In many jurisdictions, probation and parole officers respond to technical violations with graduated sanctions. Possible sanctions exist on a continuum and can be community-based or involve incarceration (Taxman et al., 1999).2 For example, sanctions can take the form of increased control and surveillance such as using electronic monitoring devices. The research on electronic monitoring, however, has produced mixed results, particularly for parolees. Some studies have reported this practice has no effect on the likelihood of being recommitted to prison (Finn & Muirhead-Steves, 2002), while others have suggested it significantly reduces the likelihood of supervision failure, especially among certain offender types (e.g., violent offenders more than drug or property offenders; Padgett, Bales, & Blomberg, 2006). Another approach involves increased officer-offender contacts or participation in an intensive supervision program, for which studies have also produced varied results (Erwin, 1986; Petersilia & Turner, 1993). While some research has suggested offenders assigned to intensive supervision recidivated more often than those on traditional supervision (Gendreau et al., 2000), other studies have found that coupling intensive supervision with rehabilitation programming resulted in improved behavior (Lowenkamp et al., 2010).
The most severe type of sanction employed is confinement in jail or prison. Increasingly, sanctions are being justified on the philosophy of deterrence. This ideology is based on the idea that offenders will disengage from criminal activity when the punishment for such behavior is perceived as being swift, certain, and proportionally severe (Kleiman et al., 2014). Despite its promise, however, the use of swift-and-certain sanctions has produced mixed results with some studies reporting it reduced recidivism (Hamilton et al., 2016; Hawken et al., 2016), and others suggesting it produced null or iatrogenic effects (Latimore et al., 2016; O’Connell et al., 2016). Moreover, research on the use of jail and prison as a sanction has also shown varied results (Bucklen, 2014; Campbell, 2015; Drake & Aos, 2012; Wodahl et al., 2015). The use of incarceration sanctions rests on the assumption that most offenders are motivated to be more conforming, and wish to adhere to their conditions of supervision. While this philosophical approach to addressing violative behavior has struggled to find consensus among scholars, other approaches (e.g., rehabilitative treatment) have found more empirical and popular support in influencing behavioral change of offending populations.
Future research should seek to examine how men and women differ in their response to combinations of specific sanction types. For example, future studies could assess whether men and women respond in a similar way to the use of jail as a sanction when it is coupled with a treatment program. This is particularly pertinent given the latest push for the use of jail as a swift-and-certain sanction in many jurisdictions (see Hawken, 2010; Kleiman et al., 2014). A final and similar point to note regarding the findings is the inability of confinement (particularly jail) to reduce the likelihood of both genders to recidivate by any measure. Considering that jail is by far the most frequently used sanction for both men and women, this promotes considerable concern about the expected effectiveness of confinement to reduce recidivism among technical violators. In a similar vein, although far less common, being sanctioned to prison (especially as a first sanction event) appears to be more damaging for women than men as women were more than twice as likely to return to any custody following such a sanction. Considering the context of debating perspectives in corrections, our findings supply evidence of differences between men and women, albeit small to modest. It is possible that employing a more gender-responsive approach (e.g., trauma informed care) to how parole officers address technical violations and sanctions may help improve offender outcomes beyond what was observed here – although, this remains an area in need of more research. Overall, the findings presented here provide a foundation from which future research can dive deeper into potential gender differences in determining when they occur, why they occur, their more specified magnitude, and what such differences might mean (if anything) for correctional practice and policy.