NIJ Audio Transcript: What Works in Probation and Parole — Plenary Panel from the 2009 NIJ Conference
Part 1: Introduction by Kristina Rose, Acting Director, and Thomas Feucht, Executive Science Advisor, of the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Kristina Rose: I'm very excited about this plenary panel this morning. And I am going to ask one of my dear colleagues, Dr. Thom Feucht, who is the Senior Executive Science Advisor for the National Institute of Justice. He is so passionate about the work that we do at NIJ, and I am just so proud and pleased to have him as my close colleague and advisor. So, I'd like to welcome Dr. Thom Feucht.
Thomas Feucht: Thank you, Kris. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to day two of the 2009 NIJ Conference. It gives me a great pleasure, and it is a great privilege, to introduce this morning's plenary panel to you. I'm going to do very quick bio sketches. All of the biographical information on the presenters is in the ... Let me see if we can open this computer again 'cause I just slammed it shut. All of the biographical information on the presenters is in the program, including one of our presenters, Tom Williams, in the addendum. And so I refer that material to you for careful study.
Let me very quickly introduce to you the presenters. Adam Gelb is director of Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. He has held leadership positions in the field of criminal justice at the state level in both Maryland and in Georgia. If you work in this field or if you study the field of corrections and the titles "One in 100," or "One in 31," are unfamiliar to you, you are not paying attention. And we're glad to have Adam here.
Secretary James Spears is secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety in West Virginia. He is responsible in that position for the 6,000 inmates and nearly 2,500 parolees in West Virginia. He manages this penal system at a time of significant growth in that population in West Virginia. And, along with his state corrections administrator colleagues in most of the United States, is doing this at a time of terrifically contracting resources.
To say that West Virginia and the other states are facing fiscal hard times is indeed an understatement. And I'm sure you'll enjoy hearing from Secretary Spears about West Virginia's approach in these very challenging times.
The Honorable Steven Alm is a former U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, a former local prosecutor and is now a Circuit Court judge in Honolulu. His docket comprises what can only be described as the most difficult probationers in the state, a docket that he engineered and designed and selected. His work in developing and implementing Project HOPE, which is his approach to managing those serious offenders on probation, has won well-deserved national attention and has earned some awards as well. And we're very pleased to have Judge Alm here.
Tom Williams, we're particularly grateful for him being able to join us today. Tom Williams is associate director of Court Services and Offender Supervision in the District of Columbia. He previously served as director of Probation and Parole in the state of Maryland.
In D.C., Tom has responsibility — not to diminish Secretary Spears' challenges — Tom has responsibility for the 15,000 persons in the District of Columbia that are on probation or parole. And not to make light of the matter by any means, where Pew's numbers are one in 100 nationally, the District of Columbia's number is one in 50 incarcerated. And where the Pew's numbers are one in 31 under criminal justice supervision, the D.C. numbers are about one in 20. So, Tom certainly has a significant challenges in managing that operation in D.C. And we're very, very delighted to have Tom here.
Finally, Dr. Pam Lattimore is principal scientist at Research Triangle Institute International, at RTI International in North Carolina. She was earlier on the faculty of the University of South Carolina. She was also Chief of the Criminal Justice Research Division at NIJ, a former colleague of mine and many others while she was at NIJ. And she is also, I'm delighted to say, a graduate of the great University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is of course also the principal investigator of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, the SVORI initiative.
We have had previous sessions at this conference on corrections. But never before, I think, has there been the pervasive sense of urgency around issues of corrections and the sense of purpose at resolving what are, I think we would all agree, the significant challenges facing our field of corrections.
Never had we, I think, have we had a panel that presents such a holistic approach as we do today. We have state corrections represented. We have the bench, the judge. We have probation and parole. And we have research and public policy, all represented on this panel.
And never before, I think, have we been so fortunate to have assembled a more experienced and authoritative group of presenters selected for this panel. We've designed this panel to provide plenty of opportunity for discussion and interaction among the panelists and, of course, plenty of time to take your questions and to involve you in the discussion.
As I turn the podium over to our panel moderator and to our first presenter, Adam Gelb, would you please join me in welcoming our presenters for this morning?
Part 2: Adam Gelb, Director, Public Safety Performance Project, Pew Center on the States, Washington, D.C.
Thanks. Good morning.
Usually talking about corrections issues generally and parole and probation, and dealing with all of the very tough issues involved, are usually sort of the downer at these kind of meetings. But coming up before this group after the plenary session at lunch yesterday, I just want to thank Kris and Thom for letting us sort of lighten up the discussion a little bit here. It's nice to be in this role.
And it is a terrific panel. Our goal today is to make sure, after this hour and a half or so, that you'll leave here knowing exactly what needs to be done in parole and probation. Right? 'Cause this group, as Thom just said, we have all the answers here. And so look forward to imparting all of this wisdom today.
I have really three points I'd like to make. The first is, actually, despite what I just said, we do know what works at this point. We have a fairly good idea about what works to reduce recidivism, if that's how "what works" is defined. Secondly, that we just aren't very good at doing that yet. And third, we should be optimistic at this point in time, as Thom just said, about squaring our actual practice with knowledge. That, sort of, now is the time for community corrections, parole and probation, I think, to take advantage of a lot of circumstances and factors and really come of age.
So, the first point. We know what to do. I stated boldly just to be maybe a little provocative. We certainly don't know with as much certainty as we'd like, certainly not to a scientific certitude. But we know a tremendous amount more today than we did 25 years ago, say, when the prison building boom really started, we started on this path as sort of the primary response to crime being incarceration. As we started off on that path, we did not know that much about how to work with offenders.
Now we know a lot more. We have much better instruments, risk assessment instruments, that help us distinguish in pretty significant and meaningful ways the distinction between a high., medium. and low-risk offender. We know, for instance, that we should leave low-risk offenders alone, that we make 'em worse by giving them laundry lists of conditions and things that just sort of trip them up over time. And we ought to focus our resources on the high-risk offenders in high-risk neighborhoods and at high-risk times, the periods right after sentencing or release, when somebody's back in the community.
The treatment programs that we're using today increasingly are not your father's treatment programs. They're increasingly less and less groups where people sit around and sort of share stories and talk about exorcising inner demons and repairing relationships with their significant others and parents. They're cognitive behavioral treatments that really put people in real.life situations and have them practice just saying "no" and other very practical and real scenarios that actually do work. And on and on and on.
A lot of folks in the room know the evidence-based practice list at this point. And when you look at the research, you do find that if you use cognitive behavioral treatment programs, you can reduce recidivism by about 30 percent more than if you don't. If you target four or more of the criminogenic risk factors, the criminal risk factors that are specific to that individual offender, you can also reduce recidivism by about 30 percent.
You have Kansas and Michigan, for example — yesterday, those of you who were in the panel with the secretaries of corrections from those two states — broad-based efforts across their corrections departments to implement evidence-based practices on both the probation and parole sides, showing also about 30 percent reductions in recidivism. So, this is not a promise but a goal here, that if we do community corrections right, using what we have learned over the past 25 years, we can reduce recidivism by about 30 percent.
Now, why aren't we doing it? And I'd argue that more and more so, these evidence-based practices are being used. But one of the chief reasons is something we documented in the report that Thom mentioned "One in 31." Probably fairly well known to this group, but certainly we found not the case among the media and others, was that despite the massive increase in imprisonment over the past 25 years, where we have put more than a million people behind bars than were just 20 years ago, that community corrections population has kept pace, and the two lines are very much in tandem.
And really, what's sort of incredible is that you would think that the slice of pie that is in prison, as that prison population exploded, you would think that the slice of the prison pie would have been larger. But, amazingly, it's sort of still the same. Twenty-five years ago, we had about 70 percent of the offender population in the community and 30 percent behind bars. A million more people in prison, and it's still about the same.
So, while the increase in the prison population has received a tremendous amount of attention, it has not been the case for parole and probation. It has grown just as fast, to the point now where yes, there're one in 100 people in this country behind bars, but when you look at the supervision rate, it's one in 45 individuals. And when you break that down even further, because, as we know, crime is so heavily dominated by males, it's actually one in 18 males in this country who's under some form of criminal justice supervision. And for African-Americans it's one in 11. And remember, those are not broken out by gender. So, if you're looking at African-American males, that's going to be substantially lower than one in 11 in this country under some form of community supervision.
