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Offenders, Judges, and Officers Rate the Relative Severity of Alternative Sanctions Compared to Prison

NCJ Number
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume: 46 Issue: 3/4 Dated: 2008 Pages: 49-70
Nathan T. Moore; David C. May; Peter B. Wood
Date Published
22 pages
This study combined data collected from judges in Kentucky with data from other studies conducted by the authors that assessed the ratings of judges, probation/parole officers, and probationers/parolees regarding the severity of nine alternatives to imprisonment compared to the severity of 1-year of medium-security imprisonment.
The findings suggest that, with limited exceptions, judges' severity rankings more closely resembled the severity ratings of probation/parole officers than those of the offenders. Offenders ranked halfway house as more severe than judges, and judges ranked community service as more severe than offenders. Offenders may not like the close supervision, the curfews, and the ban on visitors associated with halfway houses. Judges, on the other hand, may rank community service as more severe due to concerns about shame and embarrassment in the community. Surprisingly, officers ranked community service as even more severe than imprisonment (third in the severity ranking compared to seventh among judges and ninth among offenders), and their ranking of electronic monitoring was much lower in the severity ranking (eighth) than that of offenders and judges (fifth). Officers clearly view community service as punitive, but view electronic monitoring as less severe than either judges or offenders. Neither judges, officers, nor offenders viewed prison as the harshest punishment. The consensus across all three groups was that 12 months in medium-security prison was roughly equivalent to 6 months in boot camp. This finding has been replicated in three States (Oklahoma, Indiana, and Kentucky) among four types of respondents (judges, probation/parole officers, probationers/parolees, and prisoners). Offenders were generally willing to serve less time under each of the nine alternatives in order to avoid imprisonment compared to judges or officers. The findings suggest that participation in alternatives to imprisonment apparently reduces participants' perceptions of the comparative severity of imprisonment. 3 tables and 20 references