing positive reinforcement tech­ criminologist Jack Katz’s recent book, we need
ence on probation and parole practice in this niques to help juveniles learn appropriate to offer offenders a reasonable alternative to
country. Much of what currently passes as behavior. Similarly, probation and parole offi­ the “seductions of crime,” because—if social
“rehabilitation” in the field of community- cers establish conditions of supervision that learning theorists are correct—punishment
based corrections is taken from one or more represent a “behavioral contract” between alone will simply not work. Similarly, a strat­
of the following four groups of psychological the probation officer and the offender. If an egy of drug control based on the slogan “Just
theories. offender adheres to the contract for a set say no—or else!” fails to recognize that people
period of time, he or she is rewarded by a get high on drugs because they like the expe­
A. Psychoanalytic Theory relaxation of supervision standards (such as rience. A social learning theorist would argue
Psychoanalytic theorists, such as Sigmund downgrading an offender’s risk classification that we need to replace the positive feelings an
Freud (1856-1939), explain criminal behavior level, requiring fewer meetings with the P.O., offender gets from doing drugs (and crime)
as follows: no curfew, no drug testing). with some other positive experience, such as
The actions and behavior of an adult The problem with such behavioral con­ involvement in the arts, music, and/or other
are understood in terms of childhood tracting in probation and parole is that judges, leisure activities, including sports. Strategies
development. parole boards, and probation and parole offi­ designed to facilitate positive lifestyle change
Behavior and unconscious motives are cers simply set too many conditions and then among offenders under community control
intertwined, and the interaction must be do not uniformly enforce them; inevitably, have been reviewed by the United Kingdom’s
unraveled if we are to understand criminality. this leads to high levels of noncompliance by National Offender Management Service, with
Criminality is essentially a representation probationers and parolees. For example, sur­ mixed results reported (Byrne & Shultz, 2014).
of psychological conflict (Adler, Mueller, & veys of absconding levels (i.e., offenders who
Laufer, 2013). Advocates of psychoanalytic fail to report and/or leave the area without C. Cognitive Development Theories
explanations would emphasize the need for permission) reveal that, at any one time, up A third group of psychological theories

—cognitive development theories—has also TABLE 5.

been used to explain criminal behavior, and Psychological Criminology and Community Corrections Practice

a wide range of offender treatment pro­

grams have been implemented in recent years Theoretical Assumptions Intervention Strategy Examples of Programs/Strategies
based on this group of theories (MacKenzie, (1) Psychoanalytic theories (1) The use of either (1) Individual counseling
2006). Cognitive development theories, ini­ assume that negative early mandatory or voluntary strategies using both community
tially developed by the Swiss psychologist childhood experiences may individual treatment as a corrections personnel and local
Jean Piaget and then refined by Lawrence increase the probability of condition of supervision. referrals to local counselors,
criminal behavior. psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Kohlberg and his colleagues, essentially argue
that offenders have failed to develop their (2) Social Learning theories (2) The use of conditions (2) Residential community
moral judgment capacity beyond the precon­ focus on the ways in which that restrict who an corrections programs often
ventional level. Kohlberg found that moral behavior is learned and offender can interact use token economies to
reinforced. with and where he or reinforce positive behavior,
reasoning (i.e., our capacity “to do the right she can live, work, or while behavioral contracting
thing”) develops in three stages: visit; the application of has become standard practice
behavior modification in many state community
. . . in stage one, the preconventional techniques. corrections systems, including
California and Arizona.
stage, children (age 9-11) think, “If I
steal, what are my chances of getting (3) Cognitive Development (3) Regular meetings (3) Many drug treatment
caught and punished?” Stage two is theories link criminal between offenders and programs utilize the basic
the conventional level, when adoles­ behavior to a failure to move community corrections tenets of cognitive development
from the pre-conventional officers, focusing on theory, making it the most
cents think “It is illegal to steal and
to the conventional and morality, fairness, and popular group treatment strategy
therefore I should not steal, under any post-conventional stages of related issues; the referral currently being employed in this
circumstances.” Stage three is the post- cognitive development. of offenders—including country.
conventional level (adults over 20 years drug, violent, and sex
old), when individuals critically exam­ offenders—to group
treatment strategies
ine customs and social rules according
based on this theory.