So, a huge rise in the population.
The second thing that we documented in the report was the rise in costs associated with prisons. And just to be short about this, across that period of time, the last 25 years, for which we have data, prisons accounted for about 32 percent of the growth. They're still in that neighborhood of 30 percent of the total offenders. But almost 90 percent of the increased spending on corrections went to prisons. Eighty-eight percent, from those states where we were able to collect data, of the new corrections spending over the past 25 years went to prisons.
So, at this point we're now spending, according to the 34 states we were able to collect data from, almost 79 bucks a day per prisoner, versus about $3.42 for somebody on probation. So, again, to folks in the system, not a surprise. But it certainly was to others, that you could put somebody on probation for 22 days for what it costs to have 'em in prison for one day.
When you think about spending $3.42 per day, what would probation look like if it was $6.42 a day or $9.42, or even $13.42? A lot of questions we got from media and others coming out of the publication of "One in 31" was, why isn't that the case? And there really isn't a good answer. We are supervising, at this point, 5 million people on parole and probation in this country for what appears to be in the neighborhood of about $5 billion, maybe six.
So, it is a system that is completely overwhelmed and underfunded. And it is also one that has been toiling in anonymity. There's so little focus on this system. I'd love to even just see a show of hands from anybody from a parole or probation agency who at any point was asked by their governor or county executive to be involved in a conversation about what to do about crime in their jurisdiction.
(A show of hands.)
Gelb: That's sort of what I suspected. I've been thinking for some time, and I haven't really done anything about it, but that one of the best ways to maybe improve performance in parole and probation would be get a TV show about a parole and probation officer.
Gelb: Right? I mean, how many cops shows have we had, right? We've had New York cops and Chicago cops and homicide cops and sex crime cops, and they've even done singing cops. And wasn't there a show for a short time about blind cops? And now there's a show I think that's called "The Unusuals," or something like that. So, we have unusual cops now. So, dozens and dozens of police shows. And if we could have just one about parole and probation. Kris, maybe you could be the lead role.
Gelb: So, we know what to do, but we have an overwhelmed system. And yet I think, and you're gonna to hear from our panel today some real good reasons to be optimistic. And just to set the stage for the really specific situations that they're going to describe and innovations that they're working on, I'd put out a couple of things.
One is public opinion. It is commonly assumed that the public has sort of no tolerance for the proverbial "do something else with offenders" and that rational policymaking in this area is political suicide. That certainly has been the case, but it really is not true.
When you look at polls that are done on a state basis, whether it was in Georgia a few years ago or a fairly recent poll in Texas, and certainly national polls, you find significant, substantial majorities, two-thirds, in some cases three-quarters, public support for the general notion of doing something else. It's usually framed in the context of drug offenders, but something along the lines of: Do you support mandatory treatment and testing in lieu of incarceration for low-level drug offenders? And you find that level of support even across demographic groups and party affiliation, et cetera.
The second is the overall trend in government toward managing for results. I think corrections is coming a little bit lately to this, but as a general matter, government is moving toward looking at what we get for our money, what comes out, the outcomes, rather than inputs and outputs. Certainly the economy, obviously the economic situation, has lots of states looking for ways to do more with less.
And I think, at least I hope, through our project and the efforts of folks here and a lot of others in the room, NIJ, BJA and others, growing awareness among policymakers that we actually do know what works to hold offenders accountable to victims, to reduce recidivism. There are safe and effective ways to deal with lower risk offenders than to put 'em behind bars.
And this is, I think, why we are seeing the Second Chance Act pass under the prior administration and Congress. It's why we're seeing states like Texas just say "no" to eight more prisons, which they did in the 2007 session, even before the economy really tanked. Literally facing an almost billion dollars' worth of prison budget over five years and said, "No, we're going to do things a different way and build out almost a quarter billion," — with a B — "worth of new community and residential treatment slots." And why we're seeing the same in Kansas and Michigan and other states across the country now.
So, I think for those reasons, now is the time to really pay attention to what these gentlemen and ladies have to say about what they're finding works and sort of the issues that they're grappling with across the country.
Part 3: James W. Spears, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, Charleston, West Virginia
Now that Adam has broken the 10-minute rule of speaking, I feel like I've got at least 30 minutes, right?
Spears: I want to say that I have a 9-year-old. It's not her birthday. And there's no way I could possibly make Rice Krispy Treats. So, my hat's off to you.
Spears: As cabinet secretary for Military Affairs and Public Safety for the state of West Virginia, I'm responsible for the National Guard, the State Police, all of our prisons, all of our jails, all of our parole, fire commission, emergency management, homeland security, et cetera, et cetera. What this does, though, is this gives me an umbrella in which to look at everything from a holistic approach, as opposed to just being the commissioner of corrections, or whatever. And the commissioner of corrections works very closely with me and for me.
You know, he has a saying. Every time I see him I say, "Well, Commissioner Rubenstein, how are things going?" And he looks at me and he goes, "Well, Cabinet Secretary, business is good."
Spears: And unfortunately, in the corrections business, business is always good in West Virginia.
I was supposed to give an overview of a state's perspective. And as Thomas pointed out at the opening, our numbers are relatively small. We're not a California. We're not a Texas. We don't have hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But what we are is a good example of what has been happening across the United States. And it gives one the ability to, in some manageable terms, look at the problem in a manageable proportion.
To do so, let's go back about 20 years. Twenty years ago, the state of West Virginia only had about 18, 19 hundred prisoners. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the nation in West Virginia. We still do. But we have, today, the fastest, or second fastest, rate of increase in incarceration, growth incarceration, in the nation. The highest increasing rate of prison growth. We are increasing at an annual rate of 7 percent.
Twenty years ago, 1,800, 1,900 prisoners. At that point, we had two major penitentiaries, with 1,800, 1,900 beds. One of those, our principal one, for maximum security, was your typical dank, dark labyrinth of cells, of which made it right for murders, rapes, all of the bad things that used to be associated with prisons. Because of that, the Feds came in and threatened receivership. They also looked at our county jails, and they were in similarly deplorable conditions. And they threatened receivership.
So, the state went on a campaign of building a 10.jail regional jail system, which we have put in place. Counties feed into it. The counties pay a per diem to the regional jails.
We also started building out more prisons. Built a new 1,100.man maximum security prison, state-of-the-art. But then we also built a female prison. We also built a young offenders prison. And we did like everybody else, we started building, building, adding, adding, adding. To the point where today we have 5,000 bed space in our prisons.
But instead of having 1,800, 1,900 prisoners, we now have 6,300 prisoners, and only 5,000 beds. So you say, "What do you do with the other 1,300?" That's why I mentioned the regional jails. We just stuff them into our regional jails and said, "Lie on the floor."
Now, we know that that's not a solution. But how do we fix it? "Well, we build more prisons." No, we don't. And we can't just afford to keep building our way out of this.
The problem is we have had projections by George Washington University, which they did a research study back in the year 2000, 2001, which projected for our prison growth up through the year 2020, and that projection has proven to be uncannily accurate. To the point where, two years ago, it was off by two prisoners.
That projection now has us right at the 6,300 mark, where we are. But they are now projecting that in two and a half years we will go from 6,300 to 8,500. How do we deal with that? How do states deal with that type of rate of increase, of growth?
Well, I've been dealing with this with my governor for the last four years. And I've been saying, "Governor, we've got to build, we've got to build." And he kept saying, "No, no, no. Find a better solution."
So, he issued an executive order, in which he created a commission to study possible solutions other than building. And to do this we have come up with a commission that's comprised of the executive branch, judicial branch, legislative branch, nonprofits and representatives from communities throughout the state — 40 people. That's it. And we've brought them together for the last five months to discuss ways that we could approach this situation other than just building our way out of it.
Well, you say, why not just build your way out of it? As was mentioned, the increasing cost of building, as we all know, it's getting huge. Let me just give you an idea from West Virginia's standpoint. How many of you know any flat spot in West Virginia?
