Marlene Lichtenstadter
Member, Board of Directors
Delaware Center for Justice
As of October 2003, the United States had 701 persons in prison per 100,000 persons, continuing our distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. The most disturbing fact, however, is that Delaware’s incarceration rate of 895 persons per 100,000 persons is higher than the national average. Approximately 6,800 persons reside in Delaware’s prisons, at an annual cost of nearly $25,000 per person. With a possible budget request in another year for an additional 1,000 beds, at capital costs estimated between $85-150 million and annual operating costs around $40 million, we must ask ourselves, is prison the answer to keeping our citizens safe in all these cases? Research shows that communities can reduce crime through community corrections programs without jeopardizing public safety and at considerably less cost than incarceration, particularly if appropriate treatment programs are available and offenders are held accountable.

The Delaware Center for Justice, in recognition of the need to expand Delaware’s alternatives to incarceration, advocates for a comprehensive community corrections system which would include community residential programs, such as halfway houses, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs; probation, parole, and pretrial services; day reporting centers; community service and restitution programs; electronic monitoring and house arrest provisions; and programs addressing the needs of victims, offenders, offenders’ families, and the community, with public safety as the central element. An effective comprehensive community corrections system would provide well coordinated services, control costs, and enhance public safety by offering the most appropriate sanction for each crime and increase community participation in and responsibility for the community side of corrections, with the ultimate objective of reducing recidivism. To achieve these goals, we need to seek, develop, or consider:Statutory authority that creates an integrated Community Corrections system that addresses the 4 R’s: Rehabilitation, Reintegration, Restitution, and Restoration;Sufficient public and private funding for community programs and services;Clear policies to guide the use of programs, services, and sanctions developed;Educational communications to inform the public, offenders, and offenders’ families of the benefits and purpose of community corrections, noting that community corrections is a safe and effective way to punish and rehabilitate offenders who have been screened as suitable for placement; A reliable classification and evaluation system, to monitor and measure performance in order that the effectiveness of community corrections versus prison may be evaluated;Victim restitution, community service, and victim-offender reconciliation programs; andEstablishment of citizen advisory boards and re-entry roundtables; private, public, and non-profit partnerships to encourage a diverse representation of interests, ensure an efficient use of limited resources, and acknowledge the local community as the center of the criminal justice process.Savings reflected in lower prison construction costs could be used for education, youth programs, crime prevention, and other initiatives; and monies earned by offenders placed in halfway houses, community service programs, or victim-offender reconciliation programs instead of costly prisons could be used to pay restitution, court costs, and child support. Community stabilization would be expected to occur as offenders maintain employment, family, and social networks.
In 1992 the American Bar Association (ABA) urged states to adopt an Adult Community Corrections Act and consider establishing Community Corrections as a separate entity.

The Delaware Center for Justice encourages the State of Delaware to establish a Task Force to consider the costs and benefits of expanding Delaware’s community corrections system. Delaware’s existing community-based programs and sentencing philosophy, as captured in one of the goals of the Sentencing Accountability Commission (SENTAC), is to place offenders in the least restrictive sanction consistent with public safety. This positions our state well for building a comprehensive community corrections system.

The work of a Task Force could give legitimacy to the need for funding both a comprehensive, coordinated continuum of programs and a research component to evaluate the effectiveness of community corrections versus prison. Without sufficient funding and research, community programs, services, and sanctions will not have an opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness in reducing recidivism and controlling costs. Considering the increasing human costs of incarceration to families, victims, and communities and the financial costs of prison, investing in Community Corrections may prove to be one of the most important investments the State of Delaware could make.