Focus Area: Supervision and Sanctions

Criminal justice systems employ a wide range of supervision and sanction mechanisms to reduce recidivism and promote positive outcomes for individuals released back to the community. These take many forms and include everything from boot camp programs behind bars to restorative justice and reentry courts facilitated in the community. Research has focused heavily on the impact of community supervision programs and enhancements on recidivism. Broadly speaking, community supervision holds great promise both as an alternative to incarceration as well as a means of reintegrating individuals as they transition back to the community. As a result, significant attention has been paid to evaluating its effectiveness.

This section provides an overview and examination of key evaluative research related to the supervision and sanctioning of incarcerated individuals and those recently released from prison and monitored in their communities. The collection of studies in this topic area is unique in that it includes both programs (e.g., New Jersey’s Halfway Back and Minnesota’s Challenge Incarceration Program) and laws or policies (e.g., various sex offender and registration laws and Washington state’s earned release law, ESSB 5990) that have changed jurisdictions’ reentry procedures. Though the specific strategies vary, these interventions all aim to ensure that individuals released to the community comply with conditions of their supervision, have access to necessary treatment and transition services, and most importantly, do not commit any future crimes.

From a thorough review of the literature, researchers identified 121 reentry studies that examined the impact of supervision and sanction mechanisms on recidivism, employment, and/or substance abuse outcomes. Of these studies, 28 met the evidentiary criteria for inclusion. Nine of these studies met the Clearinghouse requirements for designation as a high level of methodological rigor while the remaining 19 are categorized as basic rigor.

The programs and policies evaluated span a wide range of topics. Studies are broadly categorized under seven distinct areas: community supervision/parole; earned release from prison; correctional boot camps; restorative justice programs; reentry courts; DUI/DWI programs; and sex offender registration and notification.


What the Research Says About Supervision and Sanction Mechanisms

Community Supervision/Parole: Nearly half of the studies included in this focus area evaluated community supervision programs, policies, and/or enhancements. Key findings include:

  • Individuals released to parole are less likely to reoffend than those who return to their communities without supervision. One quasi-experimental study of individuals released from prison to parole in New Jersey and one randomized-controlled trial of individuals released to the New Jersey State Parole Board’s Halfway Back program found that those on parole were less likely to reoffend – and to take longer to do so – than those who “maxed out” their prison sentences and were released with no supervision requirements.
  • Intensive community supervision can be a cost-effective alternative to incarceration but does not provide better recidivism outcomes than routine parole. Three randomized-controlled trial studies found no significant differences in recidivism outcomes between those in intensive supervision programs in Minnesota, Texas, and California compared to those under traditional supervision. Notably, however, in one of the two sites evaluated in Texas and one of the three in California, individuals under intensive supervision were more likely to be charged with a technical violation of supervision. In addition, a fourth study evaluating Step ‘N Out – a collaborative behavioral management program implemented with adult parolees with substance abuse disorders in six states – found that participants were no more likely to reoffend but were significantly less likely to report substance use than those on routine parole.
  • Research on the effectiveness of community supervision enhancement tools such as graduated sanctions for violations, electronic monitoring and day reporting centers is mixed.
    • An evaluation of Ohio’s newly implemented progressive sanction guidelines and structured grid found no impact on recidivism rates prior to and following enactment.
    • Although one study of electronic monitoring (EM) in Sweden found that rates of reconviction and return to prison were lower for those on EM than those who were not, two other studies – one of which was rated a high level of rigor – found no differences. Notably, the program in Sweden combined EM with additional treatment components including assistance finding a job.
    • Two evaluations of New Jersey’s day reporting centers found very different results. While a quasi-experimental study in 2009 found strong evidence of a beneficial impact on recidivism, a randomized controlled trial in 2013 found a slight negative effect. Both were rated as highly rigorous.

Earned Release: Earned release policies may safely and cost-effectively reduce reliance on incarceration in certain circumstances though the evidence is limited. One study on earned release was included, was rated as high rigor, and evaluated the impact of the implementation of Washington state’s earned release law. That legislation allows prisoners to earn release prior to the completion of their maximum sentence through good behavior. Findings suggested that individuals who earned release had a lower felony reconviction rate than a matched group of individuals who were released prior to the implementation of the law.