Spears: I don't know of any. To build a 1,200.bed maximum security prison in West Virginia, any guesses? $200 million. Those are the estimates that have been given to us for 1,200 beds.
Now, you add on top of that, after you build that prison, you've got $26,000 to $30,000 a year per prisoner just to maintain them. So, as you can see, we've got a conundrum. As a matter of fact, we've got a real crisis on our hands. Already 1,300 we're stuffing them into the jails. And we've got another 2,003, 2,200 on the way in the next two and a half years.
So, what this commission has looked at doing, and the recommendations it has provided — I'm supposed to give this report to the governor in the next two weeks — we're coming up with a comprehensive agenda. Many of the solutions that we are proposing are not new to you in this room: greater use of community behavior, health and substance abuse services for both prevention and for re-entry — stressing the word "community."
We want to divert low-level felony offenders to day report centers and other community-based alternative sentencing and also divert more to probation, where the needs are addressed in a community setting. We also are looking for possible statutory changes to parole eligibility, as well as examining in its entirety the state criminal code. A huge undertaking.
Plus, of course, we do have to add a variety of beds. But we're going to focus on work release and additional transitional housing services.
As you can see, we are probably going to have to build something. But we have to be smart and target what we build and how we build it. Very quickly, I want to say we know that we will be facing some impediments or obstacles. As Adam Gelb just mentioned, much of those deal with public opinion. But in West Virginia, our justices are elected and, as you know, our lawmakers are elected. What lawmaker or justice ever got elected for being soft on crime?
I mean, if you can point out one to me, please let me know how they campaigned.
So, it's against their grain to want to look at reducing minimum sentences, to reducing some of the time served. It's against what they see as their best interests in many ways. But we have to educate the public on the need to be smart on crime, not tough on crime.
Some judges agree with community-based sanctions. But some aren't as enlightened. So, we have to do a better job of convincing our judges that community sanctions work.
Plus, we have to look at victims' feelings. Whenever you have community-based sanctions, victims very often see their perpetrator right there with them the very next day. So, we have to keep that in mind.
Plus, there's just a public demand for punishment and justice. And we have to make sure that there's a balance between the two.
And then, we have to manage expectations. When we come out with this report, we can't say this is a panacea. We have to be realistic in what we expect it to accomplish. Keeping in mind that no matter what you do, one bad apple can ruin it for everyone. But reform we must, and reform we will. Because if we don't, my commissioner of corrections is going to continue to say, "Business is good."
Part 4: The Honorable Steven S. Alm, Judge, First Circuit Court, Honolulu, Hawaii
Good morning, everybody. I'm Steve Alm. I'm a judge from Honolulu, Hawaii.
As a former U.S. Attorney, it's been a long time since I've been standing behind this seal, but it feels good. And it felt very good yesterday to hear Laurie Robinson, who I used to work with, and we started weed and seed sites, we did a number of things like that, but to hear the idea that we've got to go with what works, don't have an agenda going into something, try to be open to new ideas, trying new things, be pragmatic about it. And that's what I think I've brought to this kind of an effort.
I was on the bench starting in 2001. I got assigned to my current assignment in June of 2004. I'm a regular felony trial calendar judge — murders, rapes, robberies, drugs. Hawaii has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country, thank goodness. We have one of the very highest property crime rates. Methamphetamine has been our drug of choice for the last 20 years — not all of "our" drug of choice — but has been the biggest problem. I think 60 percent of the folks' positive tests are for methamphetamine.
And from the first month I was on the calendar, I would get motions to revoke probation from the probation officers. And to give you an idea of our size, I'd get motions to revoke from our probation officers. We have about 8,000.plus offenders on Oahu, in Honolulu, on probation or deferral. We have probation officers with typical heavy caseloads, like all over the country. If they're banked, it's in the hundreds, but otherwise it's 160, 180, 200 to one.
We have methamphetamine being our biggest drug of choice. We have 99 times out of 100 the POs at these motions to revoke probation would recommend to me, "This person is not amenable to probation, send them to prison for five, 10 or 20 years, the underlying offense." And I thought, this is crazy! This is no way to change somebody's behavior.
Now, at sentencing, if somebody is violent or dangerous, they should go to prison. That's not the issue. It's if they're going to be on probation, can we make them succeed on probation?
And so I thought, okay, what to do. If I didn't like the current system, what to do to make it different?
And I looked at the statutes, and I did a lot of thinking, and I thought, okay, what do parents do? What do I do as a parent? If my kid screws up, I don't ignore it repeatedly, and then, the following year, kick them out of the house, which, in a way, is the way probation works. And I'm not criticizing our probation officers or our judges. They didn't have tools. They had two options, I think.
For the folks that are doing fine on probation, it's not an issue. But we're not here because of them. When folks are screwing up on probation, the PO could either try to work with 'em on it, in spite of missed appointments, dirty drug tests, not going to treatment, refusals to go to treatment and eventually perhaps make a good case to send the case for a revocation back to the judge, saying, this person is not amenable to probation, we've kind of given up on him, send them to prison.
And so as a parent, if you can have swift and certain consequences, if your kid does something wrong, you deal with it. You talk to them and you give them a consequence. Now, how to make our probation system work that way?
Well, I sat down with an enlightened probation supervisor. I explained what I wanted to do. And looking at the statutes, we're going to make these motions to modify probation, not revoke probation. I brought the prosecutor in, the public defender, folks from the jail system. And I asked the supervisor from the prosecutor, design us a new three-page, fill-in-the-blanks motion to modify.
If this isn't easy to do for paperwork, the probation officers are never gonna be able to do it. It'll also be easier for the court staff. They don't do a new judgment, so it's a two-page fill-in-the-blanks. The motion to modify probation is a two-page fill-in-the-blanks. Check off the box. They tested dirty on this day. They missed an appointment on this day. They didn't go to treatment. The probation officers can do this in under five minutes to get this done. And that's the way we can try to make it work.
The public defender then said to me, "You know judge, if you're gonna ..." I said, "We're gonna arrest people as soon as they violate. We're deconstructing the motion to revoke probation, which took the probation officer hours to prepare and instead this five-minute thing. But we're gonna deconstruct and go back to the first violation and deal with it and hope they learn from that. This is all about keeping people out of prison, unless they're really violent and dangerous, and then they should go to prison."
But the idea is to deal with it immediately. So, the public defender said, "You know, the rules are the same, but you're actually going to enforce them for the first time. Can you warn our guys of how this is gonna work?" And I said, "That makes sense." And we're gonna target the highest risk folks on probation. Because those are the folks you can get the best bang for your buck doing it. So, sex offenders, the ones that the public is the most concerned about, domestic violence offenders, we do the violent ones, we do everybody who's having trouble on probation.
And in the middle group there are folks who have failed at regular probation, either refused to go to treatment or failed at treatment and were still testing dirty. They were gonna get revoked. We started with those folks on this. And the whole idea is we get everybody together with this. And our strategy here is to get the whole system working together very quickly in order to get this done.
So, it starts with the warning hearing. In no uncertain terms, the folks are brought into court. Their attorney's there. Prosecutor's there. Probation officer is there. And I explain, for you not to be sent to prison means you're making a deal with me as the judge that you're gonna follow the rules of probation. If you're not gonna do that, tell me right now, and I'll send you to prison. You'll save everybody in this courtroom time. But everybody in here wants you to succeed on probation. Your attorney does. The prosecutor does. I do. The people of the state of Hawaii.
In Hawaii, it's $50,000 a year to lock people up. It's tremendously expensive. That's part of the reason why we send half of our inmates out of state, mostly to Arizona, 'cause it's $27,000 a year there. An easy call for a governor, policymakers, legislators; not so good for the inmates and their families and the like. But that's the reality we face.
And so at this warning hearing, I tell them, "If you test dirty for drugs, you're gonna go to jail. If you don't see your probation officer, you and I both know it means you know you're gonna test dirty or you're doing something you shouldn't do, or you're blowing off the PO and me. All of those will result in going to jail. If you can stop using drugs on your own, that's great. But we're going to find out, 'cause you're going to get drug tested.
