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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Comments

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  2. Car Mechanic says:

    Mr. Williams thank you for this great article.

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  4. Interesting information were given in this site especially about thomas and his parole experiences.

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    I’m just wondering if this website will ever be updated again?

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    Fascinating article. I look forward to more parole stories.

  10. As Beverly Hills said, I look forward to more stories.

  11. digital underground says:

    yes this was a phenomenal article, but like the poster above when will this site be updated.

  12. EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES says:

    Great article about EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES IN PAROLE AND PROBATION. Many agencies are discovering the fine art of banking low risk offenders using pocheck web-based software.

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    Great article…I can now breath a little better knowing thats taken care of properly.

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    The post is helpful. I look forward to more stories.

  15. yes this was a phenomenal article, but like the poster above when will this site be updated.

  16. hi Thomas.. thanks for the great share.. i wonder how do you get time to manage with your work and then update your blog! Truly appreciable!

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    Thanks Mr. Williams what a great blog i really enjoyed reading it.

    Keep the hard work up.

    Thanks again

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    When will you be putting your next one out?

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  20. good job, good article, and i like read this much

  21. I personally keep a motivational blog to keep me going and to help others along that read it. http://elevatedcontinuum.com – it is a constant process, not to learn and forget, we need to reestablish this concept.

  22. Terry McEldowney says:

    In the past 20 years in the substance abuse and mental health fields both as a counselor and as a program director at a community mental health facility, I have found that methadone and now suboxone is a treatment of choice for relapsing or potentially relapsing offenders, and also that the TTC model works very well with peer support and cognitive change. I support any effort to get What Works out into the political mainstream where policy changes can be effected. Also treatment communities need to know the rich varieties of treatment that do work with people who are already in the criminal justice system.

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