Do Alternatives to Incarceration build Community Cages or increase public safety?

In August, the United States Justice department made a statement to end its use of private prisons. A statement like this suggests the end of private corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group who represent a large market share for prison contracts. However, the emerging trend known as the Treatment Industrial Complex strengthens alternatives to incarceration such as electronic monitoring like ankle monitors for mobile surveillance, residential re-entry centers with day reporting, and immediate sanctions facilities. The question that emerges is if and to what extent does the treatment industrial complex creating alternatives to end Mass Incarceration or does it create Community Prisons?

Incarceration is the state of being confined in a prison. What we have seen happening over the last 30 years is prison populations increasing through the enforcement of tough on crime ideologies as an attempt to make communities safer. How do alternatives to incarceration make communities more or less safe? The publication Community Cages by the American Friends Service Committee describes how electronic surveillance through GPS ankle monitors often comes at the expense of the person requiring supervision. It serves as a cost reduction strategy for the state and local governments however the supervised must now pay for the equipment, monthly a landline to monitor the equipment, and fees to the supervision company. Community Cages describes this practice as penalizing for low income clients who must purchase the services while the company profits, under a low wage job market. Electronic GPS monitors is only one aspect to alternatives to incarceration. Alternatives also include day reporting center and re-entry centers which allow clients to check in at the facility as varying frequency or engage in the facility’s programming for an allotted time. It is a way that clients receive wrap around services during the day and return back to their homes in the evenings. Immediate sanctions facilities create an alternative to impose sanctions for probation and parole violations without returning to prison. This is a way to alleviate the cost of revoking probation or parole.

Alternatives to incarceration promotes community corrections however the trend promotes cost saving measures and awarding these contracts based on the lowest price. The vision was to implement wrap around services for the individual being supervised from the monitoring programs and the meetings with a parole or probation officer. It can also categorize individuals with higher or lower needs into the same treatment programs which increases the failure rates for individuals with lower needs. Community Cages recommends the acceptance of Evidence Based Interventions to reduce to size of the criminal justice system to promote quality programming for community corrections and if contracting is necessary to offer contracts based on quality of programs with evidence based practices and not just to the lowest bidder. The function of this would be prevent predatory practices in supervision technology that generate a profit on low income individuals under the guise of promoting alternatives to incarceration. In the end, the questions we community members must ask is: if, and to what extent, do alternatives to incarceration promote safer communities, reduced recidivism, and more successful re-entry?


saragSara Cota Galaz is a Master’s of Social Work Candidate at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work-Tucson Component working with the YWCA of Southern Arizona’s advocacy programs. She is a proud Wildcat Alum with earning her BA in Political Science from the School of Government and Public Policy. She is an advocate for issues relating to economic justice and its intersectionality between workforce development for women in poverty, mass incarceration, and reentry. She is a member of the Oracle Board-Greek Advisory Board at the University of Arizona, Pima County Re-Entry Coalition, and the Coalition for Fair and Just Policing.

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