Archives for February 2008

WHAT WORKS? EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES IN PAROLE AND PROBATION

By Thomas H. Williams. Edited by Leonard Sipes, Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

Editor’s notes: This article was created from a paper delivered by the author at the New Developments in Criminal Justice and Crime Control Conference at the China Pudong Leader Resorts in Shanghai, China, October 18-19, 2006. The author was invited by the University of Maryland, Office of International & Executive Programs to address the history of community supervision in America and the impact of evidence-based practices. Research released this fall was added to the original presentation. Please see our audio and video podcasting site, http://media.csosa.gov/.

Introduction and Background

My name is Thomas H. Williams, and I am the Associate Director for Community Supervision Services for the Court Service and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). I am responsible for the delivery of parole and probation services in the District of Columbia for offenders who are sentenced by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. I supervise a total staff of 581, including 400 Community Supervision Officers (CSOs, also called parole/probation agents or parole/probation officers in other jurisdictions) and supervisors.

Our total caseload is 15,284 offenders. Our average general supervision ratio is 50 cases to one CSO, and 25 cases to one CSO in our specialized units, including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, and sex offenders. The larger CSOSA structure provides state-of-the art drug assessment and treatment, anger management, educational and occupational assessment and placement, faith-based counseling and many attritional programs (see http://www.csosa.gov/).

Some consider us to be one of the most public safety and treatment oriented parole and probation organizations in the country.

State of Corrections Today

Professor and criminologist Michael Tonry writes that there no longer exists an “American System” of sentencing and criminal justice. Up until 1975, indeterminate sentencing was the primary correctional approach in the United States, and this philosophy changed little in the preceding 50 years. He notes that there were broad sentencing ranges exercised at the discretion of the judges, and parole boards released offenders after individualized case reviews. As noted above, the primary premise of correctional policy was offender rehabilitation with decisions and plans specific to the individual.

Many believe that there is not a single correctional philosophical approach in America today. As public policy shifted away from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing, many states have abolished their parole boards. In addition, officials elected on “get tough on crime” political platforms have enacted a number of statutes, such as truth-in-sentencing statutes that require the convicted offender to serve at least 85% of his or her sentence before release. Over the past 25 years, the number of incarcerated offenders in the United States has more than tripled. Community supervision has also experienced significant growth. As the number of offenders entering the criminal justice system has increased, so too has the percentage of offenders with substance abuse histories.

Despite the fact that incarceration is a unique opportunity to treat offenders with substance abuse issues, most correctional facilities are unable to meet the need for substance abuse treatment. As a result, many incarcerated offenders return to the community under community corrections supervision without having received substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.

There is no debate that drug abuse is highly correlated with frequent criminal activity. Drug testing of arrestees in 35 cities around the United States has found that between one-half and three-quarters of all arrestees have drugs in their system at the time of arrest. Self-report data on incarcerated offenders found that more than 50 percent of the offenders openly acknowledged that substance use somehow contributed to the criminal activity that resulted in their current incarceration.

“What Works”

The great debate is in “What Works” to reduce offender recidivism, the primary outcome measure by which the “success” of community correctional agencies is measured. The discussion began with the publication of the landmark, 1975 analysis conducted by Lipton, Martinson, and Wilks. The authors concluded that, “the field of corrections has not as yet found satisfactory ways to reduce recidivism by significant amounts.” The message understood by the public and many correctional officials was that “nothing works” to reduce offender recidivism.

In recent years, however, a number of studies have been published which show the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment and support the idea that correctional interventions can be effective in reducing recidivism. The Washington Institute for Public Policy (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/pub.asp?docid=06-10-1201) provides a comprehensive overview of well-designed studies that provide evidence that programs for criminal offenders do indeed reduce recidivism. The Institute also provides a comprehensive overview of “what works” as to drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse provides principals of “what works” in treating offender populations (http://www.nida.nih.gov/PODAT_CJ/principles/).

NIDA also offers research indicating that rates of success for mandated drug treatment are similar to those who volunteer for treatment.

Data on the success of drug courts as to reducing arrests and substance abuse is impressive and growing (http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/178941.pdf). The evaluation offers data on programs for D.C. offenders. Additional positive programmatic data on D.C. offenders is available through the CSOSA web site (http://www.csosa.gov/). See Reentry and Sanctions Center.

Recent research on the national “Ready 4 Work” program also indicates reduction in recidivism(http://www.ppv.org/ppv/publications/assets/216_publication.pdf)

States like Washington, Texas and others are now providing independent assessments of data and are proposing adult and juvenile interventions based on positive results.

These and other studies show effectiveness in reducing criminal re-offending, substance abuse use and other related criminal justice outcomes. This body of literature has become known as the “What Works” literature or evidence-based practices (EVP).

International Community Corrections Association (ICCA) sponsored a “What Works” conference

In an effort to share information on successful programs, the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA) sponsored a “What Works” substance abuse conference in 1998. One result of the conference was a publication, “Strategic Solutions: The International Community Corrections Association Examines Substance Abuse.” The conference addressed questions such as, “Are we assessing drug offenders effectively? What are the best substance abuse assessment tools? What is effective treatment? What are all the “models” of drug treatment that we hear about?”

Five Focus Areas

The “What Works” conference focused on five important areas, which form the foundation of the “What Works” literature: assessment, treatment, monitoring and drug testing, co-occurring disorders, and relapse prevention.

Assessment. The conference concluded that assessment is the key to identifying offender needs and developing appropriate strategies. The “What Works” literature argues that substance-abusing offenders are not a homogeneous group-they have different natures and severity of substance abuse. In fact, nearly one-third of offenders do not show any substance abuse problems and only require prevention-oriented intervention. Assessments should be used to identify offenders’ substance abuse severity and relationship to criminal behavior. From sound assessments, programmatic approaches can be developed.

For example, at CSOSA, we developed an in-house automated risk and needs assessment instrument called the “AUTO Sceener” in March, 2006. The computerized tool has twelve domains (each is a screen) that capture information about the offender in both static and dynamic dimensions. Based on the offender’s response to the questions, there are additional drill-down responses required. Upon completing all of the domain questions, the system will automatically recommend a supervision level and create a prescriptive supervision plan (PSP).

Treatment. Treatment has been found to reduce offender substance abuse and recidivism, although no one program or treatment modality has been found to be effective with all offenders. Three of the most evaluated programs, methadone maintenance, therapeutic communities, and drug-free outpatient treatment, appear to have equivalent outcomes, while cognitive-behavioral approaches show promise for addressing the needs of low-to-substantially severe offenders. Lightfoot (1999) concludes that, “Improvements in treatment efficacy likely will require the careful matching of offender types to specialized treatments.”

At CSOSA, the treatment needs of the offender are identified through the use of the AUTO Screener and our new Reentry and Sanctions Center. CSOSA believes that addressing the offender’s specific needs or deficits and closely monitoring offender risk can reduce recidivism. In addition to a heavy emphasis on providing substance abuse treatment for offenders, CSOSA also provides or finds community resources, to provide mental health treatment, sex offender treatment, and domestic violence treatment for offenders.

