Human Services in the Criminal Justice System Trends Evaluation
Human services and criminal justice systems have been in a steady evolution of convergence of services due to overlapping goals and objectives. There are numerous intersections with these systems but most prominent is the goals of aftercare, reducing recidivism, and career training. These issues are intrinsically linked forming a major overlap in both the criminal justice and human services fields.
Recidivism is the propensity for a criminal to reoffend. This is a major issue in criminal justice because high rates of recidivism indicate that the penal system is not effective in deterring or correcting criminal behavior. Recidivism is a complex problem which the criminal justice system has been unable to reduce on its own. The reason for this complexity is that recidivism is often connected with other factors which fall outside the criminal justice system such as job, career, continued aftercare for mental health and drug issues, as well as employment and other issues. In the past, the criminal justice system attempted to resolve these issues through deterrence methods such as ordering parolees to be gainfully employed or attending counseling sessions. While these blanket policies were well-intended, they have been largely ineffective because they did not take into account the individual characteristics and issues of offenders, such as lack of education, family situations, and other factors that may limit the person’s ability to adhere to the requirements of release policies. Within this scope, human services agencies have been thrust into the criminal justice system in order to help reduce the problems.
There are many criminal justice issues which overlap with health and human services agency responsibilities. For example, drug rehabilitation is a social service issue along with employment and housing. In an effort to reduce recidivism, human service agencies have focused their attention rehabilitation while criminal justice agencies have slowly shifted policies away from punishment to a rehabilitation also. This is a large shift in policy which has not been easy because as a society the criminal justice system is often viewed from a punitive point even when we are looking at it from a rehabilitative stance. This is likely the reason that many rehabilitative programs in criminal justice have been a fairly. According to Mesmaecker (2010) there are three issues that make the implementation of rehabilitative justice programs problematic. These issues include:
(1) the victim’s position in both restorative justice theory and practice; (2) the characteristics of media reporting on crime in general and victims in particular; and (3) the risk of attaining a result opposite to the initial objective (i.e. increasing punitive attitudes instead of promoting restorative justice) (Mesmaecker, 2010).
When we look at the third issue of implementing rehabilitation, the problem becomes evident. The increase in punitive attitudes occurs when victims are represented in the media. The victim elicits emotions such as anger and outrage when they are presented from the point of their needs rather than from their role in justice.
In a public sphere constituted by distant suffering, and the emotions it arouses and the moral commitment it induces, the task of criminal justice is extremely simplified: justice for victims means making offenders suffer the harshest punishment available (Mesmaecker, 2010).
One can see this when he or she views victim impact statements in court cases. The statements often become emotional outbursts intended to increase punitive action rather than creating dialogue between the victim and offender.
In order to deal with the problems two therapeutic trends which have occurred in criminal justice human services is the use of specialized courts and the whole person approach to rehabilitation. Specialized courts are a relatively new facet to the criminal justice process in which certain social issues can be dealt with more effectively. These are known as problem solving courts, and these special courts deal with specific issues such as “drugs, truancy, teen crime, domestic violence, mental health, guns, and quality-of-life concerns” (Allen & Sawhney, 2015). These courts are designed to deal with these specific issues due to the fact that these issues are not being solved through traditional courts and punishment does not reduce recidivism rates. The purpose of these courts is to rehabilitate and to provide a more focused approach to the social problem. This also has the positive impact of reducing caseloads in traditional courts and allowing both courts to operate more efficiently. This also removes the need for courts to continue to expand and hire. According to Allen and Sawhney (2015), the benefits of specialized courts include:
- Enhanced Information concerning specific crimes
- Community Engagement that is focused through the problem solving of social issues
- Collaboration with agencies that specifically focus on the social problem
- Individualized Justice which takes a one on one approach rather than a one size fits all
- Accountability for crimes that are often overlooked or ignored
- Outcomes that are more effective and positive in nature (Allen & Sawhney, 2015).
This model for courts depends heavily on the involvement of human services agencies (Allen & Sawhney, 2015). These courts tend to alter “alter the role of judges and defense attorneys” by changing the adversarial court system into a rehabilitative situation (Allen & Sawhney, 2015). This change involves utilizing human service agencies such as welfare divisions and other assistance programs in order to provide necessary rehabilitative resources along with job and other placement services. This is part of the large trend of utilizing a whole person approach to criminal justice.
The Whole Person Approach
The whole-person approach is a paradigm shift from punitive based criminal justice policies and one-size-fits-all human services programs. This fundamental change provides the basis for specialized courts. In order for criminal justice to reduce the problems of recidivism there must be considerations for the particular issues that the accused faces. For example, drug addiction and domestic violence are two extreme problems which have not been solved by blanket policies and punitive measures.
Specialized courts have proven effective in working with cases such as domestic violence and drug crimes. In many states, specialized courts have extremely high efficiency rate when dealing with these issues (Maryland Courts, 2015). In areas of domestic violence and drugs these courts have been successful because they require a larger stakeholder such as counselors, social services, as well as probation and criminal justice services. For instance, private programs and healthcare professionals in drug and domestic violence are often utilized by these courts. by utilizing more stakeholders in the judiciary process it is possible to improve outcomes over the long-term.
Addiction and Domestic Violence
Addiction and domestic violence are serious social issues. Domestic violence crosses all social, ethnic, racial, and economic classes and the depth to which society understands and acknowledges domestic violence is diverse and ill understood. The risk factors for domestic violence are diverse consisting of:
- lack of education
- unmarried people involved in relationships
- cultural (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013).
These problems are at the center of many social issues in the US such as homelessness, public health issues, unwanted pregnancy, and many other problems that can create an environment that places many individuals in a high-risk category for criminal justice issues. In a majority of cases of domestic violence (as high as 75%) drug and alcohol addiction is present (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, 2013. It makes sense that the criminal justice system and the human services system would engage in a deeper relationship based on these types of issues because solving them through a singular punitive or social approach is not likely to reduce the rates of recidivism which is highest in cases of addiction based crimes and domestic violence.
Allen, J. M., & Sawhney, R. (2015). Administration and Management in Criminal Justice: A service Quality Approach. SAGE Publications, Inc.
Dryden-Edwards, R., & Stöppler, M. C. (2013). Domestic violence: Causes.
Maryland Courts. (2015). About the Maryland Court System. Retrieved from Maryland Courts
Mesmaecker, V. D. (2010). Building social support for restorative justice through the media: is taking the victim perspective the most appropriate strategy?. Contemporary Justice Review, 13(3), 239- 267.