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The delivery of Community Corrections takes place in a highly charged political environment, often played out in the media Essay Example

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10COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS

The delivery of Community Corrections takes place in a highly charged political environment, often played out in the media

Introduction

Community corrections oversee individuals who are under the custody of the criminal justice system yet are neither in jail nor in prison (VERA, 2013). A basic motivation for encouraging the adoption of community corrections is the need to minimise the dependence on the incarceration system by offering the less severe lawbreakers with an alternative to carry out community programs (Harris & Smith, 1996; White and Graham (2013). The societal attitudes, the political climate, as well as the media play a critical role in the delivery of community corrections. As Astbury (2008) explains, one fundamental reason for this is that the media shapes public opinion and attitudes towards punishment. For instance, the media may advocates for community corrections, by contending that the alternative is relatively humane, cost-effective, as well as an efficient approach to corrections compared to the conventional incarceration (Mair, 2013). In turn, the public and politicians would be influenced to pursue reforms based on this contention. This essay argues that the delivery of community corrections is more efficient in a politically charged setting, although this depends on the perspective the media take as regards the feasibility of this options.

The media influences community attitude and the political climate, which in turn influence the realisation of viable reforms in rehabilitative programs, including the realisation of the objectives of the community correctional programs. According to Beale (2006), the media, community attitudes, and political climate within a particular political setting influence the realisations of legislations intended to bring about law and order that can respond to crimes. The Australian Human Rights Commission (2013) and Golden (2013) also show that media is a vital tool that can be used to influence community attitudes and policy reforms. Their findings are a reflection of a review by White and Tomkins (2003), which showed that a majority of issues occurring in community corrections are as a result of influences by the political climate. Study conducted by Astbur (2008) also showed that the prison staff and the public tend to be uncertain about the purpose and significance of community corrections and that what they knew about community corrections is generally rooted in what is portrayed by the media. As John Howard Society of Alberta (1998) further argues, alongside negative media reporting of crime, the political climate was instrumental in fuelling the perception that community corrections were essentially a “soft option.” Such viewpoints are the key challenges to the effective realisation and implementation of community corrections as offender rehabilitation programs (Robinson & Crow, 2009).

The mass media is an authoritative political weapon, as it decides what “news” the political class should take serious, and aspects of community corrections delivery should be treated as “newsworthy.” In view of that, the mass media has significant influence in highlighting the problems that need to be accorded attention, as well as the kinds of problems that need to be ignored (Pearsonhighered.com, n.d.). For instance, the television producers and executives, as well as the newspaper editors may determine that community corrections are given public attention depending on the news angle or perspective they take. They may choose to depict the community corrections as effective mechanisms for rehabilitation, or as being a form of putting the public at risk (Heseltine et al., 2009). Additionally, emphasis on the effects of the community corrections in the news has significant influence on the angle that the political class would take. In effect, without media coverage on the effectiveness of the community corrections, the manner in which these government programs affect the community and the likely alternative policies is not likely to be considered as an object of political discussion. Additionally, the government is not likely to regard them as vital issues worth of discussion (Pearsonhighered.com, n.d.). Hence, the media is a central factor that directs attention to the effectiveness of the community corrections, and its emphasis on the issue potentially causes a highly charged political environment, despite the fact they may not change the public’s perception on the effectiveness of these government programs in the same level they would influence people who are yet to form an opinion. From this, it could be reasoned that in as much as the media play a central role in agenda setting as far as the delivery of community corrections is concerned, the political ideology is the driving force behind setting the agenda (Pearsonhighered.com, n.d.).

The media has played a central role in emphasising the delivery of the community corrections by influencing the political angle that the government should take in whether to emphasise on extending the community corrections or not (Heseltine et al., 2009). In particular, the media has played a part in emphasising the high rate of imprisonment in Australia and the extent to which the correctional facilities are less effective (Heseltine et al., 2009; (Payne, 2015; Woolington, 2016). As Heseltine et al. (2009) demonstrate, the imprison rate in Australia is nearly 170 persons per 100,000 population, which surpasses that of Canada, New Zealand, as well as Scandinavian countries. For instance, some 85,500 individuals received community correctional services in the country in 2009, while some 30,000 individuals were in prisons.

The media reports have consistently called for political reforms by highlighting the ineptness of costliness of prisons relative to community corrections. In a report by The Sydney Morning Herald, Olding (2016) shows that Australia has some 36,000 prisoners and spends some $2.6 billion each year, despite the fact that some 48 percent of the prisoners will be jailed again after just two years. Such sentiments influenced Australia’s Corrective Service Minister David Elliot, to declare that curbing the reoffending rate by rethinking community corrections would be his overriding priority. Another report by The Age, also emphasised that 40 percent of prisoners are likely to develop mental health, while recidivism has risen to 44 percent since 2019 (Willingham, 2015).