Monitoring and Drug Testing. Monitoring and drug testing of offenders is an extremely important component of “What Works.” Treatment is the key to prevention, but first, the offender in need of treatment must be identified. Drug testing is useful in providing additional information after an initial drug-history assessment is done and can help an offender reduce denial of drug use during the first stage of treatment. In addition, drug testing and monitoring can be an effective supervision tool in closely monitoring the behavior of offenders and can possibly deter future drug use and criminal behavior.

CSOSA’s testing protocol requires that all active offenders be tested two times per week, upon assignment to supervision. Two months’ evidence of non-positive drug tests and compliance in going to drug testing will result in the offender’s drug testing schedule being lowered to once per week for two more months. If the offender complies fully with drug testing requirements, the offender will then go to a once monthly drug-testing schedule for the remainder of the offender’s supervision period.

Co-Occurring Disorders. Offenders with co-occurring disorders (e.g., concurrent substance abuse and mental health problems) are at higher risk for a wide range of problem behaviors and criminal recidivism. The higher level of recidivism can be attributable to the fact that “dual disorders” are undiagnosed or are not adequately addressed in the environments encountered by the offenders. Comprehensive assessment of offenders is key to identifying offenders with co-occurring disorders and placing them in appropriate treatment.

Relapse Prevention Programs. Cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention programs have been found to be effective in reducing substance abuse in non-correctional populations. These programs also show promise for correctional populations. One demonstration project, implemented in collaboration with the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and the American Jail Association, found that inmates who participated in the program “remained longer in the community until rearrest, experienced fewer arrests compared to untreated controls (46 percent versus 58 percent), and significantly reduced substance abuse.”

CSOSA fully understands that substance abuse relapse is expected in an offender’s recovery period. As part of the offender’s treatment process, a treatment relapse prevention plan is developed. Offenders can be referred to prevention programs, including community self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Upon an offender’s relapse, the offender may be referred back for a substance abuse evaluation and receive more treatment.

CSOSA and Evidence Based Pratices

The “What Works” literature is still in its infancy. For the past three years we have embarked upon a journey to educate and train our staff in the “What Works” principles by training all in implementing the basic tenets of evidence-based practices.

We have many of the building blocks in place to assist us to have improved offender outcomes. They include: clear goals, objectives, and critical success factors (CSFs); a focus on evidence-based practices; a series of graduated sanctions and incentives; concerted efforts directed at caseload reduction for line workers; a focus on targeting high risk offenders and providing programmatic services to address their needs; a state-of-the-art automated case management system that allows informed management decision-making based on data analysis from the system; development of real community and faith-based partnerships to assist in the offender supervision effort; implementation of a victim services initiative; and a law enforcement partnership to focus on offenders with high criminality.

It is our vision that we, at CSOSA, will become a viable criminal justice partner that contributes to the health and well being of the community by assisting offenders to change and to reestablish themselves in the community in a manner that is consistent with community norms and results in productive, law-abiding citizens.

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“The Violence Must Stop” Violence Reduction and Gang Call-Ins in Washington, D.C.

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. and Beverly Hill. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

We are on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C. We are mid-way between the United States Capitol and the White House. Immediately adjacent to us is the Canadian Embassy. We are in the power center of the country, if not the world.

The wood-paneled federal courtroom is a stately site, designed to portray a sense of power and control in a city that exudes power and control. The front and rear of the courtroom are filled to capacity with the leadership of Washington’s law enforcement community. The United States Attorney is here. The Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department is here. The Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is here. Amongst the crowd are senior representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Probation, the U.S. Parole Commission, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, plus other agencies. Since the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice published the “Challenge of Crime in a Free Society” in the mid-1960s, the criminal justice system has called for unity and interagency cooperation to combat crime successfully. Within this federal courtroom, that legacy is being honored to its fullest.

There are four rows of benches reserved in the front. The doors are flung open at 3:00 p.m. Approximately 40 criminal offenders on parole or probation supervision with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (Washington, D.C.’s federally funded parole and probation entity) file into the courtroom. Most are veterans of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where local charges are adjudicated. The vast majority have never been in federal court. They are escorted to the benches and told to sit quietly. They look confused and bewildered. Some look angry. Hard stares come from many.

No one speaks. There is nothing but silence for the first five minutes. They look at us. We look at them. They know they are not here to face a formal criminal charge. They simply know that they have been ordered to appear in a federal courtroom. They were told that all would be explained to them upon their arrival. But for the moment, there is nothing but silence that seems to last forever.

The Federal Judge

All rise! The bailiff calls out the traditional command for all within the courtroom to stand. All do, and all are told to take their seats. The proceedings commence.

United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton calls the roll. The offenders acknowledge their presence. Some of them call out in strong voices; others indicate confusion with their lackluster responses. Those who chose not to attend will be the subjects of warrants by their sentencing judges or the U.S. Parole Commission.

The federal judge begins the proceedings. “Freedom is a precious commodity,” he states. “You need to take what I’m about say very seriously. You know whose community you’re destroying. Your criminal activities have put you on the radar screen. Today we are giving you a taste of federal court. Here in federal court you get big time, and you serve the vast majority of your sentence. You are here today because you are involved in ongoing criminal violence within the District of Columbia.”
Judge Walton continues, “There are a variety of people who will discuss your activities with you, and my advice to you is that you had better listen. You’ll be offered an opportunity to improve your lives with the services they have to offer. But if you disregard this offer, and you continue your life of violence, and if you continue to harm the citizens of Washington, then you will receive the full attention of a unified criminal justice system. I urge you to listen very carefully to what will be said today. You are on the radar screen. You better expect the worst. You have an opportunity, and you better take advantage of it.”

Project Safe Neighborhoods

Gang call-ins such as this one stem in part from criminologist David Kennedy’s efforts to encourage criminal justice agencies to pursue the most active criminal offenders in a given community. Project Safe Neighborhoods was pilot tested in Boston and several other cities during the mid 1990s with considerable success. The strategy is not to target principal characters within gangs (often known as crews within Washington, D.C.) but to seek out all who are part of the criminal conspiracy to commit violence.

Too often in the past, principals within violent criminal organizations have been successfully identified and prosecuted and sent to prison for long periods of time. Unfortunately, however, the structure of the gang or crew is left intact, and the violence continues. What is different about this program, part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, is that it pursues an entire criminal conspiracy. For those who are currently under parole or probation supervision, all are told that if they do not stop their violent activities, the entire gang or crew will be the focus of police attention and will be brought into federal court for prosecution and long federal prison sentences. A comprehensive array of services (jobs, job training, drug counseling, etc.) is offered in the hope that active offenders will mend their ways. Some will. Some will not.

But the effort is not just to focus on those currently under community supervision. Within the District of Columbia, only a small percentage of arrests involve those currently under parole supervision. The new message is that everyone, regardless of their supervision status, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if violence continues.