to their own sense of universal human
rights, moral principles, and duties (4) Criminal personality (4) Classification (4) Taxman’s Proactive
(Adler, Mueller, & Laufer, 2004: 87). theories assume that of offenders with Community Supervision Strategy
offenders have developed criminal personality targets offenders’ criminal
criminal thinking patterns traits, followed by thinking; it has been used in
Is it possible to improve the moral judg­ that are distinct from those placement in specialized Maryland, Minnesota, and
ments of offenders by utilizing probation of non-offenders. supervision caseloads several other state community
and parole officers as role models? Kohlberg corrections systems.
observed that we learn morality from those
we interact with on a regular basis—our fam­ D. Criminality Personality “condition” than others. Since we “develop a
ily, friends, and others in the community. It The final group of psychological theories conscience through conditioning,” it is not
certainly makes sense that moral development focuses on the potential link between per­ surprising that antisocial behavior is more
could be improved by increased contacts sonality and criminality. Although there is likely when this process breaks down for some
between POs and offenders, especially if the currently much debate on whether personal­ reason (Eysenck, 1987).
focus of these sessions was on morality (e.g., ity characteristics play a significant role in If a criminal personality (or identifiable
justice, fairness), rather than the typical ritu­ determining subsequent criminal behavior, criminal thinking pattern) does exist, what—if
alism of most office visits. In Massachusetts, a number of prominent criminologists have anything—can probation and parole officers
the probation department sponsored a series argued that “the root causes of crime are do about the problem? The answer may be
of violence prevention workshops utilizing not…social issues [high unemployment, bad that it depends on exactly how the problem
the basic principles described by Kohlberg schools] but deeply ingrained features of the is defined. For example, it has been esti­
and his associates. Initial research reveals human personality and its early experiences. mated that a significant proportion (over
“significant increases in moral development” Low intelligence, an impulsive personality, 20 percent in some studies) of the current
when these types of programs are initiated and a lack of empathy for other people are state correctional population in this country
(Guarino-Ghezzi & Trevino, 2014). In addi­ among the leading individual characteristics could be classified as psychopaths, with the
tion, a variety of treatment programs for of people at risk for becoming offenders” exact estimate depending on exactly how this
drug-involved offenders has been developed, (Wilson, 2007: v). Hans Eysenck has com­ term is defined. According to a recent review
implemented, and evaluated. In terms of pleted numerous studies on the impact of by Caspi, Moffit, Silva, Stouthamer-Loeber,
“what works” with drug-involved offenders, personality characteristics on criminality. Krueger and Schmutte (2006:82), “Across
treatment programs based on this theory are He theorizes that criminal behavior may be different samples and different methods, our
among the most effective in the field, accord­ a function of both personality differences studies of personality and crime suggest that
ing to the most recent evidence-based reviews (i.e., offenders are more likely to be neurotic crime-proneness is defined both by high nega­
(see, e.g., Taxman & Pattavina, 2014). and extroverted) and conditioning, in that tive emotionality and by low constraint.” This
some individuals are simply more difficult to certainly sounds like the criminal personality
20 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 80 Number 3

described earlier. No reliable estimates are social problems. In the following section, we and “status” in a very different manner. These
available on the extent of this problem among highlight the emerging role of probation and individuals gained status and self-esteem by
the seven million plus offenders under some parole officers as advocates for community engaging in crime and emphasizing (anti­
form of correctional control today, but it is a change (and control) based on five differ­ social, hedonistic) behavior that directly
safe bet that community corrections personnel ent types of sociological theories of criminal challenged existing norms. Since it is the sub­
simply would not have the experience, train­ behavior: strain theories, subcultural theories, group of “delinquent boys” that is most likely
ing, and/or resources necessary to address a social ecological theories, control theories, to become adult criminals, it certainly makes
problem of this magnitude. and societal reaction theories. sense to develop intervention strategies aimed
Since “criminal personality” theory is based at changing the social conditions that spawn
on the assumption that offenders have errone­ A. Strain Theories delinquent subcultures.
