Are Jail Sanctions More Punitive Than Community-Based Punishments? An Examination Into the Perceived Severity of Alternative Sanctions in Community Supervision

Published date01 June 2020
Date01 June 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(5) 696 –720
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419870848
Are Jail Sanctions More
Punitive Than Community-
Based Punishments? An
Examination Into the
Perceived Severity of
Alternative Sanctions in
Community Supervision
Eric J. Wodahl1, Brett E. Garland2,
and Kimberly Schweitzer1
The use of sanctions in community supervision has received considerable attention in
recent years. Fueled in large part by the attention given to the swift, certain, and fair
(SCF) sanctioning model, many agencies have adopted sanctioning programs, which
often rely heavily on the use of short-term jail incarceration. In addition to jail, there
exist a number of alternative, community-based punishments that can be utilized
to respond to instances of noncompliance, including enhanced drug testing and
community service hours. Little is known, however, about how individuals perceive
community-based sanctions compared with jail. This study addresses this issue by
examining perceptions of sanctions among individuals under community supervision.
Survey findings indicate that community-based punishments are not viewed as being
substantially less punitive than jail incarceration. In addition, perceptions of sanction
severity are influenced by a variety of individual, experiential, and supervision-level
factors. The policy implications of the study findings are discussed.
probation, sanctions, revocation, SCF
1University of Wyoming, Laramie, USA
2Missouri State University, Springfield, USA
Corresponding Author:
Eric J. Wodahl, Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology, University of Wyoming, Dept. 3197, 1000
E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071, USA.
870848CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419870848Criminal Justice Policy ReviewWodahl et al.
Wodahl et al. 697
High failure rates in probation and parole supervision have been a lingering issue in
community corrections for the last several decades. Driven by a variety of factors,
including an increase in supervision conditions, new drug testing technologies, and
the proliferation of more intense supervision programs, probation, and parole success
rates fell sharply at the end of the 20th century (Wodahl, Ogle, & Heck, 2011). The
consequences of this trend have been substantial and far-reaching. Most notably,
community corrections failures are a main driver of prison growth, accounting for
over half of all new admissions in many states (The PEW Charitable Trusts, 2018). In
response, a number of jurisdictions have implemented policies designed to both
reduce revocation rates and limit the consequences stemming from supervision fail-
ures (Lawrence, 2008).
One approach that has received considerable attention in recent years is the use of
graduated or administrative sanctions (hereinafter referred to as simply “sanctions”).
Sanctions refer to punishments imposed by the supervising officer or court in response
to noncompliant behavior on behalf of the probationer or parolee that do not involve
the revocation of supervision (Taxman, Soule, & Gelb, 1999). For example, a proba-
tion officer or judge might sanction an individual to a short jail term or require him to
undergo enhanced drug testing as response to a positive drug test or other technical
In recent years, a refashioned approach to sanctioning designed to boost supervi-
sion success rates has been heralded in many correctional circles as a revolutionary
strategy to improve public safety and ease financial strains on government budgets
caused by incarceration. This new strategy, often referred to as the swift, certain, and
fair (SCF) approach, draws from principles embodied within the frameworks of deter-
rence and operant conditioning (Kleiman, Kilmer, & Fisher, 2014). Both theories pro-
pose that negative behaviors, such as crime and noncompliance with supervision
conditions, can be discouraged if meaningful sanctions are imposed speedily, with
certainty, and with a level of punitive force commensurate to the severity of a person’s
wrongdoing (Marlowe & Kirby, 1999). SCF sanctions as administered in community
supervision contexts are purportedly unique given that they are typically much shorter
in duration and less intense than what has traditionally been imposed. The SCF move-
ment also places a new emphasis on addressing every specified supervision violation
with some type of punitive response, thus striving to ensure the certainty aspect of
punishment is achieved.
Several studies examining the impact of the SCF strategy have reported favorable
findings (Grommon, Cox, Davidson, & Bynum, 2013; Hawken & Kleiman, 2009;
Kilmer, Nicosia, Heaton, & Midgette, 2013), although wide-ranging enthusiasm really
catapulted from Hawken and Kleiman’s (2009) evaluation of the Hawaii Opportunity
Probation and Enforcement (HOPE) program. HOPE probationers were brought
before a judge within 72 hr of missing a probation meeting or receiving a positive drug
test and were given brief jail sentences for the violations. Using a randomized control
design with a 1-year follow-up, Hawken and Kleiman observed that HOPE partici-
pants had approximately half the rearrest and revocation rates and half the number of
days incarcerated as regular probationers. Several years later, Hamilton, Campbell,

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