Project Safe Neighborhoods is a national effort funded by the Department of Justice and is administered in D.C. by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The gang call-ins are just one part of an overall strategy that emphasizes interagency cooperation amongst all within the criminal justice system.

Parole and Probation

“All rise.”

The judge leaves the courtroom, and the silence continues. Then, Paul A. Quander Jr., the Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), gets up, walks over to the gathered offenders, and begins to speak.

” I am the reason you are here,” he begins. He paces the floor, looks down, and then greets the eyes of the assembled offenders. “Listen to what we have to say. Children are being killed in Washington, D.C. The violence must stop. If a body falls, and we can prove that you’re connected, we take the whole group. Everybody is going to go. I’m tired of people being shot and killed.”

“We know who you are. We know where you hang out. We know where you were last night. We know where you sleep, the crimes you’re committing, who’s carrying a gun and where you stash your drugs. We have good intelligence on each and every one of you.”

“Take the message back to your community. Make it clear to everyone you hang with. If the violence continues and we know that you’re part of the violence, we’re coming after you.”
“I’m asking each of you to take this seriously. Your children need you. We need all of you to be law-abiding citizens. You need to take advantage of the services we offer you today. But if you choose to continue a life of crime, we will be coming after you — all of you.”

Every offender’s eyes are now locked on the Director. He rattled off the names of all of the agencies that are present. “We are all focusing on you. The violence has to stop. The citizens of this city demand it.”

Interagency Cooperation

Violence has decreased in Washington, D.C. for several years. Homicides, violent and property crimes have seen substantial declines. Property values are improving in most communities, and citizens are reclaiming their communities through pride and home ownership. But like some other cities, too many children and young adults are caught in the web of violence. In too many instances, children have been the innocent victims of homicide.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency has partnered with the Metropolitan Police Department and United States Attorney’s Office through joint ride-alongs, intelligence sharing and mass orientations where new offenders are briefed on levels of accountability and services to assist their transformation. The provision of city and CSOSA-supplied services such as drug treatment, job training and placement, mental health assistance and counseling are seen as integral to a law-abiding lifestyle. But offenders must make the decision to improve their lives. For the moment, the offenders assembled in this federal court have yet to make that decision.

The Detectives

Captain C.V. Morris heads the Violent Crimes Branch of the Metropolitan Police Department. He is the next speaker.

“We know who you are. We know your girlfriends. We know everything about you. You have the opportunity to walk as free people through the front door or as convicted felon through the back door. When we convict you, you’re going to go to federal prison. You’re not going to be held in local institutions — you’re going to be all over the country. Your boys aren’t going to be there, and no one is going to know you. You’re going to go to prison in Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, California, and anyplace else the Federal Bureau of Prisons decides to place you.”

“You have more attention than you need. If you become our focus, we are coming after you, all of you. You may think you’re too slick. You may think that you’ve been through all this before, but I’m here to tell you that you have just bought yourself a world of trouble. If you continue the violence, you’re going to do long, hard federal time.”

The detective then shows slides of offenders arrested in the Sursum Corda area of Washington, D.C., which is approximately a 10-minute walk from Union Station, not far from Capitol Hill.

He shows slide after slide of people arrested and convicted and sent to prison after a young girl was murdered in her home. He then shows slides of members of the Congress Park crew and additional photographs of offenders convicted and sentenced in federal court. “Your actions will dictate our response.”

James Boteler and Fred Johnson of the Metropolitan Police Department take their turns.
Sgt. Johnson: “You have been a cancer to society and we are going to remove that cancer. You have torn at the moral fiber of our community. If you continue this activity, we will remove you for the good of all.” They continue the theme of the day of knowledge of the assembled offenders and the willingness to remove them if they continue a life of crime and violence. Jim Boteler states, “What you do affects your parents, your children, and the entire community. It must stop, and we are here to make sure that it stops. Spread the word to your entire crew, we’re coming after everybody involved in violence.”

One offender starts hyperventilating and has to leave the courtroom temporarily. One young female offender begins to weep. Others are looking at the floor. The rest stare intently at the next speaker. We are approximately 40 minutes into the program. It is clear that we have the attention of everyone involved.

The next speaker is Gus Giannakoulinas, a detective for the Metropolitan Police Department serving on the FBI/MPD Safe Streets Task Force. He proclaims that he has obtained 88 guilty pleas through Project Safe Neighborhoods. Of the eighteen who chose jury trials, all were convicted to life sentences. All involved crews engaged in violent criminal conspiracies. He has not lost a case in federal court.

“If you hold a gun, provide a ride, hide a gun, know of a homicide, or any other violent crime, we are coming after you. We will convict you. You will go to federal prison for many years to come. Each of you. All of you.”

The Chief

Most criminal justice officials know that budget meetings are one of the most important events of the year. Charles Ramsey, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., decided to leave his budget hearing a bit early to attend this call-in. It was that important.

It’s not every day that criminal offenders get face time with the Chief of Police of any large metropolitan area, let alone the Nation’s Capital. It’s difficult to describe the demeanor of all the offenders in the courtroom that day. But there was not an inattentive individual. If the purpose of his appearance was to gain their attention, then he succeeded.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 37 years,” he states. As he speaks he walks deliberately across the courtroom, stopping just inches from the seated offenders. “I’m tired of the murders in the District of Columbia. We had a 9-year-old boy shot in the head because some idiot decided to fire a round down the street.”

“All the thug life is doing is hurting people. And people who hurt people need to be put behind bars for as long as possible. Pay attention or don’t pay attention, it doesn’t matter to me; we’re coming after you if you continue in acts of violence. Anybody who engages in these acts is a predator, and I dislike what they do.”

The Chief walks over to the table and slowly makes eye contact with everyone in the room. He pounds his fists against the table several times for emphasis. “A 9-year-old child was killed, and anything I can do to put the perpetrators behind bars for life, I will. I will relentlessly pursue anyone who commits acts of violence against citizens. You have an opportunity to change. Make the change, or I will personally come after each and every one of those involved.”

The United States Attorney

Kenneth Wainstein is the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In D.C., he is the local as well as the federal prosecutor. Like so many things in District government, the federal presence is everywhere. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (the local parole and probation and pretrial services agency), the public defender, and even the local courts are all federally funded (beginning in 1997) to relieve the District of the fiscal burden of services that a city usually depends on a state for. Some suggest that federal funding (and a criminal justice coordinating council) prompts the excellent cooperation among criminal justice agencies. Where other cities’ justice systems constantly agree to disagree, the level of cooperation in the District is good, and may be a reason for continuous decreases in violent crime and homicides.

The U.S. Attorney coordinates Project Safe Neighborhoods. He, along with other members of the criminal justice system, authored a plan – “The Homicide Reduction Strategy” — to decrease violence by emphasizing cooperation and targeted operations. He created a media campaign featuring bus and subway posters encouraging citizens to provide information on gun-related crime.