ous thinking patterns, it seems certain that The first group of sociological theories we Building on Cohen’s theory, criminolo­
intensive individual therapy would be required will discuss are called strain theories. These gists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin have
to address this problem. Based on this theory, theories may focus on different aspects of theorized that different types of subcultures
a range of correctional interventions involv­ criminal behavior (e.g., juvenile crime, gang emerge because there is differential access to
ing direct confrontation of thinking errors formation, specific offender types), but they both legitimate and illegitimate opportuni­
and behavior modification techniques can share one common assumption: Some (other­ ties in these lower-class communities. Stable
be envisioned. Ironically, the recent wave wise moral) people are driven to crime out of lower-class neighborhoods are characterized
of intermediate sanctions—house arrest/elec­ the frustration (and illegitimate opportunity by a clearly defined criminal subculture, where
tronic monitoring, boot camps, residential structure) associated with living in lower- criminal values are easily learned, criminal
community corrections, intensive supervi­ class communities. From a strain perspective role models are visible, and a structure exists
sion—offered (in theory) exactly the intense, an individual initially attempts to achieve to support various criminal activities. In tran­
close contact that would be a prerequisite for “success” by acceptable means (e.g., educa­ sitional neighborhoods, people are constantly
effective treatment of this type of offender. tion, employment) but he or she quickly moving in and/or moving out; as a result,
However, program developers have generally realizes that these legitimate avenues are individuals face blocked access to both legiti­
downplayed the role of treatment in these blocked in lower-class communities. Blocked mate and illegitimate opportunities. In these
programs, focusing instead on the programs’ access to legitimate avenues of success may neighborhoods, status is gained through the
punishment and control components. This come in a variety of general forms, includ­ use of violence in “conflict”-oriented subcul­
“non-treatment” strategy is not consistent with ing under-funded school systems and high tures. Cloward and Ohlin also identify a third
the recommendations of psychologists and unemployment rates, as well as in such specific type of subculture, the retreatist subculture,
psychiatrists who study the personality char­ policies as (1) tracking in high schools, (2) which includes the “double failures” who were
acteristics of offenders. Since we know from the misdiagnosis of juveniles with learning denied access to both the criminal and conflict
several well-designed research studies that disabilities as “behavior” problems, and/or subcultures. “Retreatists” often abuse drugs
the surveillance-driven “get-tough” commu­ (3) the labeling of students based on decid­ and/or alcohol in order to relieve the frustra­
nity corrections programs (IPS, house arrest, edly middle-class definitions (i.e., utilizing tion they feel because of blocked legitimate
electronic monitoring, boot camps) have been middle class measuring rods) of appropriate and illegitimate opportunities.
found to be ineffective, perhaps we need group behavior. Cohen believed that because What are the social and correctional policy
to design community corrections strategies of the prior socialization of urban youth, they implications of strain theories? If Cohen is
and programs that provide both control and enter our educational system at a distinct correct, we had a gang problem in the mid­
treatment, targeting offenders with criminal disadvantage. 1950s for the same basic reason we have a gang
thinking patterns (Taxman et al., 2005). According to Albert Cohen, juveniles from problem today in our urban centers: Our inner-
lower-class areas respond to the strain in one city educational system is too “middle class“ to
4. Sociological Criminology of three ways: (1) by adopting a “college boy” handle the unique problems of urban youth.
In general, sociologists explain criminal role, which entails continued attempts to Evidence supporting Cohen’s critique of urban
behavior not by focusing on individual (bio­ achieve success through legitimate avenues, education is not difficult to find. When more
logical, psychological) differences between such as school; (2) by adopting a “corner than 40 percent of the high school age students
offenders and non-offenders, but rather by boy” role, which results in lowered expecta­ in the Boston, Massachusetts, public school
viewing criminal behavior in its broader social tions (and aspirations) for success; or (3) by system drop out of school without graduating,
context. By emphasizing the importance of adopting the “delinquent boy” role, which something is fundamentally wrong. Sadly, this
social environmental factors—such as pov­ enables youths to redefine “success” in a is not an isolated example; Boston’s drop-out
erty, social disorganization, cultural deviance, way that will relieve their status frustration. rate is on par with those of other urban areas
and a breakdown of informal social con- Cohen observed that individuals who adopt across the country. Proposals consistent with
trols—these criminological theorists directly a “corner boy” role would become involved in Cohen’s view include (1) the education, train­
challenge the basic underlying assumption of marginal forms of crime and deviance (e.g., ing, and hiring of a significant number of
traditional correctional interventions: that we drunkenness, drug use), but they would not minority teachers, (2) the discontinuation of
can change the offender without changing the pose a major threat to community residents. ability-based tracking programs, (3) increased
social context of crime. If this group of crimi­ However, “delinquent boys” responded to funding for the early assessment and treat­
nologists is correct, we will never reduce crime blocked educational opportunity by forming ment of learning disabilities, (4) expansion of
in our country until we first address these a subculture (or gang) that defined “success” preschool (Headstart) programs, and (5) the

development of a full range of alternative edu­ The theory of differential associa­ and McKay, social disorganization occurred
cation programs to meet the diverse needs of tion states that crime is learned through in periods of change, due to such factors as
inner-city students. social interaction. People come into increased immigration, urbanization, and/or
In addition to education reform, Cloward constant contact with “definitions industrialization. Communities characterized
and Ohlin have advocated a number of poli­ favorable to violations of law” and “defi­ by social disorganization typically had high
cies focusing on improving job opportunities nitions unfavorable to violations of law.” rates of crime and delinquency, owing in large
for at-risk youth (and young adults) from The ratio of these definitions—criminal part to a breakdown in the community’s infor­
lower-class areas. In fact, a number of the to noncriminal—determines whether a mal social control system (i.e., family, peers,
federal anti-poverty programs originally person will engage in criminal behavior. and neighbors).