"You're gonna call a drug test hotline every weekday morning. You're given a color for privacy purposes. If your color comes up, you have to come in that day for a drug test. If you test positive, you're going to jail. If you don't show up, the federal fugitive task force is gonna come and get you." 'Cause with my prior experience, I was able to talk to our HIDTA, I was able to talk to the U.S. Marshal; they agreed to serve the warrants for my courtroom.
So, I have a wanted poster I hold up in court at the warning hearing, and I say, "If you don't show up for anything, the guys who make all these arrests are gonna come and arrest you. They're not going to come alone. People can get hurt. It's embarrassing. So, even if you've screwed up, come in anyway. I'm going to sanction you, but not for as long as if we have to use all these resources to have people come and get you."
And to the offenders, this makes sense. They're all nodding along. We're telling them exactly what the expectations are. And I tell them, "I can't control your behavior. You're an adult. If you choose to get high, you're gonna miss your kids Pop Warner football game this weekend, or you're not gonna be able to do something that you wanted to do. But you chose the ice pipe over that activity. So, it's up to you. I can't control what you're going to do, but I can control what I'm going to do.
"Now, do you have any questions? .What if I test dirty today?' That's a good question. Well, your PO is here. My guess is he's or she's not going to start you on the hotline for a few days. And that's exactly right. 'Cause it stays in your bloodstream typically 48 to 72 hours. We have a very rapid drug screen. It's $5. If anybody contests, we send it out to GCMS Confirmation."
So, that's the way it works. Now, we started with 34 people four and a half years ago. We now have 1,475 or more, including 1,250 felons. The results have been even better than I could have thought. We've reduced positive drug tests by 86 percent, missed appointments by more than 80 percent. The longer they're in this, those numbers get better and better.
A random control trial is being done right now. The results are gonna be published in the next couple of months. Probation revocations are down by more than 50 percent. Arrests for new crimes, totally outside of anything to do with the judiciary, are down by more than 50 percent. That's why the police are willing to help out and serve these warrants.
As the police chief said to me, "So the idea is if we get more resources up front and pick these guys up before they commit new crimes, then maybe down the road we won't have to investigate the burglary or the car theft?" I said, "That's exactly what the hope is. The hope."
We've got $1.2 million from the legislature the last four years, $770,000 for drug treatment slots. .Cause a bunch of people need treatment. Treatment works. But believe me, it works even better if they know they're gonna get arrested if they walk out before they finish.
And people have told me, you know, "It's not going to work. We've got guys who have been in prison before. Almost everybody has been in jail before." And I said, "Yes, but human nature being what it is, a lot of people can do time when they have to, but they don't want to do it today. So, if they think, "If I use today, I might get tested tomorrow, go to jail tomorrow; I'm not gonna use today."
They get drug tested at least once a week when they start, sometimes two days in a row, six times a month on the hotline. If they make every appointment and test clean every time, they're given a new color, half as often. Two more months, half as often again. As a reward for doing what's right.
The jail beds between the study group and the control group, from preliminary numbers I've heard — like I say, the study's not out yet — show jail has been neutral, in spite of the fact that we are arresting these guys and giving them these short — I give 'em a few days or a week the first time and equivalent or more later on. The prison beds have been greatly reduced. This is going to be a true cost savings. And when the police don't have to make a new arrest, the whole system's gonna benefit from it.
Now, one of the things — and there're no sacred cows in this, we're just going with what we've seen — not everybody needs drug treatment, meth users as well as other people. A significant number are able to stop using in a system they know they're gonna go to jail each and every time. That saves the precious treatment beds for the folks that really need it.
Our treatment providers are totally on board with this. Our public defender is totally on board with this.
What I handed out here are benchmarks. If anyone wants to do it, I will be happy to talk to any judge in your jurisdiction. At the bottom of the back page of that has our judiciary Web site. It has more than you want to know about HOPE Probation.
And HOPE, how did that name come up? Well, after we started this for a while, I had a contest among the probation officers and court staff. One of the early entries was YANK and SPANK.
Alm: And I thought, well, there's some accuracy to that, but it's certainly not aspirational enough. Nothing I could come to Washington with. So, somebody came up with Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement. And I thought, that says it all. We want these folks to succeed. They've got to step up. We can help meet them and do that.
Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I think, was very honest with Mexico recently, talking about we all have shared responsibility in that. It's the United States' insatiable desire for drugs. And I don't think it's an overstatement to say, if we do this right, we have found a way to slake that demand. We can actually reduce demand this way if people are willing to work a little harder, work a little smarter and move quickly. And I'm hoping we can play a big part of that in HOPE Probation.
So, thank you very much. Talk to you later.
Part 5: Tom Williams, Associate Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision, Washington, D.C.
Well, good morning, everyone. Sometimes I get a little technological challenge here, so let's see how well I can get this going.
Oh, there it is. Good.
I'm glad to be here this morning. I just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes. My outline is gonna talk about just maybe three points that I would like for you to consider. One of which is that re-entry challenges. Re-entry challenges for us in community corrections are challenging, but they're not impossible, which means that the guys that are coming back to us from prison or those who get sentenced from jails, they have a lot of issues. And sometimes when we are faced with folks with a lot of issues, we have a tendency not to be able to take them to the next level. So, there are challenging issues with us, but they are not impossible for us to overcome with some assistance.
Also I want to mention to you about community corrections and police partnerships. From the standpoint, they're a significant value in community corrections partnering with law enforcement, in that we share a common law enforcement/crime reduction mission. So, from the standpoint of our shared mission, there's an important value that we bring to the community with regards to partnering with law enforcement.
The third thing I would like for you to consider is that the community's acceptance of re-entrants, or those persons who are returning to the community, is very important for us as we try to move that person to the next level.
So, those are the three things I would like for you to keep in mind as we continue this talk.
There are at least five things that we attempt to address when folks are coming back from prison. That's not to say that this is an exhaustive list. Certainly as you are sitting in the audience, you can think of other things that are challenging for folks that come back. But these are the five that, if we in community corrections at least can target and make inroads into these five areas, we actually can have an impact with regards to those persons not going back to prison.
One of the key things for us in D.C. is housing. As most of you know, sometimes a guy will be sentenced to 10 or 15 years in the District of Columbia. He come back and his neighborhood is gone. With the rehabilitation that's going on in a lot of areas in D.C., low-cost housing almost is nonexistent.
So, if you're thinking, well, if a person comes back, he can live with his family. Well, his family may not even be in the District anymore. They may have moved to Maryland or Virginia. So, as you're trying to work on release plans for persons to come back to an area, that area that they were used to really doesn't exist.
One of the things that we have found within our agency that is at least 13 to 15 percent of the folks that we have under supervision, at one time during the course of the supervision, is in a shelter, because they just don't have a viable place to stay. And we have been fortunate to get an additional million dollars from Congress in our budget just to help us with transitional housing issues.
So, folks coming back from prison, that is the one thing that you really have to watch out for is: Where are they going to stay? Because we need a stable environment to at least get that person to a better footing, to put 'em in a position to be successful under supervision.
Employment is another issue that's critical. A lot of the folks that we have under supervision either have no work history or have very limited work history. And you couple that with a lack of academic achievement while in their growing-up years. We have folks who come to us and say, I have a GED or a 12th grade education. We will test them in our agency and come to find out that they are operating at a sixth, fifth or sometimes third and fourth grade educational level.
So, how can you take a person with that kind of functioning and say, go out and then fill out an application for a job? And we see this manifested when we say to folks, go out and fill out an application, and then they come back and say, well, they weren't hiring, without even bringing the application back. So, these are critical issues that we have in terms of employment: the lack of educational achievement and then telling folks to fill out an application for a job.
In addition to that, a lot of the offenders that we have are actually competing with high school and college students for entry-level jobs. We know that it takes at least $35 to $40 thousand to have a livable wage within, certainly, the District, and these service-type jobs are not paying anywhere near that. And with the responsibilities that a lot of the offenders have, getting these low-level service-type jobs isn't sufficient for them to get them in a position where they actually can have a sense of self-worth, to actually complete their level of success under supervision.
