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Recidivism and Public Policy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen Corcoran
December 9, 2019

In the last article, I focused on an important issue in the criminal justice system known as re-entry and how public policy plays an essential role in it. Re-entry is when offenders are released from prison or jail and become members of society again. Most individuals who have served any incarceration time have been let out of prison or jail. This article will focus on another topic in criminal justice known as recidivism, which is the likelihood that an offender will reoffend. I am going to explain how the responsibility of public administration and policies affects recidivism in the criminal justice field. Being employed by the Adult Probation Department in Montgomery County (right outside of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, I have seen recidivism and the impact the courts have on it. I am going to use two of my current job tasks, the transfer coordinator and administrative disposition coordinator, where I will demonstrate how recidivism and public policy ties together. I am going to focus on recidivism and public policy in the county I work for, which is Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

I monitor a caseload of nearly 2,000 offenders who reside outside of Montgomery County but reside in another county within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. My responsibility is to ensure that the individual is being supervised by the county in which he or she resides in. Fairly frequently a county returns a case due to non-reporting, new arrests,- and positive drug tests. Unfortunately, within the criminal justice field the success rate is not always high. One thing that gets monitored in the adult probation department is a change of behavior. For example, if an offender gets arrested while on supervision and the new arrest is the same offense, then the change of the individual’s behavior has minimally changed. Another example is if a case gets returned due to absconding and the individual has a history of disappearing.

In my last article, I mentioned I accompany the Chief and/or Deputy Chiefs up to the county jail once a month for informal court hearings known as administrative disposition. A rule that has changed in regard to these hearings is that individuals are now allowed two chances through this process as long as the offenses are technical in nature (which means not arrested). As mentioned in my last article, the importance of the administrative disposition hearings are to help the offenders who are being sentenced faster and giving them a good sentence deal. This process also helps the person being sentenced as he or she may get the treatment and help faster that he or she may need to succeed. The result with administrative hearings compared to an individual being sentenced in front of his or her respective judge does not appear to be a lot of a difference in regard to the person reoffending.

An article from Montgomery County, PA’s website talks about how the Public Defender’s Office has worked diligently in trying to establish and examine a plan of action in an effort to diminish recidivism and create a success rate for both juvenile and adult offenders. Through these schemes, the Public Defender’s Office has reached out to various organizations in an attempt to assist those who struggle. As the Adult Probation Department does from firsthand experience, the Public Defender’s Office tries to focus on the individual’s specific necessities in order for him or her to succeed and become a productive member of society. This attempt by the departments is a way to help individuals better themselves. There is also a financial goal with this policy as well to save money.

To summarize my points in this article, although individuals may struggle and it may not always be a high success rate, various departments in Montgomery County are putting forth their best efforts for individuals to succeed and be solid citizens with the intention of them not reoffending. It is important to help these individuals, who are facing difficult times in their lives, succeed with programs and treatment that will truly enable them to better themselves. The attempt to help this group of people can only begin with the role of public policy while trying to assist the individuals who are having difficulties staying on the right side of the law.

Author: Stephen Corcoran is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University where he received his Bachelor of Arts in History (2009) and of West Chester University, where he earned his Master of Public Administration (2016). He is employed by the Montgomery County Adult Probation Department. Stephen lives his wife Jennifer and dog Cinnamon. His email is [email protected]. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter.

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