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Collaboration and the Community Corrections Field

The desired outcome of the criminal justice system's intervention with offenders has always been to ensure public safety. In recent years, however, criminal justice practitioners have begun to ask new questions about the most effective ways in which that goal may be achieved, and the implications of these new strategies on the management of offenders. New approaches to offender management have different implications for different agents within the system, whose roles have, in the past, been more function than system focused (for example, where the role of prosecutors has been primarily concerned with the lawful conviction of offenders, judges with the imposition of fair and just sentences, and institutional corrections with the safe and secure custody of offenders). Current policies encourage these agents to consider the impact of their individual responsibilities on a broader offender management strategy. Community corrections is a critical lynch pin in these efforts, responsible for effectively managing offenders while on probation (and in some jurisdictions, pre-trial and parole). As with other agents within the system, collaborating with internal and external partners has become increasingly critical to the accomplishment of community corrections' mission of enhancing public safety by effectively managing offenders in the community.

If the primary goal of community corrections is to achieve public safety through reduced recidivism by effectively managing offenders within the community, then community corrections agencies must reach out to collaborative partners. As more comprehensive approaches to supervising offenders are implemented in the field, enhanced collaboration is required to provide the assistance and additional resources necessary to promote offender success. For example, with the increased understanding and implementation of integrated case management systems around the country, communication among criminal justice professionals and community partners is more important than ever. Such new approaches to community supervision require strong partnerships with the community (including the victim and offender).

Collaboration with institutional partners is also critically important, working with correctional officers and institutional case managers to prepare an offender for reentry into the community. The issues facing offenders upon release are numerous and often confounding – lack of housing, drug addiction, limited employment options, limited education. To succeed, these needs must be considered and a plan put in place before the offender is released. Such barriers to successful reintegration must be addressed through partnerships with other practitioners, service providers, and community agencies.

This section of the Web site addresses some of the unique challenges facing community corrections professionals and provides information about how community corrections agencies can develop and sustain collaborative partnerships in their efforts to increase public safety.

What is collaborative justice within the community corrections field?

Community corrections professionals cannot possibly, and should not expect to, address the complex needs of offenders independently. Other professionals must be involved to provide valuable information, resources, and perspectives that will help the offender to succeed in the community.

Collaboration goes beyond sharing of resources and exchanging information; collaboration requires that community corrections officers, court officials, and community partners work closely with each to achieve outcomes that would not be possible without the collaboration. Working with other criminal justice professionals and community partners can result in supervision plans that address offenders' needs more effectively, resulting in lower court caseloads and reduced violations and crime rate within the community. For example, working with collaborative partners could result in the establishment of new service resources, or a different method of processing cases, opening up new opportunities for both the offender and the community corrections officer.

It is only through collaboration with public, private, and community-based service providers that community corrections can promote safer communities.

With whom should community corrections professionals collaborate?

Just as critical as the commitment to collaboration is the selection of collaborative partners. Collaborative partners should include those who have the authority to influence the outcome of the problem at hand and have a demonstrated investment in doing so.

In a community corrections collaborative, law enforcement, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, court personnel, and others are important stakeholders in the success of offenders in the community. Law enforcement is an important partner to community corrections in supervision efforts, providing support to monitoring and enforcement activities. Prosecutors and defense counsel assist by crafting effective sentencing strategies, and judges, through the imposition of conditions as part of their sentencing decisions, provide the structure and tools that community corrections needs to manage offenders successfully and promote offender success in the community.

Community and service providers play key roles in addressing effectively the complex social, behavioral, and health issues that offenders face. Public and private treatment providers, including substance abuse and mental health practitioners, victims’ rights organizations, and victim advocates can also provide valuable resources and perspectives for supervising offenders. Federal, state, and local agencies providing housing resources, workforce training, educational assistance, and veterans’ benefits are also important partners in finding solutions to the complex problems facing offenders in the community. Community and faith–based partners (including willing employers, and local colleges and schools) can provide numerous resources. Perhaps some of the most important (but often forgotten) stakeholders are the offender and his or her family.

“‘It’s not my job’ is simply not part of the vocabulary of community justice.”
Topics in Community Corrections, 2001.

Why is collaboration particularly important to community corrections?

While community corrections professionals, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, defenders, and advocates are each experts in their own fields, collaboration is necessary to bring to the table their collective knowledge and experience to address the complex social problems facing offenders who reside in the community.

Unlike institutional staff, community corrections and court officials are supervising offenders in a physically unlimited environment, and in a setting in which offenders are encouraged to develop independence and self-sufficiency. By engaging other stakeholders within the criminal justice system and in the community, community corrections professionals can decrease barriers, create possibilities for success, educate others about their work, and create a shared vision for increased public safety through offender success with other stakeholders in the community. Collaborative partnerships allow community corrections to rely on other community agencies to provide personal and institutional supports to offenders to increase pro-social behavior.

Collaboration offers additional benefits to community corrections officials, including a more efficient way to utilize strained resources. Where effective collaborations are in place, staff are able to obtain more easily the information they need to supervise their clients and the resources available to them. Community corrections agencies that have engaged in collaborative partnerships report greater job satisfaction and increased capacity among community corrections professionals. Ultimately, collaboration is a necessity for community corrections to effectively promote public safety.

"We have learned that no one program or agency can make our streets and schools safer. The most effective efforts spur collaboration among community residents, faith-based organizations, schools, businesses, and the criminal justice system."
Justice for America: Annual Report to Congress (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2001)

Tools to Collaborate

Effective collaboration is a difficult but worthwhile goal. In reaching out to new partners, community corrections agencies should not be surprised to encounter reluctance and caution, particularly among community partners, as even criminal justice system partners may resist new ways of working together, spurred by more narrowly defined roles in the past, or competition for authority or limited resources. Efforts will need to be made to demonstrate the potential of the collaboration to those who are being asked to commit time and energy to the endeavor. Having a set of tools and information at hand to help everyone involved in the collaborative partnership understand the purpose and process of coming together can enhance the chances of success for the collaboration.

This Web site provides tools and resources to support efforts to collaborate among community corrections agencies and their other public and private partners. The following links provide access to products that will be particularly useful to community corrections officials who are interested in forming multi-disciplinary, collaborative teams. These products include case studies that demonstrate the success of other communities in creating collaborative partnerships, and a curriculum that can assist a new collaboration to establish a common vision and mission for their work together.

Also included on the Web site are resources on the topic of collaboration that can offer solutions to the challenges encountered by community corrections agencies seeking to establish collaborative partnerships and examples of successful collaborative efforts. These materials underscore the importance of collaboration to the success of the critical and expanded role of community corrections agencies across the country.

Click here for project products that may be of particular interest to community corrections professionals.

Click here for resources on the topic of collaboration that may offer promising solutions to the work of community corrections professionals.