Correctional Boot Camps: Boot camp programs that combine traditional military training with rehabilitative treatment components can reduce reoffending. Though one evaluation of a young offender program in England found no evidence of an effect, studies of boot camp programs in Minnesota and Maryland demonstrated positive recidivism outcomes for participants compared to controls. This finding seems to contrast with the broader literature on the ineffectiveness of boot camps but, notably, each of these effective programs included therapeutic components. The Minnesota Challenge Incarceration Program involved an intensive aftercare component and the Maryland Mutual Agreement Program provided academic education opportunities, group-based substance abuse treatment, and cognitive-behavioral life skills training.

Restorative Justice. Restorative justice programming may hold promise for reducing reoffending. Although researchers found no evidence of effectiveness of the Indianapolis Reentry Project, a quasi-experimental evaluation of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s Resolve to Stop the Violence Project found that at least eight weeks of program participation had a significant, positive effect on the rate of violent rearrest, average days in custody, and time to first rearrest.

Reentry Courts. Findings on the impact of reentry courts are mixed. Two separate evaluations of the Harlem Reentry Court were conducted. The first found no evidence of an effect but the second, more recent study found that participants had lower reconviction rates at one, two, and three years post-completion than a matched comparison group. However, participants were also more likely to have their parole revoked and to be revoked sooner than paroles.

Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN). Findings on the impact of sex offender registration and notification are mixed. Although an evaluation of SORN in New Jersey and a multi-state study of the impact of the Jacob Wetterling Act found no evidence of an effect, evaluations of Megan’s law in Minnesota and SORN in Washington state yielded evidence of modest, beneficial impacts.


Future Areas of Research

Given the breadth of programs and topics covered in this focus area, there is a critical need for additional research in many areas. In particular, future research is needed to:

  • Understand the impact of community supervision tools like graduated sanctions, electronic monitoring and day reporting centers. A small number of studies were evaluated for each of these, making it difficult to draw conclusions about their effectiveness. Similarly, given that there was a single evaluation of earned release policies, more research in this area is important particularly as many states have recently expanded these policies in recent years.
  • Explore the recidivism reduction potential of reentry court and restorative justice models. A few evaluations were identified for each –only a single reentry court was evaluated – underscoring that significant work must be done before we understand the impact of these innovative programs. This is particularly important in the restorative justice field where programs vary tremendously. In order to understand which types of interventions have the largest impact in different contexts, research should focus specific attention on where, when, how, and with whom programs are implemented and most effective in reducing recidivism and improving other outcomes.
  • Evaluate the impacts of programs and policies over time. There were two programs included in this focus area that had been evaluated multiple times. In the case of New Jersey’s day reporting centers, the more recent and rigorous study found evidence of a harmful effect whereas a previous study found a beneficial impact. The opposite was true for the Harlem Reentry Court – a more recent study found evidence of a beneficial impact on recidivism where an earlier study had found none. Each demonstrates the importance of reevaluating programs as they evolve.
  • Examine the impact of programs and policies on outcomes other than recidivism. Only four of the 28 studies evaluated substance abuse and/or employment outcomes.
  • Understand the impact of jurisdiction-specific policies in context. Multiple studies pointed to the importance of state-specific policy evaluations given that each is unique in design and implementation.

Summary of Evaluations and Outcomes

Rigor Evaluation Recidivism Employment Substance Abuse
Basic Rigor Agan, 2011 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Barnoski, 2005 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Boyle et al, 2011; Boyle et al, 2013
High Rigor Deschenes, Turner & Petersilia, 1995a and b (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Drake & Barnoski, 2008; Drake, Barnoski & Aos, 2009 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Duwe & Donnay, 2008 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Farole, 2003 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Farrington et al., 2002 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Finn & Muirhead-Steves, 2002 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Friedmann, 2007; Friedmann, Rhodes & Taxman, 2009; Friedman et al, 2008; Friedman et al, 2011; Johnson et al, 2011 (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Gilligan & Lee (2005; n.d) (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Grommon et al., 2013 (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Hamilton, 2010; Hamilton, 2011 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor MacKenzie, Bierie & Mitchell, 2007 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Marie, Moreton & Goncalves, 2011; Marie, 2009 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Marklund & Stina, 2009 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Martin & Van Dine, 2008 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor McGarrell, Hipple & Banks 2003; McGarrell, Hipple & Banks, 2003 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Minnesota Department of Corrections (2006); Duwe & Kerschner (2008) (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Petersilia & Turner, 1990a; Petersilia & Turner, 1990b; Petersilia & Turner, 1992 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Schlager & Robbins, 2008 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
Basic Rigor Tewksbury, Jennings & Zgoba, 2012; Tewksbury, Jennings & Zgoba, 2011 (not evaluated) (not evaluated)
High Rigor Turner & Petersilia, 1992 (not evaluated)