We noticed that substance abuse, which was spoken of earlier, is critical element with regards to folks coming back from prison. A lot of them were under the influence of drugs when they were arrested. And when you look at their histories of supervision, their histories of arrest, you'll find deep patterns of substance abuse issues that may not have been addressed while they were in prison. So, you have an issue that wasn't addressed while they were incarcerated, was never addressed while they were on the street, and then you come back and then try to work up a plan for that person when he comes back. So, that's going to be a key issue, and it is a key issue for us.
Criminal activities and criminal associates. One of the things that we try to work on with folks coming back is trying to give them more positive social outlets or positive peers. We have a good relationship with the faith-based community in the District of Columbia, where we're trying to partner our faith-based partners with offenders, to give them a positive role model and/or positive experiences while they're here, so that they can actually attempt to see a different side of what they're used to.
Now, it's very easy for folks who, in association with gangs or their peer groups or crews, whatever they're called in your state, they have a tight bond there. So, if you're gonna take them away from something, you must give them something. So, it's important, when you're working on those re-entry issues, what else can you give them other than what, certainly, they're used to? That's challenging for us. And we know that the offenders that we have sometimes, we have to change what they think and then how they think.
And that gets into this whole area of cognitive restructuring. How can we get this person to think, and then act, a different way, so that they can then make better decisions, so that they won't wind up themselves back on the opposite side of the law and then going back to prison?
Reconnecting with families and significant others. With regards to how do we now get a person in a position where they feel a part of something or a sense of community? Again, it's trying to put that person in the position where they know that at least they have an affinity or need to have an affinity with a group that's important for them and also establishing the types of relationships, either with their officer or members of the community, and the community trying to accept them back within that community, so they can then feel a part of that community, so they can then move on to another level.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but the point that I'm trying to make here is that if we can at least tackle these five, we can certainly have an impact on rates of folks going back to prison.
So, what do we hope to accomplish, or what do we hope to impact? On the left-hand side, you can see what we attempt to decrease. We're trying to decrease violent re-arrests, drug re-arrests, technical violations. And you guys know the studies. More than half the folks that are going back to prison — that affect any one of our states — go back because of technical violations, drug abuse and also domestic assaults or violent assaults.
And here are the things, as we tried to mention, certainly that we're trying to increase. In terms of length of stay in treatment, certainly that has an impact. Academic levels of achievement, as well as the social functioning within the community. Without that lack of a social functioning and relationship building, the folks that we are charged to supervise will then find other means to get their needs met. And unfortunately these needs are not ones that we will find socially acceptable.
Police and community partnerships. What can we work together on in terms of our common mission? Certainly we don't want the police to work with us and do what we call accountability tours as a means or method to violate anyone's rights. For example, when we take police with us in the community to the homes of the offenders, a way for them to get a way to identify who's in that area of service, so that if they need any information, they certainly could go to that person and ask and then vice versa. But when we actually invite the police to come with us into the homes, we don't want the police to start rummaging around the homes looking for evidence that actually can charge the person. So, in that sense we really have to control that environment.
We operate with law enforcement. Within the District, we have something that's called All Hands on Deck, where the mayor and the police chief will flood the area, particularly in crime areas, just to make sure that folks are really managing their ways in a law-abiding manner. We use this as a way for law enforcement to try to get intelligence of crimes that were committed in the area. So, since our offenders are in those communities, know what may be going on and then kind of share that to help them prevent and also to solve crimes.
Our information sharing is another aspect where we meet with law enforcement on a monthly basis to let them know who is coming back to the community, where they're living and then what are some of the challenges they have. So, it's a way, again, for law enforcement to identify who's there. And if there's any issues that can help law enforcement in the future, either we and/or the offenders can actually assist in that.
Unfortunately, not everyone that we have under supervision is successful. So, we actually use law enforcement to help reduce the number of warrants that we have. We have an initiative that's going on right now with the joint task force, where our staff are out with law enforcement for the rest of this week. They started at 5:00; they'll probably end at 1:00. And they'll serve some of our, what we call high-impact, high-risk warrants that we have out there. And since this year we've participated in about five or six different warrant initiatives with that.
One of the things that is important for us is education of the community with regards to who's coming back and also trying to get the community to accept that person back into their community. So, it's important for us to have regular meetings with the community members, in terms of building that relationship and building that bridge. And we do that, basically, on a quarterly basis with that.
With regard to the community itself, we recognize, with the passage of the Second Chance Act, that the Bureau of Prisons now can have a person in a halfway house setting for up to 12 months. Which is beneficial to us and also for my colleagues across the country — the federal, that is. Because these folks will then be in a position where we can then work on release plans, versus opening the door and then let them out.
But there is a sentiment in certain pockets of the community that they do not want their neighbors, basically, there, and they want them somewhere else. And that's where we have to do a lot of education with the community, to say they need to live here where they actually came from, and these folks are not aliens. We have about 2,500 folks who come back in the District annually from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But we also have a lack of halfway houses and transitional housing with regard to this issue, which is a challenge for us, as I spoke before, with regard to housing. So, this whole issue of community education is really important.
In summary, what are the things that we try to do? And I just want to leave you with five points. One, there is value in community corrections partnering with law enforcement with regards to who's in the community and helping that person actually become a part of that community in terms of helping to succeed.
I have a concern, as well as my colleagues, with regards to the lack of funding that may be available in the future because of states' severe budget deficits. We recognize that if we can provide the services to offenders at the time that they need it, and sometimes we have to frontload the service so that we can put the person on a better footing, but if we have deficits in budgets, then we know what's gonna get cut, and it's gonna be cut for those services that's going to help those persons make a better life for themselves.
I can't stress enough the importance of family and community support with folks coming back, in terms of trying to build that relationship and also to try modeling with this. We call them community supervision officers, you call them probation officers, with regard to how to actually navigate difficult situations within the community. And it goes without saying, assessment drives supervision. And without the assessment to put the person in the right or correct classification level and then develop a plan of supervision, prior to the person even coming back to the community, and certainly within that 30. to 60.day period, which is critical with regards to the possibility of re-arrest, we're gonna be behind the eight ball.
And lastly, the importance of focusing on outcomes. It's very easy for us in community corrections to really be focused on activities, because there are many things that come upon us on a day-to-day basis. But the main thing for us is that we really have to start measuring our results, focusing on those outcomes and then pay attention to those things that's really going to lead us to on a course of success.
Part 6: Pamela Lattimore, Principal Scientist, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
I'm glad to be here today. I told Tom, as we were planning for this, that I felt like in some ways that they had brought me on last to sort of throw a bucket of water, as a representative of the research committee, a bucket of water over all the good news that we were hearing from the field.
Fortunately, I think, for me and for everyone, the news that I have from this large study that we've been conducting for the last six years is positive. And it certainly speaks very strongly to a promising beginning, in terms of being able to do something in the area of re-entry.
And Tom, I thought you gave a very nice overview on the local level of what these re-entry programs are looking like. So, I think it really frames the issue very well.
For the last six years, we have been evaluating the Federal Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, which was a $110 million federal investment in state and local programs to try to facilitate and improve the re-entry outcomes for adults and juveniles returning to their community from confinement. The program grants were awarded in 2002, 2003 and really with a goal to accomplish four objectives.
The first was to improve ... And again, your slides were great; you can just remember his slides as I speak the words here. The first was to improve employment, housing, family and community involvement of prisoners. To improve health by addressing mental health and substance abuse issues. And in particular, the long-run goal, of course, to reduce criminality. And then an idea that, in the long run, for these kinds of programs to sustain, that there had to be systems change among the agencies and organizations that are dealing on a day-to-day basis with our offender populations.
So, the idea was to set in motion something that would result in a change in the way that business was done. And I think everyone we've heard today has talked very much about doing that and how important that is.
A challenge for us as the evaluators, of course, was there was no SVORI program model. And I say SVORI, Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, S-V-O-R-I, the SVORI programs. There was no program model. So, each local agency was given some money and told: "Go out and address these objectives that I just outlined. And choose the population that you're gonna target. Choose the way that you're gonna go about it. Look at the resources and needs that you have, and try to do the best you can in the three years that you have to change your complete way of doing business."
