In the US, we have been recently engaged in a national conversation about why we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. Prison rates in the United States are the highest in the world (751 prisoners for every 100,000 people). We have less than 5% of the World Population but 25% of the prisoners. (Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, April 23, 2008) Why we punish more severely than many countries is also an issue and may be based upon our culture of personal responsibility.
In this conversation about punishment, community based corrections programs have gained momentum. The current shift in opinion seems to be toward lessening incarceration rates as exemplified by the recently announced policy changes in the United States Attorney’s office by Attorney General Holder.
Washington state in 2010 enacted a Family Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA) also known as the Community Parenting Alternative under RCW 9.94A.655. It is based upon research that recognizes children, separated from parents by incarceration, were far more likely to be incarcerated themselves.
In an attempt to break the cycle of crime and incarceration, Washington instituted a program of intense supervision in lieu of incarceration. The motivation for the law was the recognition that the damage to child social, psychological and emotional development caused by parental separation was linked to future criminal behavior. Child development studies show that separation from a parent at an early age was related to difficulties with language development, increased personality disorders, and, as adults, with less impulse control, especially over aggression. [Source: Effects of Parental Incarceration on Young Children. Parke, R. D., & Clark-Stewart, K. A. (2011, December)]
My own experience with this program has been positive. Community Corrections Officers involved in the program are invested in the success of the program and themselves quite motivated. It requires planning by the defense attorney to successfully present this alternative to the Judge at sentencing. Hopefully, this program will be a model for other future creative programs to prevent recidivism.