While it might be more common to think of the police, prison officer or prosecutor as the main actors in the criminal justice; community corrections personnel are as necessary as their colleagues in the effective administration of justice, especially since community corrections officers are the one that supervise offenders that are residing in the community outside of a jail or prison. As with any other party in the criminal justice system, community corrections personnel are as susceptible to misconduct as anyone else. To be sure, in recent years, misconduct in community corrections has become more widespread and a growing regulatory challenge to criminal justice leaders in some jurisdictions (Buell & McCampbell, 2003).
While the misconduct that community corrections officers are involved are as diverse as the people that become community corrections officers, some misconduct seems to be more common than other. A cursory glance of the literature on community corrections misconduct reveals that sexual misconduct is one of, if not the most common form of misconduct. Sexual misconduct, at its most extreme, refers to community corrections staff using their authority to force offender to perform sexual acts. In addition, sexual misconduct is also defined as “any behavior of a sexual natural directed towards an offender”, and can include sexual harassment, sexual contact, obscenity, invasions of privacy, and conversations or conduct that suggests a romantic or sexual relationship with the offender” (Buell & McCampbell, 2003). The most likely reasons that sexual misconduct occurs in community corrections are lack of proper supervision over the community correction staff, lack of training, lack of discipline, lack of penalties for staff that commit the misconduct and a common belief among many community corrections staff that offenders are less worthy of protection (Morgan, 2004).
Another commonly form of misconduct in community correction is corruption. Corruption here refers to a number of activities in which a community corrections staff illegally enrich themselves or otherwise act in a dishonest or fraudulent manner. Corruption includes accepting bribes and gratuities from offenders or their families and friends, allowing or not reporting when offenders or other community correction staff act illegally, and extorting money or other forms of payment from offenders. In one case, community corrections staff at a New Jersey halfway house admitted to falsify records to show that they were providing “therapy, job training and others services” to inmates to justify and maintain the payments that the government was paying for offenders transitioning back into the community (Dolnick, 2012). In reality, little or no services were being provided and the reality was that a majority of the offenders in the programs were regularly using/abusing drugs (Dolnick, 2012). As with sexual misconduct, some of the primary reasons for corruption in community corrections is lack of supervision and lack of discipline. But perhaps the most important factor is lack of a “livable” wage for community correction staff. While often confronting many of the same issues and dangers that police or jail and prison officers face; the salary of many community corrections personnel and the prestige of the position is often well below that of their colleagues.
In conclusion, the fact that community corrections oversee offenders that have yet to be convicted of a crime or who have severed their time, does not mean that it is any different from other elements of the criminal justice system. As illustrated, failure to properly regulate community correction can lead to misconduct and abuse that not only affects the offenders but the whole criminal justice system itself.
Buell, M & McCampbell, S.W. (2003). Preventing staff misconduct in the community correction setting. Retrieved from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Preventing+staff+misconduct+in+the+community+corrections+setting.-a0123647918
Dolnick, S. (2012). Unlocked: Inside New Jersey’s halfway houses. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/feautures/timestopics/series/unlocked/index.html
Morgan, N. (2004). Addressing staff sexual misconduct with offenders. Retrieved from www.wcl.american.edu/endsilence/documents/InstructorsGuide.pdf