Like the other speakers, he approaches the offenders. He speaks with confidence and authority, as a father would speak to an errant son. “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s too much death and violence in this city. Today is a new day in law enforcement. We’ve got all the people in D.C. who can put you away for a long time – MPD, the FBI, ATF, the DEA and all our other law enforcement partners – and there are 350 attorneys in my office who are very anxious to do anything they can to lock up the crews that are ruining our neighborhoods.”

He then spells out exactly how his office will work to accomplish that task. “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be no pleas. No plea-bargains. We’re going to charge you, and we’re going to charge you to the max. We’re going to bring these cases here in the big court, in federal court, where you will serve every day of a very stiff sentence.”

To dispel thoughts by any of the offenders that their past violent behavior would go unpunished, the U.S. Attorney tells them: “We’ll also bring back old cases. If we can legally bring back cases that have been dropped in the past due to lack of evidence, we will investigate them fully to make sure you go away for as long as possible.” He ends by offering the offenders a choice and by giving them an invitation: “You can meet this fate or you can hear this message and take it back to the street and be part of the solution. I invite you to be part of the solution.”

Law Enforcement Wrap-Up

Paul Quander, Director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, returns to the front of the courtroom. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a new day, and that’s why you are here. This city is tired of the pop-pop-pop of gunfire gunning down the mothers of our children. Grandmothers are afraid to go out on the streets in some of our communities. Some of our children are afraid to play on the streets. We have a reason to believe that you are involved in these acts.”

“If you continue to come to our attention, we will raise the level of your supervision. We will make you very uncomfortable. If need be, we will bring you into the field office to spend the entire day, everyday. We will put you on satellite monitoring and track every step you make. We will compare your movements to a map of all criminal activity. If you are anywhere near an act of violence, the entire criminal justice system will be coming after you. Do not give us a dirty urine, do not miss an appointment.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, the violence must stop.”
“The next people who will speak to you will offer you an array of programs that you can get involved in to change your life. I hope and pray that you will take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. I hope and pray that you turn your life around. But if you do not, we will be coming after you.”

With that, most representing the criminal justice system exit the courtroom. Some offenders begin to walk out and are quickly ordered back to their seats by parole agents (known in D.C. as Community Supervision Officers). The offenders look as if they’ve been through a difficult afternoon. It is approximately 4:15 p.m. We have been assembled for approximately an hour and 15 minutes.

Defense Attorney

Defense attorney James Rudasill is next up through the invitation of Director Quander. He is well known in the D.C. metropolitan area for his aggressive and successful defense of those charged with crimes. He was often on opposite sides of the aisle when Quander was a prosecuting attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He tells of violent criminal conspiracy cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney.

“These people are not playing,” he warns. “They’re serious about putting you away. “They know who you are; they know where you live. The game is over in Washington, D.C.” To further emphasize their inability to escape their fate if the pattern of violence isn’t stopped, he states: “When you come to me, it’s too late. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of conversations between young men who had no clue the feds were on to them. You can be home asleep in bed at the time one of your boys does the shooting, and you still can be convicted of murder.” To further emphasize the hopelessness, he tells the offenders, “All the rules are on their side. The judge is going to grant the government’s request for pretrial detention, and you’re going to be detained because you are on supervision. Then you sit in jail until your trial. That could take months.” “Gentlemen,” he says, “it’s time for a career change.”

Roving Leaders and Others Who Are There to Help

There are individuals known in the District of Columbia as Roving Leaders. Roving Leaders are stationed throughout the city to assist young people and all citizens with efforts to obtain their GED, to find housing, to obtain jobs or job training, counseling or other social services. They provide brochures and an opportunity for those assembled to take advantage of a wide array of services. They remind all that the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the City have a multitude of services at their disposal. They remind them that Director Quander promised that they will be given priority if they make the decision to change their lives.

Les Butler wears a button with a picture of his brother, Charles Edward Butler, who was an innocent bystander murdered in the District of Columbia. He tells the story of having a multimillion-dollar technology opportunity to start a business in the District of Columbia. But the death of his brother affected him so deeply that he spent the summer working with kids and introducing them to the world of computers and technology. He describes his deceased brother’s bullet wound — how it entered before it exited in the back of his head.

“Who is the enemy?” he asks. Is it those who oppressed people of color for so long, or it is the people in this room and all those who take the breath of those who are so dear to us. Who is the enemy?”

A young woman in jeans and a jean jacket slides into the wooden bench in front of me. She is having trouble breathing. She is softly crying. She is clearly troubled by the afternoon’s proceedings. She could easily be my daughter, or yours. “Can I go now?” she asks. “I’m sorry, but you have to stay to the end,” I tell her. She continues to softly weep.

The day ends with a minister who is an ex-offender with prison time served. “It’s time to make a change,” he implores. “There is something on the inside that needs to come out. It’s time to stop allowing people to run your lives. Please, for the love of God, change now.”

It’s over. Most file out. Some stay to speak to the Roving Leaders or the Reverend or the defense attorney or to Mr. Butler, but most leave with the urgency of people needing oxygen. It’s close to 5:00 p.m. Some will heed the call, some will not. Some will kill or be killed. The impact on their lives and the well being of the citizens of the District of Columbia remains to be seen.

But all those who spoke felt they represented the voices of citizens who are fed up with violence and anxiety. They, and the speakers, simply want a life where children play peacefully without fear in the capital of the free world.

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Returning From Prison to Washington D.C. “We Make Transition Possible”

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

The name sounds like the essence of bureaucracy-the Transitional Intervention for Parole Supervision unit, or TIPS. The TIPS teams of Community Supervision Officers evaluate and assist the vast majority of offenders returning from prison to Washington, D.C. They are part of the federal, executive branch agency that provides parole and probation supervision in the nation’s capital, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA).

CSOSA supervises approximately 15,500 parolees, supervised releasees and probationers on any given day. Each year, approximately 2,300 men and women return to Washington, D.C. from any one of the federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities throughout the United States. For most of them, the first CSOSA staff member they meet is a TIPS officer.

The TIPS unit was a core requirement when CSOSA was initially established as a new federal agency in August of 2000. Recognizing that the District of Columbia’s Lorton prison would soon close, and that D.C. offenders would be housed in any one of the Bureau of Prison facilities, CSOSA knew it would be difficult for D.C. offenders to successfully reintegrate and reestablish ties with their families and the community. To address this need, the TIPS unit was established to work solely with returning offenders.

TIPS is truly unique. Through a collaborative, working relationship with the BOP, TIPS staff begin to work with offenders long before the offenders are released to the community or a BOP Residential Reentry Center (RRC, also known as halfway house). TIPS staff begin working on an offender’s case once they receive notice from the BOP of the offender’s pending release. TIPS staff begin to identify the offender’s needs and investigate the offender’s proposed home and employment release plans. One TIPS team is located in an RRC, working closely with offenders living there, but still under BOP’s supervision. In addition, CSOSA established a relationship with the faith-based community that links offenders to mentors who serve as a positive role model and community resource for the returning offender. TIP staff serve a vital role in this function by determining offenders suitable for participation in the program and linking them to mentors.

