The American criminal justice system has over the years undergone a number of transformations. One of the notable changes that have been witnessed in recent decades has been the adoption of intermediate sanctions away from the conventional rehabilitative methods. The increased use of alternative rehabilitative methods as opposed to incarceration has been discussed by a number of studies that have claimed that incarceration is a rehabilitative practice which more often does not achieve its intended objectives (Howell, 2009). The high rate of recidivism among incarcerated individuals has prompted policy makers and criminologists to look for other rehabilitation alternatives that will not only provide opportunities for successful integration of offenders back into the society, but also provide practices that will minimize the possibility of recidivism among released offenders (Listwan, Sundt, Holsinger, & Latessa, 2003). Intensive supervision probation/parole (ISP) is one such initiative that has gained wider application in the current criminal justice practices in the United States of America.

While the intensive supervision programs have gained wider acknowledgement as comparatively suitable in reducing recidivism and achieving successful offender re-entry, the cost of the programs is something to worry about (Howell, 2009). Recent studies on rehabilitation of offenders have indicated that intensive supervision probations may not be as successful as they are widely perceived. Probably it would be more appropriate if a comprehensive study is conducted to ascertain the level of success of ISP programs. This comes against the backdrop that the cost of intensive supervision programs is extremely high compared to routine supervision probations. A quantitative study would therefore be appropriate in unearthing the significance of ISP programs both to the criminal justice systems and the general public. This study will also draw comparison with the other forms of rehabilitations such as the standardized and routine probation/parole programs. It is only then, that we will be able to justify the cost of intensive supervision probation (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2010; Brown, 2007; Listwan et al., 2003).  

The Nature of Intensive Supervision Probation

Intensive supervision probation is defined as a community-based rehabilitative program whereby the offender is sentenced to perform certain tasks under the management of the Community Probation Services (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2010). It generally requires that the offender deals with the grounds of his or her offending while under a secure and serious supervision of a probation officer. In most cases, offenders are sentenced to serve their intensive supervision probation for a period of six months and even up to two years. Intensive supervision can only be imposed by a sentencing judge. However, the judge may be guided by the probation officer’s pre-sentence report and recommendations, which details the offending needs of the offender as well as the most suitable sentence and programs that would likely help in the rehabilitation efforts .Intensive supervision programs generally have standard stipulations as well as special provisions imposed by the sentencing judge depending on the specific needs of the offending. The probation officer is the custodian of these conditions and explains to the offender in understandable terms, the requirements as well as how often he or she will be expected to report. Intensive supervision programs generally target those offenders found to be repeat offenders, found guilty of committing serious offences and with severe and complex rehabilitative needs. In most cases, the program involves close supervision by the probation officer, random drug testing, and scheduled reporting to the probation office among other conditions (Howell, 2009).

The Financial Cost of Intensive Supervision

The cost of managing intensive supervision probations is comparatively high as compared with other forms of probation/parole programs. According to a comparative study conducted in 1992 in order to assess the impact of intensive supervision probation for offenders involved in drug use, it was found that there was a remarkable reduction in recidivism among the offenders sentenced to ISP than in offenders sentenced to other rehabilitative programs. However, the study found that after one year, the number of ISP offenders in jail was proportional to the routine supervision offenders as a result of new arrest. In addition, most of the offenders that were sentenced to intensive supervision probation were jailed for repeat offences, mostly related to technical violation, basically for drug use (Turner, Petersilia & Deschenes, 1992).

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According to Turner, Petersilia, & Deschenes (1992), the most worrying thing was that the intensive supervision probation drove up the cost of rehabilitation programs by more than 45 percent. While the routine supervision cost approximately $5,500 annually per offender, the intensive supervision probation cost about $8,000 annually per offender. A number of literature in recent times have consistently asserted that intensive supervision probations are not cost effective when compared with other forms of probation programs like the routine probation (Brown, 2007; Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2010). For instance, studies carried out in New York, Georgia, and Texas have detailed the cost of intensive supervision program vis-à-vis that of the routine probation. The cost of routine supervision is estimated at an average of $1.43 per person per day while intensive supervision probation would cost $3.46 per person per day. In addition, the ISP programs have not only been costly to maintain but also have failed to reduce the level of crime rate in the country. Moreover, due to the numerous problems faced by probationers, the probation officers more often become of helpers compared to the controllers (Clear, Cole, & Reisig, 2010).

Intensive Supervision Probation and Recidivism

While intensive supervision programs have been widely adopted on the basis that they reduce recidivism in offenders, studies have produced mixed results insofar as new arrests are concerned. Although the ISP has been found to produce fairly good outcomes especially with drug offenders, doubts have been raised on whether the program could be effective with offenders of drug use associated with violent groups or gangs. According to a study conducted in the previous year, the program was a total failure. The study was designed to assess the effects of intensive supervision probation on 90 drug offenders who had associations with some violent groups. After monitoring the group for a period of one year, the study discovered that the offenders did not receive greater ISP services and were not closely monitored with respect to court sanctions. After the 12 month period, more than half of these offenders were either in jail or prison for repeat offences relating to drug use (Agopia, 1990).

Although the outcome of the study could have been as a result of laxity on the part of the probation officers by failing to enforce most of the court sanctions, recent studies have consistently cast aspersion on the effectiveness of intensive supervision probation. For instance, Listwan et al., (2003), argue that while intensive supervision probation has fairly been successful in reducing repeat offences among drug users sentenced to ISP, not all jurisdictions have been successful in reducing the re-arrest rates. Listwan, et al., (2003), raise an important point that is worth examining when assessing the effectiveness of intensive supervision in reducing crime. They noted that the ISP programs have been fairly effective in reducing recidivism. However, the program has greatly failed in reducing the overall crime rate in the country. While offenders sentenced to intensive supervision probation may truly abandon their previous criminal behaviors, studies indicate that the program does not fully rehabilitate the offenders (Brown, 2007). For instance, an offender can simply change his previous criminal behavior under supervision to another. This statement is supported by the number of re-arrests reported among offenders under the intensive supervision probations. Clear, Cole, & Reisig (2010) argue that while intensive supervision probation has fairly reduced recidivism, the program has come at a cost as more re-arrests are recorded daily as a result of more technical violations. In the light of these, early studies conducted in New York, Georgia, and Texas indicated that the programs are more costly when compared to other routine supervisions.


Although the cost of incarcerating offenders is extremely high as compared with intensive supervision programs, the failure of the ISP programs to reduce crime rate is a matter of great concern. When compared to routine supervision, intensive supervision programs are costly. The high cost associated with ISP programs should therefore be justified with the positive results in the fight against crime. The shortcomings of this rehabilitative program should prompt more research for better alternatives that will be more cost effective and successful in reducing crime rate. Although this paper is not advocating for the incarceration of offenders as the most effective rehabilitative program, it seeks to provide basis for any future research that will conclusively measure the effectiveness of ISP program vis-à-vis its costs. Routine supervision may be suitable for the time since it is cost effective and similar with ISP programs. In addition, further study is required to crystallize the notion that intensive supervision programs function to transfer offenders from one crime to another and therefore do not contribute to the reduction in general crime rates. However, one big limitation of this study would be the huge financial cost required to conduct a study covering a wide area possibly the whole country.

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