proposed by President Kennedy and then The solution to the problem of a disor­
funded through President Johnson’s “War on If Sutherland is correct, then the use of ganized community is reorganization, but
Poverty” initiatives (e.g., the Job Corp and short and long periods of incarceration may how and where do we begin? In a seminal
other employment/training programs) have actually promote subsequent criminal behav­ article, “The Community Context of Violent
been linked directly to the positive reaction ior, since incarcerated offenders are rarely Victimization and Offending,” Harvard
by Congress to Cloward and Ohlin’s proposals placed in treatment programs (such as thera­ University criminologist Robert Sampson
(Huang & Vikse, 2014). peutic communities) designed to offset the argues that:
Although strain theorists focus on the need negative effects of a group of criminals living
for changes in opportunity structure (jobs, together and thus acting as “schools for crime.” there are . . . policy manipulable
education) of the lower-class community, it Similarly, community supervision strategies options that may help reverse the tide
can certainly be argued that probation and that ignore the prevailing attitudes of family of community social disintegration.
parole officers still need to work with indi­ members, peer group members, and commu­ Among others, these might include (1)
vidual offenders in the areas of education and nity residents toward crime and violence will residential management of public hous­
employment. But we need to emphasize that also be ineffective. Whether the offender is ing (to increase stability), (2) tenant
from a strain perspective, it is not enough that locked up or placed under community super­ buy-outs (to increase home ownership
POs set and monitor conditions of supervision vision, what is needed is the presentation of and commitment to locale), (3) reha­
requiring offenders to “stay in school” or “get an “alternative world view” that underscores bilitation of existing low income housing
a job.” Probation and parole officers would the advantages of conformity. Institutional (to preserve area stability, especially
need to act as advocates for change in both treatment programs have been developed single-family homes), (4) disbursement
the educational and employment opportunity for juvenile and adult offenders along these of public housing (versus concentra­
structure in their communities. lines, utilizing guided group interaction (GGI) tion), and (5) strict code enforcement (to
techniques. The problem with this strategy is fight deterioration). (Sampson, 1993)
B. Subcultural and Differential that the “group support” disappears when the
Association Theories offender graduates from the program. While As we discussed earlier in our analysis of
Subcultural (or cultural conflict) theorists examples of community support groups can strain theory and probation and parole prac­
argue that crime is not a function of oppor­ be provided (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, tice, there is a dual role for POs working in
tunity; it is a function of values. Although Narcotics Anonymous), it is obvious that we disorganized, lower class communities. On
they agree with strain theorists on the relation have done a poor job of providing (both indi­ the one hand, these agencies would need to
between class and crime, they take the view vidual and group-level) positive role models take an advocacy role regarding community
that individuals who live in lower-class com­ in lower-class communities. Probation and reorganization efforts; but at the same time,
munities have been exposed to a different set parole officers may be able to begin to address line probation and parole officers would also
of values than individuals from more afflu­ the problem by becoming more visible in need to develop specific, short-term strategies
ent areas (see, e.g., Elijah Anderson’s Code of the communities where they work, perhaps for supervising the probationers and parolees
the Street). These values include the notion utilizing the basic strategy of the community who live in these communities. One strategy
that criminal behavior is indeed acceptable police officer. But visibility in targeted neigh­ would be to place a priority on field visits
behavior in certain circumstances. If subcul­ borhoods is only one step in the direction by POs, and to coordinate various offender
tural criminologists such as Walter Miller and supported by subcultural theorists. Probation control strategies (such as curfews) with local
Marvin Wolfgang are correct, then neither and parole officers would need to embrace neighborhood (block watch) groups. It would
educational reform nor increased job oppor­ a mentoring role with the offenders on their also be necessary to consider the use of special
tunity will substantially reduce the problem caseloads. conditions to keep probationers and parolees
of crime and violence in urban areas. What is out of certain neighborhood areas (or estab­
needed is a fundamental change in the basic C. Social Ecological Theories lishments) known to police as the “hot spots”
values of the entire lower-class community. A third group of sociological theories of of crime (and victimization). In a series of
But how can we change the values of crime causation emphasize the negative con­ federal and state court decisions, the court has
an entire community? According to Edwin sequences of community characteristics on upheld the constitutionality of such conditions
Sutherland, the key to understanding crimi­ the behavior of community residents. Clifford as long as they can be reasonably linked to the
nality is to recognize how values supporting Shaw and Henry McKay, for example, examined goal of rehabilitation.
