Intermediate Sanctions: Are They Effective?

By Elizabeth Hall

Probation Clean-Up Crew
Probation Clean-Up Crew (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)
Ever since man became “civilized”, there have been punishments for what society deems as criminal behavior.  Today we use several different options, rather than as in the past, prison or a little later probation were the only options for those who could not follow the rules of society.  Now we have intermediate sanctions that we use in lieu of doing time in a correctional facility or reporting to a probation officer.  These intermediate sanctions come in many forms, such as economic, intensive supervised probation (ISP), house arrest, community residential centers (CRC’s), split sentences, shock probation, and boot camp, and serve to reduce overcrowding in correctional facilities and to deter criminals (Seiter, 2008). We will discuss the history of probation and intermediate sanctions, the effectiveness of such programs, and some possible modifications to these programs for more effectiveness.
Probation and Intermediate Sanctions
Probation (Photo credit: viewerblur)
According to the Tennessee Department of corrections (Board of Probation and Parole, n.d.), probation means that the courts have deemed that although a person has gotten a guilty verdict of a crime committed, the penalty will not include incarceration, but instead, they will serve punishment by the special conditions of the court and rules of the probation system. This system includes 
transitional housing when needed, community service programs, GPS monitoring, offenders having to pay fees during the program, and for those that the court deems necessary, probation that is more intense than regular probation (Board of Probation and Parole, n.d.).  Intermediate Sanctions as defined by Seiter (2008) are sanctions that fall in between incarceration and probation.  This allows the justice system to react to crimes that otherwise may need harsher sanctions than probation but maybe not as harsh as incarceration.    
History of Probation and Intermediate Sanctions
US correctional population timeline-zh-hans
US correctional population timeline-zh-hans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Incarceration as stated before began when man became civilized, and began making rules, however probation began almost by accident.  A man by the name of John Augustus who was very interested in how we treated those we incarcerated, convinced a judge to release an offender to his custody instead of serving a prison sentence for public drunkenness in 1841, notes Seiter (2008).  His act of kindness lead to over 1800 offenders sanctioned in this manner and forever affected the way criminals receive punishment in the criminal justice system, and by 1938, this practice was widespread.  Today there are generally more offenders in the probation system than in prison or jail regularly even though most people think it is the other way around (Seiter, 2008). 
The practice of probation came under intense scrutiny in the 1960’s, and the result was the development of intermediate sanctions in lieu of just probation, which many felt was lax in supervision (Seiter, 2008).   As a result, the probation system changed from casework style supervision to the surveillance type of supervision and the use of intermediate sanctions began.  These intermediate sanctions use community classification systems that score based on offense and offender backgrounds, and they can receive a vast array of sanctions including house arrest with electronic surveillance, economic sanctions, boot camp, shock probation, or commitment to community residential centers often called halfway houses (Seiter, 2008). 
Effectiveness of Intermediate Sanctions and Probation

Fowles and Van Vleet (n.d.) hold that increased incarceration leads to overcrowding and earlier release of violent offenders.  They further feel that just regular probation is not the answer because that only leads to an overstressed probation system. The answer they conclude is in intermediate sanctions that serve several purposes, which are less overcrowding in correctional facilities, and increased surveillance of those offenders in the criminal justice system whose crimes do not necessarily warrant incarceration.   These types of sanctions provide a path to individually sentenced offenders based on the offender’s needs and level of surveillance needed (Fowles and Van Vleet, n.d.).  The criminal justice system and these programs could stand a little modification in the manner of skills taught to offenders in all phases of corrections including prisons, jails, probation systems, or intermediate sanctions programs. Offenders need more life and social skills training in order for them to be able to blend back into society, otherwise they meet with the pressures of life on the streets and reoffend because it is easier than to follow the rules of society once you have a criminal record.
English: W. Jeanne Meurer Intermediate Sanctio...
English: W. Jeanne Meurer Intermediate Sanctions Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Crimes, criminal behavior, and incarceration have been a part of society since man became “civilized”.  While that may have been enough for the crimes of yesteryear, people like John Augustus realized that not every crime deserves incarceration, and he developed what has become the modern day probation and intermediate sanctions section of the correctional system.  These programs were developed as a response to prison overcrowding and overburdened probation systems in our country.  Where we used to focus on casework, now we focus on supervision, and technology allows us to monitor electronically, send prisoners away to boot camps, or even halfway houses in order to reduce prison overcrowding and recidivism at the same time. These programs have proven effective, however as noted with the need for more skills that inmates can use, there is always room for improvement.

Board of Probation and Parole, (n.d.).  Field Services: Probation Information.  Retrieved From:
Fowles, T.R. and Van Vleet, R.K., (n.d.).  A Case for Intermediate Sanctions.  Retrieved From: http://www.justice.utah.gov/documents/research/Adult/IntermediateSanctions.pdf
Seiter, R.P., (2008).  Corrections: An Introduction. Second Edition. Prentice Hall United 
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