“TIPS staff perform a key, critical function in the reentry planning process,” says Thomas H. Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services. “TIPS staff not only address offenders’ needs upon release so they can have the opportunity to successfully reintegrate in the community, but also help ensure public safety by approving or denying offender home and employment plans.”

TIPS officers can be compared to air traffic controllers: They take a look at thousands of incoming “flights” and organize their “arrival.” They act as persuaders and negotiators with offenders, families and service providers. They “set the stage” for the offender’s future supervision. Their first priority is public safety while being an offender’s advocate for needed services.

“I was doing a home plan for a returning offender with sex offenses in his background,” stated Sharon Jackson. Sharon has over 20 years of experience supervising juvenile and adult offenders. “His living arrangements would have put him in contact with children. There was no way I was going to approve him living in that house. He had to make other living arrangements,” she said.

There are 22 Community Supervision Officers (known as parole and probation agents elsewhere) and three supervisors dedicated to the TIPS function. Their job is to assess returning inmates for risk of re-offending and need for services. They work principally with offenders residing in six halfway houses operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (Since December 2001, D.C. offenders serve their time in federal prisons.)

Federal Bureau of Prison case managers submit a release plan to CSOSA; TIPS officers investigate these plans, which address a proposed place to live (or lack of one) and potential employment. Using the plan as a baseline, TIPS staff analyze the incoming offender’s needs and arrange for the offender to access services at the time of release. This can include medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, as well as any requirements imposed by the US Parole Commission as conditions of release. Sometimes, TIPS officers have months to do their jobs-sometimes days.

“We had an offender who weighed 600 pounds coming out of prison in a couple days,” stated Sharon Jackson. “The federal halfway houses were not equipped to deal with him. He had a challenging medical need, and I was able to help him find housing with a private transitional center. That’s just one example of what we do and the unique challenges that confront us every day.”

To understand TIPS is to acknowledge that returning offenders bring with them very little luggage but a lot of baggage-the complex issues that need to be addressed to give them the highest likelihood of staying out of prison. TIPS officers prepare the way for the offender and those in CSOSA who will supervise him directly upon release from prison or the federal halfway houses.

Approximately 50 percent of all offenders returning to D.C. transition through a halfway houses. Another 30 percent enter post-release supervision without a halfway house stay. The remaining 20 percent are released with no supervision obligation. TIPS officers assist everyone having a term of community supervision.

Once the offender is released to the community, the offender’s supervision is transferred from TIPS staff to a general or special supervision team. Although TIPS work is short-term and intensive, it is critical to ensuring the smooth transition of the offender from incarceration to the community.

Every offender has issues; approximately 70 percent have substance abuse histories. Approximately 30 percent of DC offenders have temporary housing arrangements. Many have complex issues, like mental illness or medical problems. Most need services to find education or jobs.

“The issue is public safety, and will always be public safety,” states Edmond Pears, Branch Chief the Investigations, Diagnostics and Evaluations Branch that encompasses TIPS. “We fully understand, for example, that unmet mental health needs and homelessness greatly increase the possibility that the offender will commit another crime. We can intervene. We can stabilize. We can help this guy and lessen the chance of someone getting hurt.”

The Initial Process

TIPS receives information on most inmates from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) approximately six months before the scheduled release date. In addition, TIPS staff can access the BOP’s information system for the inmate’s criminal history, institutional behavior records, medical conditions, mental health and social needs, prior community supervision adjustment and programs and services received during incarceration. The TIPS staff create a plan of action that is ready when the offender enters the federal halfway houses and/or the community. (The offender is still in BOP custody while in the halfway house.)

The halfway houses provide an array of services, such as intake, orientation, screening, assessment, case staffing, referrals, crisis intervention, counseling, home and employment investigations and discharge planning. But the offender’s stay is limited and most cases does not exceed 30 days.

“Thirty days is not a lot of time to analyze a person and his risk and social history and to arrange for needed services,” said Trevola Singletary-Mohamed, a TIPS Community Supervision Officer (CSO). CSO Singletary-Mohamed started community supervision with the adult probation division of D.C. Superior Court before CSOSA assumed the function in 1997. “You may have the file months ahead, and that’s vital to the process, but nothing beats having the person sitting in front of you answering your questions. The file and evaluation may state that he has a history of cocaine use and received treatment while in prison, but you find out through an interview that a ‘history’ meant daily use for several years. Sometimes, it’s the quality of the information that you gain through personal interviews that tells you what you need to know.”

Housing

Finding housing for returning offenders is one of the most difficult parts of the job. The hyper-heated housing market in Washington, D.C. makes this especially difficult. If the average offender who comes back through a halfway house only stays there for a month, then that’s just a temporary solution.

Some do not come back through halfway houses because of limited bed space or previous medical or mental health issues that the halfway houses are not equipped to manage. Halfway house staffs also evaluate offenders based on criminal history and prior problems while in a previous halfway house.

Approximately 25 percent go home or to another residence upon release. TIPS staff investigate all proposed living arrangements to ensure that they are viable and safe for all concerned. The home environment is reviewed and evaluated. Issues include the occupants’ legal right to the residence, adequate living space, and evidence of illegal substances or criminal activity. The bottom line is whether placement will lead to future crimes.

Many offenders have burned their bridges with the family. Community corrections professionals have heard many stories of mothers who state that they will allow a returning son to live with them in public housing, but she never places his name on the lease. Other family members promise the use of their homes but back out when the home plan is investigated.

Some families have moved outside of D.C. US Probation or state agencies will assist with placement in the family’s new state of residence if the US Parole Commission approves. If the offender has a detainer on other criminal charges, he must resolve those legal matters before pursuing supervision in another jurisdiction.

Offenders also cannot be a hardship to their family members (for example, a one bedroom apartment with one adult and three children). For the returnee to live in public housing, his name must be on the lease. TIPS staff do not take the family’s word for it; they must see a copy of the lease.

TIPS staff will not automatically approve a plan if another offender is living there; it’s up to the discretion of the CSO. Each case is individually assessed and investigated for suitability of the residence and peer support within the residence.

There are faith-based, charitable and private institutions that will provide services for returning offenders. Some deal with unique needs, like medical or mental health issues. Some are merely shelters offering a legal place to stay at night and something to eat. Staff would rather not use shelters. They also strive for housing that promotes the offender’s transitional process.

With only 25 percent living in private residences (and some of these placements are temporary) then it is easy to see why housing can take so much staff time.

“It takes a dedicated person to make these arrangements,” states CSO Daynelle Allison, a D.C. resident who has worked for CSOSA for three years. “I’ve had months, but sometimes just days to find a place to live for people with special medical or mental health needs. We do not compromise the quality of our supervision or housing investigation based on how much time we have. We do what we need to get the job done.”

