The Monetary Benefits and Costs of Community Supervision

Published date01 February 2018
Date01 February 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 34(1) 47 –68
© The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986217750425
The Monetary Benefits
and Costs of Community
Elizabeth K. Drake1
In 2014, nearly 5 million people were supervised in the community on probation or
parole; yet, little research evidence exists indicating whether supervision is a cost-
effective strategy to reduce recidivism. Using a meta-analytic framework, this article
presents findings from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) on
the cost-effectiveness of four community supervision strategies including intensive
supervision programs both with and without a focus on treatment, supervision with
risk–need–responsivity training for officers, and swift, certain, and fair supervision
policies to address violation behavior. Results from the systematic review of the
rigorous research evidence indicates that three of the four supervision strategies
are effective at reducing recidivism and produce long-term financial benefits that
outweigh the costs with a high degree of certainty. The implications of these findings
are discussed as well as suggestions for future research.
benefit-cost analysis, community supervision, recidivism
After experiencing the highest incarceration rates in United States history, the use of prison
and jail has begun to decline slowly since its peak in 2009 (Carson, 2015) and policymak-
ers have indicated the need for bi-partisan criminal justice reform (Sentencing Reform Act
of 2015, H.R. 3713, 114th Cong, 2015; Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015,
S.2123, 114th Cong, 2015). The reasons for this fundamental shift in policy are multifac-
eted (Currie, 2013; Tonry, 2015), but from a correctional effectiveness perspective, the
1Washington State University, Olympia, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Elizabeth K. Drake, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Washington State University, Olympia,
WA 98504, USA.
750425CCJXXX10.1177/1043986217750425Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeDrake
48 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 34(1)
shift can be attributed in part to a vast body of empirical research literature produced in the
decades since Martinson’s (1974) “nothing works.” This empirical research evidence dem-
onstrates, unequivocally, that many correctional interventions are effective at reducing
recidivism (Lipsey & Cullen, 2007; Mackenzie, 2000; Sherman, Gottfredson, &
MacKenzie, 1997). While some interventions are better than others, it is evident that many
programs can produce favorable long-term financial benefits to both taxpayers and to
crime victims (Drake, Aos, & Miller, 2009). This extraordinary knowledge base has
informed correctional public policies across the U.S. Not only do most states and correc-
tional agencies promote the use of evidence-based programs today (Greenwood & Welsh,
2012); many have partnered with research institutions or non-profit organizations to make
steps toward “justice reinvestment” (La Vigne et al., 2014; Pew-MacArthur Results First
Initiative, n.d.). These reinvestments use research-driven approaches focused on reserving
incarceration, the most expensive correctional resource, for the highest risk offenders,
while strategically reinvesting limited taxpayer resources into programs proven effective at
reducing crime. This ideological and empirical departure from current policy could poten-
tially place a greater reliance on community supervision (Council of State Governments
Justice Center, 2015), which has often been an afterthought within the correctional system
(Taxman, 2008b). While research shows that supervision of offenders in the community is
an effective policy for reducing recidivism compared to no supervision (Lipsey & Cullen,
2007; Lipsey & Wilson, 1998), current examinations of supervision focus typically on
whether different strategies of supervision are more effective compared to “supervision as
usual.” Using a meta-analytic framework, this article presents findings from the Washington
State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) on the cost-effectiveness of four community
supervision strategies.1
To undertake this type of research, WSIPP has implemented a systematic research
approach to determine what policies and programs are cost-effective at reducing crime
if implemented in Washington.2 This internally consistent set of procedures allows for
the relative comparison of programs and policies. As part of its ongoing legislative
assignments, WSIPP has meta-analyzed more than 100 correctional interventions for
adult and juvenile offenders since 2007. The purpose of this article is to review
WSIPP’s most recent findings on community supervision strategies for adult offenders
to determine (a) whether certain types of community supervision strategies are effec-
tive at reducing recidivism and, if so, (b) which strategies are more effective relative
to one another, and lastly, (c) whether these community supervision strategies are cost
beneficial to taxpayers and to victims of crime. This article begins by providing a brief
background on community supervision as well as a description of the four supervision
strategies presented in this article.
Community Supervision
In 2014, 4.7 million people were supervised in communities across the United States,
representing an 8% decrease compared with the population at its peak in 2007 (Kaeble,
Maruschak, & Bonczar, 2015). Community supervision, referred to more broadly
throughout this article, can be used as a sentence for a crime in and of itself (probation),

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