criminal behavior are defined and transmitted the effect of community social disorganization When viewed from a social ecological
from “one generation to the next”: on juvenile misbehavior. According to Shaw perspective, the need for planned community
22 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 80 Number 3

reorganization is obvious. In fact, Shaw and attachment to family may be improved by occurs, the PO is acting as an agent of formal
McKay responded to this need by developing utilizing a combination of treatment (e.g., and informal social control. After evaluating
the Chicago Area Project in 1934, and simi­ family therapy) and control (e.g., curfews, the impact of the Massachusetts Intensive
lar community change efforts have emerged house arrest, electronic monitoring) strate­ Probation Supervision (IPS) Program, Byrne
in other poor, urban areas since that time. gies, it makes sense to use probation and and Kelly concluded:
While it is difficult to assess the impact of parole conditions to focus on this problem.
these attempts at community reorganization, Unfortunately, keeping an adult offender at . . . the relationship that develops
our view is that it doesn’t make much sense home at night may simply move the location between PO’s and offenders during the
to attempt to change offenders without also of certain forms of criminal behavior, such as intensive supervision process may . . .
addressing the “community context” of their assault and substance abuse, from the com­ act as a powerful, informal deterrent to
behavior. Probation and parole officers can munity to the home. future criminal activity. (Byrne & Kelly,
help organize local residents in this type of Hirschi has also emphasized the impor­ 1989)
effort, while also developing offender-specific tance of the school, focusing on attachment
(and area-specific) supervision strategies. The to teachers, commitment to education, and The results of the Massachusetts IPS
negative consequences of continued residence involvement in school-related activities: evaluation underscore the need for a strong
in socially disorganized communities would “attachment to school depends on one’s appre­ probation and parole presence in the lives of
not be eliminated by such activities, but the ciation for the institution, one’s perception offenders. When probation and parole offi­
overall risk of recidivism might be reduced to of how he or she is received by teachers cers are involved in the lives of offenders—by
some extent. and peers, and how well one does in class” monitoring individual and family treatment,
(Hirschi, 1967). In this context, it would by assisting in employment searches, by dis­
D. Control Theories appear to be futile to simply require that a cussing key “life course” events (e.g., marriage,
A somewhat different view of crime causa­ young offender “go to school” as a condi­ family, friends, jobs)—they generally respond
tion is offered by social control theorists tion of probation/parole, particularly if the by committing fewer crimes. If social control
(Gottfredson & Hirshi, 1990; Hirschi, 1969). offender has a history of failure in school. theorists are correct, criminal justice policy
Control theorists do not attempt to explain The development of specialized programs for makers have focused far too much attention
why “otherwise moral” individuals are driven youth “at risk”—perhaps aimed at improving on formal deterrence mechanisms (e.g., man­
to break the law; they focus instead on why we student-teacher relationships, or increasing datory sentencing laws) and far too little
conform to the rules of law in the first place. the number and type of after-school activi­ attention on informal deterrence techniques
Criminologist Travis Hirschi has theorized ties—would be more consistent with social (e.g., increased contacts/development of per­
that when an individual’s bond to society is control theory. Unfortunately, these types of sonal relationships).