“We need to be sure that arrangements are made to the point that an ambulance will meet the returning offender’s plane or bus and transport the offender to the residence, a hospital, or mental health clinic. Part of all this is a commitment to meeting simple human needs, and part of it is a commitment to protecting the public,” Sharon Jackson said.

Finally, when other options have been exhausted, the TIPS officer can recommend public law placement to avoid homelessness. Under this option, TIPS staff request that the U.S. Parole Commission add a special condition of release for the offender that will require the offender to reside up to 120 days in a halfway house until suitable housing is available. This type of placement is utilized only as a last resort.

Services

Beyond housing, the placement of returning offenders into the right services is a challenging task. CSOSA provides direct services to a variety of offenders on special supervision caseloads, which include sex offenders, mental health, domestic violence, anger management, drinking and driving, and high-risk drug cases. CSOSA also provides educational and employment assessment and placement.

The bulk of support services are provided by the D.C. government and non-profit agencies; in recent years, CSOSA has instituted a partnership with the city’s faith community to augment these services. CSOSA is leading a movement in the nation’s capital to galvanize churches, mosques, and synagogues to provide direct mentoring services. Hundreds of offenders have taken advantage of this initiative.

Service organizations throughout the country often express reluctance to work with offenders. With limited budgets, some organizations prefer “easier” clients. TIPS staff have expressed that providers in the District of Columbia are more likely to assist offenders because of close supervision imposed by Community Supervision Officers.

“CSOSA has worked extensively with service providers throughout the city to make sure they understand that helping a returning offender means fewer crimes and a safer community,” states Elizabeth Powell, Supervisory Community Supervision Officer (SCSO). “CSOSA has some of the toughest contact and drug testing standards in the country. Service providers know they have allies when it comes to addressing non-compliant offenders. The Community Supervision Officers are there to help if the offender creates a problem or does not take their interventions seriously. Close supervision works.”

“We also help offenders readjust to life in D.C.” states CSO Singletary-Mohamed. “Some of them have never ridden the Metro [D.C.’s subway system] before. Some of them just want to talk, to express their hopes and fears. And some offenders refuse services and require motivation from TIP to understand how they can benefit from participating in services. But we care, and they seem to understand that and comply.”

Conclusion

All of us in community corrections understand the challenges. President George W. Bush clearly laid out the issues for reentry in his State of the Union speech in 2004. He announced a new plan to bring local and faith-based groups together with federal agencies to help recently released prisoners make a successful transition back to society – reducing the chance that they will be arrested again. This 4-year, $300 million initiative seeks to provide transitional housing, basic job training, and mentoring services. Reentry is now a popular topic within criminological circles. More has been written about reentry in the last three or four years than the last ten.

Reentry may be the buzzword in the criminal justice system right now, but it is not just a buzzword at CSOSA. TIPS staff do the real work of reintegration. With one eye on public safety, and the other on the offender’s needs, TIPS staff guide returning offenders through their first steps beyond the prison gates and give them a real opportunity to successfully reintegrate into the community.

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Technology that Works:An Overview of the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) Application

By Frank Lu, Laurence Wolfe, Beverly Hill and Leonard Sipes. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

This is not an article about an information system; it is an overview of our attempt to dramatically improve the criminal justice system in Washington, DC and beyond. For too long, justice system managers could only guess the impact of their operations and strategies. In the nation’s capitol, we know (or will know) the impact of policy quickly, and in some categories, daily. Our information system is a management tool more than it is a collection of data. Finally, we intend to prove that aggressive and fair community supervision of offenders in the community is a cost effective method of reducing crime and recidivism. We intend to offer the supervision, staffing ratios, drug testing and treatment, partnerships and services to have an impact. SMART provides us with the accountability and measurement tool to accomplish our goals.” Paul Quander Jr., Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

There was a murder of a young woman in the District, and the Metropolitan Police Department had scanty information about a possible suspect. Within a few minutes, we were able to run a series of screens regarding aliases and offences, and we were able to provide a list of possible suspects. When the investigation narrowed the field to one suspect, we were able to provide a recent digital photograph, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives, friends, coworkers and treatment providers. The suspect was quickly found, and brought to justice.” Community Supervision Officer.

Introduction

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA-a federal agency) of the District of Columbia got its start during the “Revitalization Act” of 1997 when Congress “federalized” selected agencies that were part of DC government. With CSOSA’s independence in August of 2000 and the implementation of the SMART system in January of 2002, the agency publicly declared that a system of (1) risk and needs management, (2) close supervision, (3) treatment and support services and (4) partnerships would have a significant impact on recidivism.

To achieve long lasting results, management decided to measure key variables, and to constantly add or alter more as initiatives progressed. Rearrest, reincarceration, technical violations, drug use, job retention, contacts with staff or treatment providers, educational or vocational efforts are or will be a growing package of measurements. Management can track progress (or lack of progress) by employee, team region or the entire system. Early warnings are built into the system to provide frontline managers with the tools to insure that offenders are properly supervised.

Advocates for effective supervision of criminal offenders in the community have long called for adequate training, salaries, supervision levels and services to €˜prove” that state-of-the-art strategies work. Some criminologists have stated, with proper funding and structure with a robust management and record keeping system, community supervision agencies could take their place as equals in the provision of crime prevention and safer communities.

CSOSA reports its findings to the President through the Office of Management and Budget, the US Congress and indirectly, the international and national media based in Washington, DC. You may not be aware of CSOSA and its status as an independent federal agency, but the agency and the SMART system are about to take center stage. Public accountability in the criminal justice system is about to enter a new day.

Overview

SMART is a superior means of case management; everything is at your fingertips immediately. You do not have to read someone’s handwriting. The information is current. You can respond with accurate and timely information. You hit a few buttons; you can get anything at all.” Tosha Trotter, Community Supervision Officer,

Imagine the serious effects on public safety of using manual pen and paper methods and a two-decade-old database to track convicts, felons, sex offenders, and violent criminals when they are released back into society on parole or probation. That was the situation in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, until the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency developed its new automated criminal offenders case management system – SMART – the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) system.

Taking an innovative approach to applications development, CSOSA developed its new SMART system to serve as a Web-based information retrieval and tracking system providing enhanced capabilities not found elsewhere. Building on top of traditional SQL technology, SMART adds enhanced logic through specialized modules that provide tracking and monitoring capabilities not found in other law enforcement applications. It incorporates features including E-mail notifications and workflow support, and is recognized as a highly successful project. SMART’s success is demonstrated by the use of SMART data by several local government bureaus, federal agencies, and the federal and local courts to perform their judicial functions. SMART is used to monitor and supervise convicted offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release; and offenders undergoing pre-sentence investigations in Washington DC. SMART is on track to add advanced capabilities such as biometrics, predictive logic, and mobile computers to aid fieldwork.