And I think it's real important to remember, this was a one-shot deal. Three years of funding to basically change the way that you do business in order to effect these large, major, significant changes in the behavior of individuals who had often long involvement with the criminal justice system.
So, that in itself, there being no program model, set a particular challenge for us as evaluators. Because what exactly was "it" that we were supposed to be evaluating? So, as part of our evaluation we spent a lot of time and effort to collect information so that we could try to figure out what "it" was, what each of these various programs were doing. And I think the variety that we identified is very instructive and across a lot of different ways of thinking about how these are done.
Our evaluation is one of the largest that's ever been funded, if not the largest that's ever been funded, by NIJ. It was six years. We conducted multiple interviews with the 89 program directors that were funded with SVORI funds. We collected four waves of interviews with about 2,400 adults and juveniles who were either in SVORI programs or part of our comparison groups — nearly 2,500 individuals in 14 states that were representative of 12 adult and four juvenile programs. These interviews began in July of 2004, and we concluded the last 15.month post-release follow-up interview in April of 2007.
We have augmented this data collection with the assembly, at great effort, of administrative data from state departments of correction, juvenile justice agencies, probation and parole agencies, as well as arrest information that we obtained from the National Center for ... I don't know, the Crime Center, the arrest data, rap sheets, from the FBI, NCIC data.
We have a mountain of data. We've been combing through this for sometime now. And I would just like to give you a few of the highlights, I think, of what we are. We're in the process of finishing our final reports. I promise, I promise you'll, I will have them by the end of June. Please, please, let you'll have them by the end of June, for them to go out. The final reporting will be coming out, hopefully, later this summer or early this fall. But I'm gonna summarize some of our findings here.
The first is, and I think it's always important when we talk about re-entry issues, to think about the people that are being targeted for re-entry programs. I think if we do not always begin by talking about the deficits that these individuals face, that it's too easy to step back and forget that yes, they read at the third grade level. Yes, they're involved and have been in crystal meth for years. And oh, yeah, but if we don't start off by talking about what the needs are and what the deficits are, it's too easy to just brush that off and just say: "Pull yourself up and get on with it."
So, the SVORI programs were supposed, unlike a lot of federal initiatives, were supposed to target those with serious criminal histories. We're here to tell you that they did. Fully 80 percent of the adults in our study had been incarcerated in prison at least once before. The men had an average of 18 prior arrests, six prior convictions. The women reported 12 prior arrests and five prior convictions. And we've got information on boys, the juvenile males. I'm not gonna talk about them today because time is kind of short, but they also represent very serious populations.
More than 40 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women were serving time for a violent crime. Almost all — and I'm talking 99 percent — admitted having used illegal drugs in the past. Almost all had alcohol problems.
Nearly 80 percent of the women and 55 percent of the men had had prior mental health or substance abuse treatment before they were incarcerated. We spend a lot of time talking about adult male prisoners because that's the bulk of the prisoners and offenders that we see in our systems. But when you have an opportunity to look at a substantial number of women, as well as men, you realize in a lot of ways that oftentimes their needs are substantially higher than the needs for the adult males.
So, the good news is there aren't that many women in our systems, although obviously a lot more today than in the past. But their needs are substantially greater, oftentimes, than what we see with the men.
Clearly, problems in terms of job skills. Only about 60 percent had a high school degree or GED, which actually is higher than you see some places. And less than two-thirds of the men, and only about half of the women, had worked in the six months prior to their incarceration.
Second point is that these grants gave the states money. The states went out and spent that money on programs and services. We see a substantial increase in the services and programming that were provided to individuals who were in these programs. So, that's the good news. This is necessary, maybe not sufficient, to see positive outcomes, but a necessary finding.
However, remember again — we have to remember where we are and not just remember who we're dealing with but where we are in terms of program implementation — these programs, we were looking at how well people did who were participating in these programs during the first year or so that these programs were in existence. So, we were basically evaluating people going through at the time that the programs were being implemented.
So, 66 percent of the adult male SVORI program participants said that they had worked with someone to plan for release. Now, that was more than twice as many as those people who were not in the SVORI programs. But that also means that a third of the people who were in SVORI programs had not met with anyone to plan for release. Now, this is not criticizing the SVORI programs, but just to say, again, these kinds of implementation and rollout takes some time.
In general, what we saw, a lot more services were provided before release than after. Thirty-eight percent of the adult males and 46 percent of the female SVORI participants reported receiving any employment-related services following release. And this was more than twice, again, what we saw for the people in the comparison groups but substantially less than the 100 percent of these individuals who needed this help.
So, the findings, from our perspective, are good news. The programs were able to start dramatically increasing the services that were being provided. It clearly provides a place to start in terms of looking at incremental improvement to continue to build.
Third, more services appear to be associated with better outcomes. At three, nine and 15 months post-release, when we did our follow-up interviews, the SVORI program participants had better employment-related outcomes, better substance abuse-related outcomes. The men, at least, we saw better housing-related outcomes. We found lower levels of self-reported criminal behavior among those who had participated in the programs. So, all in all, all of these are good news.
We also saw, in administrative arrest records for the adult men, small but sustained changes in arrests over time. Those who were in programs had lower levels of arrest than those who were not. None of this, though, really appears to have translated into reincarceration. There's virtually no difference.
We think that this is related to parole violations. For whatever reasons, individuals in programs tended to be on supervision for longer. Some of 'em appeared to have more conditions attached to them. We don't see it pushing out in terms of reincarceration. There's some other hypotheses we've talked about that are methodological, actually, that may have a bearing here, too.
But what we see is the states got more money. The money was spent for services. The grantees said, "We're gonna provide more services." In fact, they did provide more services. Those services led to better outcomes, at least in the intermediate outcomes, in terms of improved drug, and improved employment, a place to start, a place to build, a promising beginning.
And my time's up, so I will stop there.
Part 7: Question and Answer/Discussion
Adam Gelb: Thank you very much.
In listening to the discussion, I would pull out three points that I heard. And I will look for sort of nods or shaking head to see if you all would concur with these. The three messages I pulled out were these:
One is that, as much as not, issues of how to make community corrections work are issues of management rather than policy. We have Judge Alm, for instance, who did not need state legislation, did not need policymakers at the highest levels to bless what he was doing. He took some leadership. He said he needed some warrants served. He called the cops, et cetera.
Second is that the massive prison expansion that we've seen has been mostly the result of policy choices, policy choices made at the state and local level, rather than due to crime or other sort of broad social or economic forces outside the reach of state policymakers. I think West Virginia and Secretary Spears gave us a good example of that and the prison growth that's been seen in West Virginia in the absence of rising crime.
And then, finally, when you talk to folks working in the system, they're not talking about this grand debate between treatment and punishment that you hear so often inside the Beltway here and at political levels. On the ground, that's not the discussion. The discussion is targeting high-risk offenders, and how do we do that?
And it seems like it has been exposed at this point as sort of a false debate. We need treatment and we need punishment. We need to figure out how to stitch the two together. When you use carrots and sticks, you get the best outcomes. And not emphasize one over the other.
I saw a few nods, like maybe I did a reasonable summary.
Before we turn to the audience for some questions, I had one, as the moderator here, I wanted to throw out to the group. And that is: From each of your perspectives, if you had one magic wand to be granted one wish for how to really improve community corrections, get it to reduce recidivism and hold offenders accountable more to offenders and victims, what would that be?
I just sort of offer my first thing and attempted to go back to the TV show about the probation officers, NYPO or something. But just to offer something different from what each of you might, I would throw out as my one wish that reporters, particularly crime reporters, would call Tom Williams January 2nd, when they do the story about why crime in Washington went up or down the previous year.
That the press, more generally speaking, would add corrections to the list of folks who are, frankly, held accountable for what happens in terms of crime. They don't right now. They call the police chief. Which is great, and it's appropriate, and it's necessary. But it's certainly not sufficient for the police chief to be the be-all-and-end-all of the discussion about why crime is rising or falling. It's also a bit unfair to the police. The police should not be held responsible, by themselves, for that.
And I think that until and unless the media — and this is part confession, 'cause when I was a crime reporter I certainly did not call. I didn't know better. I did not call the chief probation officer. I did not call the head of the county treatment system. But when those folks get involved in these conversations, I think we'll see a dramatic improvement in community corrections.