either weak or broken, he or she is “free to programs are difficult to get started and the
engage in delinquent acts.” Hirschi has iden­ first to get cut when there is an economic E. Life-course and
tified four elements of this bond to society: “downturn.” Developmental Theories
attachment, commitment, involvement, and Social Control Theory can also be used In recent years, criminologists have explored
belief. He argues that, to justify neighborhood-level changes in both the possibility that we may have overempha­
resource availability (for youth and adults at sized the impact of childhood experiences
. . . Attachment to conventional risk) and community values (such as legiti­ (victimization, parenting, peer influences,
others, commitment to conventional macy of the criminal justice process, belief in school experiences) on adult patterns of
pursuits, involvement in conventional the law). As we noted in our earlier discus­ both continued criminality (the persistent
activities, and belief in conventional val­ sion of cognitive development theory, it does offenders) and desistance from crime (i.e., the
ues reduces the likelihood that a youth appear that probation and parole officers age-crime connection). According to Sampson
will become delinquent. can play a critical role in this latter area. On and Laub (2005), there are four key turning
the one hand, they can help communities to points in the adult life-course that appear to
Although Hirschi’s theory was originally secure local, state, and federal funding for a be linked to desistance from crime: (1) mar­
applied only to juvenile delinquency, it has variety of programs designed to (1) improve riage, (2) employment, (3) the military, and
also been used in recent years to explain family relationships and parenting skills, (2) (4) physical relocation. They conclude that
various forms of adult criminality, including expand school resources for students with “Involvement in institutions such as marriage,
white-collar crime. academic problems, and (3) increase resident work, and the military reorders short-term
Control theory has implications for change involvement in community activities. But situational inducements to crime and, over
in a number of family, school, and neighbor­ perhaps more importantly, they can provide time, redirects long-term commitments to
hood-level policies that are directly (and/or a function typically reserved for organized conformity” (2005:18). If Sampson and Laub
indirectly) related to current probation and religion: to reinforce belief in the moral valid­ are correct, then it would certainly make sense
parole practice. For example, since attachment ity of existing laws. This can be accomplished for community corrections officers to recog­
to parents is one element of an individual’s by asking POs to emphasize “morality” in nize the importance of these turning points
bond to society, it certainly makes sense their interactions with offenders (Taxman et as they consider the prospects—and develop
to develop intervention strategies designed al., 2005) and by developing positive relation­ strategies—for changing the behavior of the
to improve parent-child relationships (e.g., ships between offenders and POs that result offenders placed under their direct supervi­
parent training programs). Similarly, since in offender attachment to POs. When this sion. A variety of community corrections

initiatives consistent with life-course theory TABLE 6.

come immediately to mind, including (1) a Sociological Criminology and Community Corrections Practice

renewed emphasis on the provision of both

job training and employment assistance by Examples of Programs/
Theoretical Assumptions Intervention Strategy
POs, and (2) the development of strategies
to assess community “risk” and then relocate (1) Strain (1) Strategies emphasize (1) Day Reporting centers
education, skill development, in Massachusetts provide
offenders who currently reside in “high-risk”
and employment opportunity. a variety of on-site, “one-
neighborhoods to lower-risk areas, utilizing stop shopping” asssessment,
the lure of new job opportunities or hous­ education, training, and job
ing incentives. In addition, the prospects for development programs.
offenders joining the military could also be
(2) Subcultural Theories (2) Strategies emphasize (2) A number of states have
explored, while the prospects for marriage
community-level value experimented with gang
and/or stability in long-term relationships change, alternatives to gang intervention/gang suppression
should improve with changes in employment involvement, and offender strategies; the moving
status and physical location. Sampson and relocation. to opportunity program
Laub (2005:17) emphasize why these turning sponsored by HUD and other
federal initiatives was a large-
points are directly linked to desistance:
scale offender relocation
The mechanisms underlying the
desistance process are consistent with (3) Social Ecological Theories (3) Strategies target improving (3) The Broken Windows
community structural Probations strategy advocated
the general idea of social control.
conditions, resource by Dilulio and others
Namely, what appears to be important availability, and collective emphasized the importance
about institutional or structural turning efficacy; strengthening of changing both offenders
points is that they all involve, to varying informal community social and communities in which
degrees, (1) new situations that “knife control mechanisms; and offenders reside.
eliminating poverty pockets.
off ” the past from the present, (2) new
situations that provide both supervision (4) Control Theories (4) Strategies focus on the (4) Proactive community
and monitoring as well as opportunities breakdown of informal supervision models currently
for social support and growth, (3) new social control mechanisms— used in Maryland and Virginia
situations that change and structure attachment, commitment, utilize the basic tenets of
involvement, and belief—and control theory.
routine activities, and (4) new situa­
emphasize the importance
tions that provide the opportunity for of the relationship between
identity transformation. the offender and his/her
probation/parole officer.