As the provider of supervisory and treatment services to over 26,000 individuals on pretrial release, probation and parole, as well as the key advisory agency in assisting federal and local courts in determining eligibility for release, CSOSA made the decision in September 2001 to replace an existing case management and tracking system that was difficult to modify and no longer able to meet the changing requirements of its users, mainly judicial and paroling authorities. The decision to develop a system from the ground up was made after careful research into the options available to CSOSA: customizing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system. Ultimately, an analysis of the time constraints, financial comparisons, and core system requirements led to the decision to develop SMART as a new, independent, Web-based system that would address the agency’s needs.

The Core Requirements

It can document everything. You can go back many months to see the offender’s entire history. It saves a lot of effort. You can research the offender in record time. The information you need is always at your disposal. ” Randy Holley. Community Supervision Officer

CSOSA’s IT team conducted numerous interviews with senior management and users of the existing legacy system, who formed subcommittees for each of the agency business processes. A key factor of the project’s success was not only to secure senior management buy-in from the beginning, but partnership, with the business users for whom the system was being developed and the vendors that are going to help developing the system. Leadership emphasized the importance of strong user participation in providing the requirements for the system.

The requirements gathered from the users, coupled with comments in a GAO report describing the need for better coordination among DC’s criminal justice agencies[1], resulted in the following key requirements, which the new system needed to address before it could be claimed a success:

  • Reduce paperwork as a step toward a long-term goal of a paperless office;
  • Provide automatic notification of events in support of CSOSA policies and procedures;
  • Track historical data;
  • Seamlessly integrate with other agencies, where appropriate and viable;
  • Provide secure access from inside and outside the agency;
  • Present a usable and navigable interface;
  • Produce management-level and operational reports;
  • Include a fully searchable diary function;
  • Provide access via the Internet; and
  • Assist senior managers in their supervisory roles.

SMART (v.1.0) released in January 2002, addressed the core agency business needs; since then, additional modules to provide enhanced functionality, automated workflow, and added business functionality have been added. Specifically, SMART (v.1.0) consists of the following core modules and functionality:

  • Intake, including automatic assignment of cases to CSOSA teams based on offender demographics and round-robin cycles;
  • Reports, including detailed management-level caseload summaries, operational reports for use by case supervisors, and reports to demonstrate agency critical success factors;
  • “Home page” defaults to show caseload list, team assignments, or branch assignments;
  • Security roles to restrict access to modules based on a user’s assigned role;
  • Limited access for external users (e.g., judges, US Attorney’s Office, Metropolitan Police Department) to review case information and documents;
  • Tracking of offender demographics, including physical descriptions, identifiers, housing and employment history, contacts, drug test results, assessments, and victim data;
  • Replication of drug testing results;
  • Detailed supervision information, including dockets and charges, supervision sentences, and violations;
  • Treatment referral, placement, and tracking module;
  • Automatic generation of complex pre-sentence investigation and alleged violation court reports;
  • Attachment of case documents, including Word documents, offender photos, and Adobe PDF documents;
  • Electronic signature and workflow feature, including the integration of the supervisors’ signature image into an non-editable, secure document for delivery to the courts (see also figure 1);
  • Spell check for running record (diary) entries;
  • Tracking of offenders in Community Service and *Vocational, Educational, and Employment programs

Technical Specifications

“Smart is the most comprehensive computer based probation system I have seen. The different subtexts in Smart allow you to have complete picture of an offender from housing and employment to his drug usage to sanctions taken against them and appropriate interventions. . Smart allows me to access physical description of our offenders and cross reference them with recent sex offenses that have taken place in the Metropolitan area.” Akil Walker Community Supervision Officer

SMART is the result of over three years of research and development effort by the CSOSA’s IT Service Development team in partnership with SRA International, Inc. (a company providing systems design, development and integration services).

Unlike traditional case management solutions, SMART is “offender-centric” – i.e., all data center around the offender, with the specific case information represented as simply one attribute of an offender. This model is particularly representative of the real business process of supervising offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release, since the agency’s concern is truly with the activities surrounding the offender, rather than the court actions or other activities.

SMART is a fully Web-based application. It is designed based on a three-tier architecture, with HTML as the presentation layer, Microsoft Active Server Page (ASP) as the business logic layer and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 as the database layer. It is running on a Microsoft Windows 2000 server with IIS 5.0 Web server. Data communications to the SMART system were secured through the use of V-One’s VPN software, and code was maintained using Microsoft Visual SourceSafe and Source Offsite

Conclusion

“Record keeping and management systems within the criminal justice system are vital ingredients in keeping the public safe from harm,” states Director Quander. “CSOSA offers some of the best supervision and services within the criminal justice system. But we are only as good as our management and supervision systems allow us to be. State-of-the-art information systems must be an everyday part of effective operations. At CSOSA, they are.”

With its modular architecture and extendable platform, SMART can react to new business requirements. Its reliability, sturdiness, and user-friendly qualities have translated into increased business efficiency. Though SMART was designed to reflect business processes that are specific to the needs of CSOSA, the processes used in gathering requirements and developing SMART, along with the advanced technologies used throughout the system, can be applied to offender-based case management solutions for other criminal justice agencies.


[1] GAO, D.C. Criminal Justice System: Better Coordination Needed Among Participating Agencies, March 2001. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01187.pdf

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Mass Orientations–Orienting Criminal Offenders in Washington, D.C.

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

See http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.

See www.csosa.gov for the web site of the federal Court Services and Offender Services Agency.

The church basement in southwest Washington, D.C. overflows with criminal offenders. Approximately 200 people relatively new to a sentence of probation from the courts or released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons fill the room. Others are here as a sanction for violating the rules of their release. It is a cold and dreary night in one of the highest crime and drug areas in the nation’s capital.

Staff members from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the federal, executive branch entity responsible for providing parole and probation services in the District of Columbia preside over this assembly. Also present are a prosecutor from the United States Attorney’s Office and contingents from the Metropolitan Police Department and D.C. Housing Authority Police. All of these agencies deliver a unified message to the offenders: There are consequences for failure. There are also programs and services to increase the chances for success.

Much of the audience, however, does not seem pleased with the prospect of spending the next hour and a half with us. Some are curious, some look like their attention is focused many miles away, and some seem downright hostile. This should be an interesting evening.

Chain of Events

Mass Orientations of criminal offenders new to supervision are not isolated events; they are not programs unto themselves. They are part of the continuous and ongoing chain of events that define the essence of CSOSA’s partnership with the rest of the criminal justice system in Washington, D.C.

Mass Orientations began in 1999 when CSOSA was emerging as a new federal agency, created out of existing parole and court related probation agencies in D.C. CSOSA started as an effort to relieve D.C. government of the fiscal burdens of services ordinarily provided by state agencies. Pretrial, parole and probation, the public defender, the courts, and incarceration of long-term prisoners were all “federalized” or provided with federal funding. CSOSA became an independent federal agency in August of 2000.

The opportunity to create a new agency devoted to state-of-the-art parole and probation services was exciting. Liaisons with law enforcement were thought crucial. Assistant Chief Winston Robinson of the Metropolitan Police Department was a District Commander at the time. Robinson worked with Jay Carver, the leader of CSOSA under the initial three-year trusteeship, and Jasper Ormond, now CSOSA’s Associate Director for Community Justice Programs, to create a community supervision system founded on three essential principals: frequent information and intelligence sharing, thousands of joint patrols (Accountability Tours) to offenders’ homes, and Mass Orientations.