Who would like to go first? Secretary Spears?
James Spears: Is this on?
Gelb: Yes, should be.
Spears: I think the one wish would be buy-in by the communities themselves, that these are the best approaches toward handling a very complex problem. I think right now most people still look at our judicial system as one where they want to punish. And they don't realize that, at least in the state of West Virginia, 90 percent of those that enter into our prisons are going to one day be released.
So, these same people that you are fearing because they just committed a crime are, in many ways, becoming worse criminals, as research has shown, through the time that they've spent incarcerated. So, if we can convince the community that it's in their best interests that we keep them out of prison and that we try and address the issues right there in community-based programming, I think that it would go a long way. The communities right now just don't get it. So, my one wish would be that they better understand.
Gelb: That's great.
Judge, one thing you could make happen or one thing you could wish away?
Steven Alm: Well, if people were willing to try something different. We had such a bad problem with methamphetamine that I think people were willing to try something new. When we have 8,000 people on probation and probably 5,000 have substance abuse issues — we have a drug court for 100 people, we've got to take care of the other 4,900 in a way that works. And if people are willing to try something new ...
How do you set up a system so you can have a hearing two business days later? That takes people willing to work a little smarter and harder and faster. But if you start small ... And you've got to get the people in the system that can help make that run. And in the court system, the judge is the one who's gonna have to get on board to get that done. But by being open to it and trying it and starting small, we can do it.
I currently am supervising 600 people, in addition to a regular felony caseload on this, because they're not contested hearings. They take 10 minutes each. And it can all work that way.
When I talked to the jail folks at first, I said, "If we can keep one person from getting a year, we could send 52 people for a week each. You would have more processing issues. But as far as bed days, it's the same. But be willing to try something new."
So, I think that's the hope, if people are willing to be flexible, try something new. If it doesn't work, go on to something else. And we're getting a lot of research. We know more about what works. Let's just do it.
Tom Williams: I'm gonna say something that's a little bit different. I think people may say, well, as the probation director, he wants more resources. But this may be a little bit of a knock on our academic community, especially our colleges and universities. I really don't think that that group is spending enough time in terms of preparing those folks that come into our agencies to do the work.
And what I mean by that is there's a little bit of a theory that's being expounded in the universities. But when they come in to us, we have to spend a lot of time to get them prepared to work with these offenders. So, we're seeing a lot of turnover in the field of community corrections. And it takes about five, six, maybe seven years for an officer really to know what they're doing to move a person from one level of change to another.
And I talk to a lot of the students that we hire. As a matter of fact, we have an academy class that's going on now, and I got 35 folks in that class because of the turnover that we have. So, folks will come to you for about a year or two and figure, "This isn't for me." Sometimes within six months — "It's not for me."
So, what I would like to see is for universities and the colleges to really, really engage the parole and probation directors in your respective communities and really establish a solid work program for the person to get credit — we are not talking about the 45.hours business, where they just come in and say, sign this paper so I can get my 45 hours — but at least six months to a year commitment. And then to have them work with us so that we can get these folks prepared so that when they come to a community corrections agency, and they want to work, they're at least at a different level.
I think we're losing a lot of time managing new staff coming in. And when we talk about recidivism, these guys, when they see somebody green come in, they start to salivate right away. And then it's a lot of time that we're spending with the new staff. And unfortunately, supervisors, they've got eight, 10 folks, they know they've got a new person, but a lot of times they've got to let them go on their own and then catch up with them later.
So, my challenge, if I had one thing, is for the university presidents, chairs of the departments. Get in contact with your local parole and probation director and say, what can we do to partner with you to get at least a six-month or year work study program.
And I'm quite sure that 10 to 15 percent of the people who are in the criminal justice field right now would probably say, "Maybe I need to go into accounting." And actually, it's a detriment to them, and it's a detriment to us. Because it's very costly for us, as directors, to train someone — because it's a lot of outlay that we're putting up front — only for a year or two, the folks decide, "I've got to go."
And it's good that they make that decision then, as opposed to spending 10 to 15 years with us and then we have to push 'em out. But that would be my wish.
Gelb: Thank you.
Pam, just before you start, let me just ask, folks, welcome to come to the two microphones, here and here ... questions.
So, go ahead.
Pamela Lattimore: I would ... Is this on? I would advise patience and the identification of realistic expectations or the understanding that the problem of fixing crime in our community is going to be a complex one. And if you think about, I think about it a lot of times in comparison to how we as a country have gone about cancer research. We don't fund one round of three-year grants, which is what the SVORI program was, and say we're done.
And if you look back at the history of federal funding in the correctional area, you see just sort of everything, a lot of one-shot deals, no sustained effort, no understanding that it's gonna take a long time. We've made tremendous advances in some areas of cancer research in this country. But a lot of times that means that 5 percent more people are living a couple or three or four months longer.
And I think we need to think about the magnitude of the problem that we have here when we are tackling recidivism. And put it into a perspective that says we need to be in this for the long haul. We need to be in this and understand that this is going to take, to get to the 30 percent, 50 percent overall, it's gonna take years of sustained effort.
Gelb: Thank you. Thank you.
OK. Actually, there are three microphones. I'm sure you all over there see that one. But obviously welcome to use that one. I don't see one over here, but it looks like we have three. And Don, why do I have a slight suspicion about what you're gonna ask about?
Questioner: I'm Don Murray. I'm with the National Association of Counties.
As all of you know, the corrections system in the United States is an intergovernmental system. It's largely county and state. So, our Justice Committee has come up with our model of reform, and I could briefly summarize it.
We would appoint in every state a commission or a task force — many states already have this — but we would refine it and making sure that all the municipalities were represented through their league of municipalities, all the counties were represented through their state association of counties, all the sheriffs were represented through their state association. So, the people on these boards are not the governor's favorite sheriff; they represent all the sheriffs in the state, all the counties in the state, all the municipalities in the state.
And the other half we would leave to the governor and the president of the senate and the assembly to appoint the others. But then we would bring in a neutral certified mediator, a board-certified mediator. Too frequently in states, the state dominates the whole picture. They'll send a white paper to our state association of counties. Might be 100 pages. Our people don't even have time to read the paper. They have all these big staffs at the state level.
The objective, as we see it, is to lower jail populations as well as prison populations. We can do both, as President Obama says. We can do more than one thing. So, we think that should be the twin mission.
Gelb: Secretary Spears, do you want to address that? You're obviously dealing with, as you described, a very heavy state, local dynamic.
Spears: And I was very pleased to hear your comment about wanting to do this in collaboration with the state, because that's exactly what the state is doing in collaboration with our Association of Counties and our Association of County Commissioners and our Sheriffs Bureau and our Association of Sheriffs, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We brought those in.
If you remember, whenever I said that we formed, by executive order, this commission to do our study, it had representatives from the legislative, judicial and executive branches, as well as nonprofit organizations, community organizations and local law enforcement. So, it had all of these aspects of it in it, to get that same input that you have just mentioned. I think we did it right.
Gelb: Thank you.
Questioner: [Off microphone.] I was co-founder of NIJ back in the '60s. Of course, I'm long since retired.
I have two separate questions. One is for the presenter from West Virginia, as to what was the primary factor in the rapid escalation of your prisoner population during the 20 years that you referenced? The second is a general question for the panel. To the extent that your programs needed or required cooperation and support from the police, to what extent, if any, did you get that support?
Spears: We've tried to look into exactly what has been the cause of this huge rate of increase in our prison growth. And what we've looked at is a combination of factors. One that can't be downplayed is the tougher sanctions and crime sentences that have been imposed by our lawmakers. We went back and looked at, since the year 2000, in the state of West Virginia there have been 75 new crimes or increased levels of punishment for existing crimes. Seventy-five.
Those, on the average, have now increased our population by anywhere from three to 10 years. And then when you get the increase in the drug arrests. We've also noted that about 80 percent of all of our arrests are in one way or another related to drugs for those that are serving time in prisons and in jails. Not necessarily on the drug itself charge but related in some way to drugs. And that increase in the use of drugs and dependency on drugs is having a huge impact on that.