When viewed in terms of life-course (5) Life-Course/Developmental (5) Strategies designed to target (5) Many community
theory, the role of community corrections Theories the turning points in the life- corrections systems now
generally—and community corrections offi­ course that have been directly incorporate key elements of
cers in particular—in the offender change/ related to desistance among the life-course perspective—
adult offenders—marriage, in particular, the belief
desistance process can be easily identified.
employment, military service, that offender change is
and offender relocation. possible through improved
F. Conflict and Societal relationships, stable
Reaction Theories employment, and removing
A final group of sociological theories of crime of barriers to offender
transformation. However,
causation can be identified, based on the
the prospects for a new start
premise that people become criminals not through relocation are limited
because of some inherent characteristic, per­ for certain offender groups
sonality defect, or other sociologically-based (e.g., sex offenders).
“pressure” or influence, but because of deci­ (6) Conflict and Societal (6) Strategies focus on the (6) A number of recent
sions made by those in positions of power in Reaction Theories use of alternative dispute/ initiatives consistent with
government, especially those in the criminal conflict resolution strategies conflict and societal reaction
justice system. Although a number of different that result in lower levels of theories are being introduced
theoretical perspectives on the crime prob­ formal criminal justice system across the country, including
involvement in the lives of restorative justice programs in
lem can be distinguished under this general community residents; and on Florida, the diversion to drug
heading, we will focus on only two—labeling the application of community/ court strategy being used in
theory and conflict theory. Labeling theorists, restorative justice principles most state court systems, and
most notably Edwin Lemert and Howard in traditional criminal justice the reentry strategies being
Becker, argue that while most of us have settings, including community developed in Burlington,
corrections. Vermont.
engaged in activities (at one time or another)
24 FEDERAL PROBATION Volume 80 Number 3

that were illegal, only a few of us have actually changes in the criminal justice process, focus­ these programs continue to expand, it appears
been labeled as “criminals” for this behavior. ing on the need for “equal justice,” regardless that we will need to draw our POs from the
Once labeled in this manner, people tend to of race or social class. Although community pool of undergraduate criminal justice majors,
react by internalizing the negative label and corrections officers now represent “agents” of perhaps requiring some prior experience as
living up to societal expectations by engag­ social control, conflict theorists would likely a police officer or corrections guard. Such
ing in further criminal activities. Given the suggest that they would be more effective if “deskilling” is an inevitable consequence of the
potential negative consequences of labeling, they became advocates for social justice in the movement away from treatment and toward
we need to ask ourselves: (1) which laws do we areas of jobs, health care, housing, education, the technology of control. However, there
really need to enforce? and (2) which offend­ and treatment. At the individual level, recent has been considerable discussion recently
ers can (and should) we divert from the formal attempts to apply restorative justice concepts on the need to redesign existing community
court process? to community corrections practice are cer­ corrections programs—both probation and
In the last decade, we have seen the relax­ tainly consistent with conflict criminology parole/reentry—with a renewed emphasis on
ation of laws (i.e., decriminalization) in some (see Wood, 2016). individual offender assessment and treatment
states related to prostitution and marijuana (Taxman & Pattavina, 2014; Taxman et al.,
use, although the AIDS epidemic has fueled Conclusion 2005). To the extent that service provision/
fears about intravenous drug use and sexu­ treatment becomes a primary community
ally transmitted disease, resulting in calls for The Link between Criminological corrections line staff function, upgrading the
tougher legislation to “deter” both behaviors. Theory and Community qualifications of line staff will be critical to
In addition, “diversion” is now an accepted Corrections Policy the success of community corrections as a
practice for offenders with drug and alco­ A number of observers have suggested that people-changing organization. Regardless of
hol problems (through drug court) in most probation and parole officers do not have an which direction we move toward, this review
states, while dispute resolution through medi­ adequate “professional base” to do the job we has underscored the need for a discipline not
ation (and restorative justice panels) is also ask them to do. However, it is our view that only with a rich theoretical “core,” but also with
becoming popular, particularly in the areas it is impossible to assess the qualifications of a clearly defined professional base informed by
of misdemeanor crime, divorce, and child community corrections personnel unless we high quality evaluation research.
custody. Probation officers in many states are first clearly define the primary job orientation
responsible for determining the eligibility of of the community corrections officer: Do we References
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