These core activities are the individual plays in CSOSA’s overall strategy to win the high-stakes game of community supervision. They are part of an integrated package deemed necessary for success. Each effort supports the others: Without the cooperation and involvement of police and prosecutors, CSOSA’s activities resemble a defense with no offense. . Both are necessary.

Research from the National Institute of Justice on Boot Camps and intensive supervision programs suggests that both supervision and social services are necessary for success. CSOSA offers an array of employment, education, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, anger management and other services. CSOSA partners with D.C. city government (which provides the bulk of services), private non-profit organizations and places of worship throughout the city.

The combined energies and capabilities of law enforcement and social service organizations are brought to bear on the issue of criminal offenders and their obligations to themselves, their children and families. Mass Orientations are simply part of the overall strategy. Mass Orientations are but one product in an array of services and partnerships designed to reduce recidivism and crime.

Back to the Meeting

Greg Thomas is a Community Relations Specialist with CSOSA’s Office of Community Justice Programs. His job is to attend police and community meetings in his district dealing with crime. He also organizes crime related meetings with leaders within the communities he serves. He is a former member of the Metropolitan Police Department. His office brims with the awards of a lifetime in law enforcement. Tonight, however, he stands among 200 criminal offenders mandated to attend the Mass Orientation. He and five other Community Relations Specialists organize these events on a quarterly basis throughout the city.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to tonight’s orientation.” Greg cheerfully begins. “We are here to make sure you know the rules of supervision and understand the many programs that exist to help you become productive and law abiding citizens of the District of Columbia.”

The faces of the offenders in the crowd seem to predict who will succeed and who will struggle. The ones paying attention are the safer bets. The ones lost to the world will struggle.

Greg reaches out to the ones on the fence. You can tell that he has years of experience talking to offenders.

“Supervision is just not about drug tests and us showing up at your door with the police,” he says. “A lot of you in this room are sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know you want a better life. You know your kids are depending on you. You know that drugs will eventually kill you. You know that dealers live terrible lives. You know you want something different. You know that!”

More faces look up. Heads nod in agreement. To some in this room, drugs and hustling and beefing are all they know. Escape seems distant or impossible. Yet they know they want something better. They are not quite sure, however, what “better” means.

The evening starts off with the rules of supervision. Community Supervision Officers clearly state what is expected. CSOSA has some of the most stringent contact standards in the nation. Twice a week drug testing is mandatory for the first eight weeks, twice a month testing follows for the next 12 weeks, and monthly drug tests occur throughout supervision. Fail one and you go back to the beginning of the cycle.

Close to half the population is either under high levels of supervision (four to eight office and community contacts each month) or they are part of a special supervision caseload (i.e., sex offenders, satellite tracking, mental health, domestic violence, day reporting, etc.).

It’s important to note that there are others in the room beyond rank and file Community Supervision Officers. Management at various levels within CSOSA attends these events and meets the audience.

All of this reinforces one message: You will be held accountable for your behaviors. While all of us are aware that there are no guarantees regarding community supervision, there is some optimism that we are bringing accountability to the table.

The police are next. Various officers go to the front of the packed room and tell those assembled that they will be looking for them as they patrol. If they are on the corner causing the community grief, their Community Supervision Officers will be informed, and action will be taken.

The stories of police officers recognizing offenders during Mass Orientations as troublemakers and instantly holding decision meetings with Community Supervision Officers are many. But treatment needs are also discussed, and the officers often encourage offenders to attend. Everybody understands that both approaches are necessary.

The Assistant United States Attorney makes the next appearance. She has the demeanor of a docent at one of Washington’s many historical monuments: Just the facts, delivered politely. She is direct, polite, and matter-of-fact. Her voice is not raised. She simply tells those assembled that those holding a gun or ammunition will go away to a federal prison in another state for a minimum of five years. If they engage in acts of violence or criminal conspiracies, they will be aggressively prosecuted.

During her presentation, no offenders stare at the floor or nod off to sleep.

For the moment, everybody’s listening.

Services

CSOSA’s partnership philosophy also applies to services. For example, the agency works with faith institutions to provide mentors to offenders returning from prison and link offenders with faith-based support services. CSOSA has put significant effort into cataloging the programs offered by Washington’s churches and mosques. Some provide clothing. Others offer job placement and training. Housing, childcare, drug treatment, food and fellowship are additional services.

But identifying services can be an academic exercise. Getting offenders to use them and embrace their benefit is another issue.

Offenders, for a wide variety of reasons, have difficulty dealing with the vast and impersonal bureaucracies that often administer social services. If the services are constructed with offenders in mind, then participation rates increase.

Back at the Mass Orientation, Greg Thomas introduces members of CSOSA’s VOTEE Unit (Vocational Opportunities, Training, Education and Employment) who stand up to address the crowd.

“We have services designed just for you,” they state. We can provide you with a job or provide job training through the city.”

They point out that many former offenders have trained as commercial truck drivers who go on to make very good money. If fact, they say, some former offenders have hired people released from prison who completed the training. “There are many other opportunities,” they state. The unit will do a comprehensive vocational and educational assessment of any offender and provide direct services.

They continue with an overview of additional services offered directly by CSOSA or other agencies: drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, mental health counseling, and others.

Offer of Services is Always There

It’s important to note that there is no “expiration date” on CSOSA’s offer to match offenders with helpful services. There is a formal intake process, during which the Community Supervision Officer does a complete assessment of the new offender’s risk and social needs, and a contract is signed. Beginning in 2006, CSOSA implemented an enhanced, expanded, and fully automated assessment instrument, the Auto Screener.

CSOSA’s Transitional Interventions for Parole Supervision (TIPS) Unit have staff placed in every Bureau of Prisons halfway house in the city. These officers provide the same assessment for the 50 percent of prison returnees who come back to the District through halfway house placement.

At every contact with their Community Supervision Officers, offenders can say that they are ready to accept the help that is offered. CSOs will then initiate referrals to the various service units. They do not have to rely on the courts or Parole Commission to get someone into drug treatment, mental health programming or job training.

An End, or a Beginning

Ninety minutes can seem like a lifetime. After the program, many audience members rush out into the cold night air. Many others, however, stay and learn more about programs they know they need.

“It’s a system philosophy,” states Paul Quander, the Director of CSOSA. “We apply pressure, especially to high-risk offenders. We show them a unified system, but we also show them that we care about their well being, their future and their child’s future.”

Bryan Young, a CSOSA Senior Management Analyst and organization historian offers, “We learn stuff through Mass Orientations and other partnership activities that you will not learn through day-to-day office and community contacts. We find key data to protect society and help offenders and their families. That’s what makes our partnership work. That’s what makes the District of Columbia safer.”

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