Alm: Well, I have great cooperation from law enforcement. But I think I was the right messenger for it. You know, a Nixon to China kind of thing. If the public defender came up with this, it wouldn't have flown. But because of my background in law enforcement, they knew I wasn't coming up with a new way not to hold people accountable. So, they were willing to take a chance. And now that we're getting great results, it reinforces that they made the right decision, and it's worthwhile their time to do it.
Williams: And similarly with us, in terms of strategies for offender supervision. And actually we are cooperating with law enforcement, particularly at that top end of the tier, where those folks who are not drug-involved, substance abuse-involved, but are really the criminal element, per se. So, our model of supervision for that group is different; it's more of a surveillance model. And that's how we use the police to help us with that.
Questioner: I'm Jack Calhoun, formerly commissioner of youth services in Massachusetts in the mid. to late.'70s. And as my daughter says, "Dad, wasn't that about the time of Bismarck?"
Questioner: I'm partially heartened, given my age, by what you're wrestling with, James, in West Virginia. Because when I took over, they wanted to reopen the training schools. And we put a commission together of law enforcement and community people: how many should be locked up in that state.
But my question is this: Tom, you're wrestling with the idea of NIMBY. And James, you with community is tantamount to being soft on crime. I'm wondering, with all these services done to or done for the offender, whether you've done some thinking about how community corrections can be a resource for that community, as opposed to just acne. How can it be a potential resource?
And I don't know where that would take you, whether it's graffiti removal or restorative justice or some of these folks speaking in junior high schools. I don't know what it is. But I'm talking about a shift to say this is also a community resource. So, I'd like your reflections on that.
Williams: I didn't mean to cut you off. But we're with you on that. We do a lot in the communities in the District of Columbia, like I mentioned. On a quarterly basis, we're meeting with community organizations. We get calls for special cleanup activities for the community or beautification of areas in the community. So, we're right there with them.
Our main thrust with the community, though, is on the education piece. Yeah, the person that's coming back used to be part of the community. What do we need to do to accept him back? And that's where we actually use, in combination to the meetings, our faith-based organizations to assist us with that.
We have, in certain pockets of the District, very difficult time talking with members about people who used to live there and now are coming back. They will say to us, first of all, give us the names and the address. And we say with the Privacy Act, we can't do that. Well, now you're not cooperating with them. Because basically what they want to do is say, "Get 'em out of here." And we're trying to say, "We're not going to identify who they are but at least let's try to embrace them."
Now, another section of the community, what we did, we tried this; it was a little bit risky. We got a group of violent offenders to come in and then talk to the community. And they had community representatives there. Now, that could get a little dicey. But the way that we tried to control that was basically to say — and this is what came out from the community — "You did something against us and our norms. We're gonna give you a chance to come back and redeem yourself. But if you don't, then we want to throw you out."
And that was, like I said, a very risky thing, and it was a very powerful thing. And it actually worked for us. But it takes more of a discussion with who this person was, even though he did something against the community norms, to try to now accept him back.
But I think that's key to us as we talk about having a sense of community for those persons who are returning and a sense of belonging. If they don't have that, they're gonna go right to their crews and their gangs, and that's where they're gonna pick it up. And the whole issue of community is not going to be for them.
Spears: I was just going to say the idea of being soft on crime, whenever you equate that with community corrections, again, I pointed out the need to balance punishment and justice. And when you're the victim, you want punishment for that person, most of the times. Not everybody, but most of them do.
Using the case in point, your house is burglarized. Nonviolent, but you feel violated because somebody's come into your house. You find out that it's the person that lives right next door to you. I'm using a true case here. Came in, went through your house on Christmas Day when you were out visiting relatives, stole all your Christmas presents, and then took your car and drove away with all that stuff in your car.
Now, a nonviolent offense — burglary. He's prime for community corrections. But guess where he goes back to live? He's the teenage son of the family next door. So, he lives right next door to you again.
Now you've got to convince the public that that's a good thing. Hello? If you notice, in my wish, it was that we could get the community to understand that it's in their best benefit to do this. That's a tough road to hoe. And the only way you can do it is — and excuse me, you can't just go to leaders and say, "This is what you've got to do, it's in your best interest," — you've got to connect to the people. And if you can't connect to the people and convince them, no success.
Questioner: Thomas MacLellan, with the National Governors Association.
My question, and actually the discussion here kind of teased it out, is directed to you, Dr. Lattimore. And I want to make sure I understood what you said. It was the second to last things you said about the SVORI study: that you're not finding any difference between return to prison between the two groups. Is that correct?
Lattimore: That's correct.
Questioner: And I guess, then, the larger question is then: How does that not become the story?
We're all selling re-entry on the good outcomes, you know, you can do better substance abuse, you can do better job training, you can do better all this kind of good stuff. Then these guys are gonna go to prison less. And that's kind of the hook to this whole thing.
I understand how you are kind of teeing it up, talking about this, you need more than just a three-year investment. But when I'm talking to governors and governors' policy advisors about doing good re-entry because it has impacts on your prison rates and this whole question of whether it's the kid next door, great, we've got good outcomes, but he's still going back to jail, he's still costing us $30,000 to $50,000 a year in prison.
So, the question is: Is there a spin to it? And what impact might it have on the field in general?
Lattimore: I'm not sure I like the word "spin," but I guess that's as good word as any. I think that when I talked about patience, when I talked about complexity, when I talked about intransigence, when I talked about the depth of need, this is all part of the story. And it's extraordinarily frustrating, although I understand that.
In fact, in my remarks, which I didn't get to, but I made some comment about. And then when you look at reincarceration, which it seems, often, the only thing that anybody ever cares about. So, you have these individuals who have substantial deficits, and there's not a willingness to make an investment, one, to give programs time to develop so that they're actually providing all of the services to the people that are supposed to be getting them.
If we had only looked at the reincarceration rate and not done all the data collection we had, we would have concluded exactly what you did. If we had even just only relied on what the program directors told us they were doing in terms of providing services, we would have come to a conclusion that it looks like this really isn't going very far. But when we actually had the opportunity to ask the people who participated, "Did you get help getting a driver's license?" "Did you get help finding housing?" We found rates sometimes half of what the program directors said they were doing. And even then, you weren't really doing it all.
So, to us, like I said, a promising beginning means you've started to do something. You've started turning this huge ship around, this carrier out on the ocean. You've started turning it around, and you've started getting all the people on board that can really start to make a difference in the lives of these individuals. And so you've got something to build on.
It's not like there's some magic — actually, when I was at NIJ I used to talk about aluminum bullets, 'cause they're cheaper than silver and you can recycle 'em — there isn't one of those. And I think it's naive to think that there is. That somehow somebody who has no education, no job skills, a criminal history, substance abuse problems, family problems and probably maybe some mental illness, that somehow you can put them into something for just a short period of time, and they're gonna be fixed. Because they've already flunked out of our school system. They've already been failed a lot of times by social services who let them be abused and neglected when they were children.
And so I really understand what you're saying, 'cause I know that that's all people care about: Did it make a difference on this final outcome?
But I think we're never going to get to a point where we have something that hits the 30 percent, the 50 percent, that we're talking about, unless we're willing to go in there and say, "It's gonna take us 10 years, it may take 20 years, to pull all the pieces together and effectively do this, to start being able to make a difference. And if we don't do that, 10 years, 20 years from now we're gonna be sitting right here with the exact same story, that we started something for a year or two, and it didn't look like that worked either."
Williams: If I could dovetail on that. I agree with you wholeheartedly. There have been major systems failures with the folks that we're in charge of supervising. And that was relating to my comments about a better quality of students coming to work with us. Because they really have to hit the ground running. With these major systems failures that we have in the community, it's looked upon in the criminal justice community of straighten this thing out and get it right the first time.
Lattimore: Right. And now. "Do it right now. And I'm not going to give you any money to do it with."
Lattimore: But besides that, you know, everything is cool.
Gelb: Thank you. I'm sorry, the last two questioners. We have run out of time.
So, thank you to the panel. Thank you to NIJ for devoting a plenary to this incredibly important topic. Thank you.