The media have also provided evidence to the political class that incarceration are effective in reducing the rates of reoffending and lead substantially to the mounting level of recidivism (Travis, 2010; Western Australia, 2014; Hyatt, 2013). These underscore need for the political class to pursue policies that put pressure on correctional agencies that deliver programs with the potential to help prisoners to be more peaceable and fruitful to the society once they are released into the community at the end of their terms (McCarthy et al., 2000; McGuire, 2002). On the other hand, the international media have emphasised that offender rehabilitative programs tend to be most effectual when delivered within the community settings (Woolington, 2016). Indeed, a review of literature provides evidence attesting to the fact that there is now a strong body of evidence demonstrating the rehabilitative effectiveness of community corrections programs (Payne, 2015; Woolington, 2016).

In turn, the political class are made to perceive the community corrections as providing feasible options to internment for lawbreakers at different stages during a criminal justice procedure. The options that may be made available to the lawbreakers vary from community service order, fine options programs, alternative measures programs, bail supervision programs, to restitution programs (Mackenzie, 2001; Jonker, 2011; Birgden et al., 2004; Phillips, 2013).

Still, the major appeal for the political class to pursue policies friendly to community corrections varies, and includes the perception that they are costs saving. For instance, one of the media emphases has been on the cost-effectiveness of community corrections in the United Kingdom (Toynbee, 2016). As Toynbee (2016) demonstrates, the media has depicted community corrections as more feasible options, hence charged the political environment in UK to rethink their rehabilitative options. As reported by Toynbee (2016) in The Guardian, the prisons are destructive settings that worsen unstable individuals, by dragging them from their families and making them bound to reoffend and that only the severe offenders should be there. The media report by The Guardian was intended to press UK Prime Minister David Cameron to pursue a progressive cause of resorting to the community corrections, given their perceived cost-effectiveness and effectiveness in rehabilitating the less serious offenders. An additional reasoning behind this is that UK had cut prison staff by nearly 30 percent since 2011. Despite this, more criminal were locked up, leading to overcrowding of the jails, hence leaving them without staff to counsel, escort, and train them. This, according to Toynbee (2016), was a cause for worry, as it led to mounting levels of prison suicides. In all, the emphasis by the media influenced Cameron to announce reforms through a new policy dubbed the “Prison Reform Trust.” Prime Minister Cameron further emphasised a need to cut the prison numbers, highlighting an instance in 2015 when some 100 prisoners could have been provided with better rehabilitative service elsewhere. An underlying concern is that the current mandatory life sentence in UK implies averagely seventeen years in prison, which has risen from thirteen in 2001. Toynbee (2016) takes this perspective to argue that more than 50 percent of those remanded are hardly ever given custodial sentence and imprisoning them was illogical, even as they comprise some 14 percent of the prisoners in UK.

The media has been instrumental in pressuring the politicians to review prison reforms. Some reformists like Sacks-Jones (2016) have also used the media to pressure the politicians to review prison reforms. In a report by The Guardian, Sacks-Jones (2016) draws Prime Minister Cameron’s attention on the ineffectiveness of the prisons and their apparently highly reoffending rates, particularly for women who are sent to prisons rather than community corrections. She suggests viable options like women’s centres as more effectual options. The media review followed Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement of a need to make policy reforms that review sentencing of mothers in prison, despite the fact that women make up a small minority of 5 percent, of the overall prison population in UK, yet having significant devastating effects on their children. In 2015 alone, some 100 babies spent the sentencing with their mothers in prison while more than 17,000 children were detached from their mothers who had been sent to prison. These arguments are consistent with Motiuk’s (2001) idea that a majority of community correctional programs highlight the application of community options, as they are cost-efficient options for female offenders. Indeed, it is estimated that some 90 percent of the cost of operating prisons is fixed on administrative costs. Some media reports have also emphasised that prisons have a reoffending rate of nearly 50 percent and that community corrections should be considered as strong family ties and steady jobs may help the offenders to reform (Ben, 2015).

From the above review, it is clear that several concerns are linked to community corrections, which influence policy reforms, such as the need for cost-effective options, reducing the prison populations to avoid overcrowding of prisons, the efficacy of community corrections in rehabilitating offenders and the overriding public opinion as shaped by the media (Gendreau, 1996; Gendreau et al., 1999; McGuire, 2003; Petersilia, 1990).

On the other hand, negative media portrayals may also carry out political campaigns, which threaten the community corrections programs, as they construct the opinion that the program brought about risk to public safety when the offenders are left on the loose (Jonker, 2011). After the introduction of the program, Matthews et al (2001) also posit that parole agents were perceived as hesitant from the outset as regards placing lawbreakers on community service. Such instances were a cause of concern and propagated the negative feeling that when the measure of cost-effectiveness was considered as the criteria for determining the effectiveness of programme, the number of offenders would not adequately rationalize the need for the program (DeMichele, 2007).

Conclusion

The delivery of community corrections is more efficient in a politically charged setting, although this depends on the perspective the media take as regards the feasibility of the options. The mass media is an authoritative political weapon, as it decides what “news” the political class should take serious, and aspects of community corrections delivery should be treated as “newsworthy.” The media has played a central role in emphasising the delivery of the community corrections by influencing the political angle that the government should take in whether to emphasise extending the community corrections or not. The media reports have consistently called for political reforms by highlighting the ineptness of costliness of prisons relative to community corrections. Overall, the media has been instrumental in pressuring the politicians to review prison reforms.

References

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