A Guide to Treatment, Education and Job Related Services Within CSOSA

A Guide to Treatment, Education and Job Related Services Within the

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

 Updated, Summer, 2011

Please see our website at http://www.csosa.gov and our social media site at http://media.csosa.gov.

All of us at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) receive telephone calls and e-mails from family and friends asking for information on programs to assist their loved ones currently under parole, probation, or supervised release.

 Family involvement, support and encouragement are crucial to successful outcomes of people on community supervision. We appreciate your interest.

In an effort to assist those who are trying to help, we offer the following overview of services. CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers (CSOs—the professional supervising or assisting the offender—known elsewhere as parole and probation officers or agents) are your first contacts for information.

CSOSA is a federal, independent agency supervising and offering services to people convicted of D.C. code violations or who have been accepted for supervision through the Interstate Compact Agreement. We do not provide assistance to individuals not convicted of D.C. code violations or accepted through the Interstate Compact Agreement; we do not assist individuals living in adjacent states.

The CSOSA Website

 Many of the resources listed on the CSOSA website (see below) are available to anyone. Please note that there are a wide array of government and private organizations providing services beyond those offered by CSOSA.

 Please see www.csosa.gov. The top of the main page offers a button marked “Offender Reentry.” The section marked “Reentry Resources” provides a comprehensive overview of assistance available throughout the city.

Examples include:

  • A directory of helpful resources created by the Public Defenders Service
  • An emergency food and shelter directory offered by the Interfaith Conference of Metro Washington
  • “Starting Out-Starting Over-Staying Out” by D.C. Cure
  • CSOSA’s Faith-Based Initiative

There are many additional services and opportunities to explore on the website, as well as a series of television and radio programs featuring the experiences of people on supervision with CSOSA.  See link on the website (main page on right) for “DC Public Safety.”

Washington, D.C. Government and Non-Profit Providers

The District of Columbiagovernment provides the majority of services available to people on CSOSA supervision. You can find comprehensive, up-to-date listings of social services available through the DC government at “211 Answers, Please!” (http://answersplease.dc.gov). For general employment information available at the District’s one-stop workforce development centers, please contact the DC Department of Employment Services at 202-724-7000, or see (http://does.dc.gov/).

Services Available from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

CSOSA supervises 16,000 offenders on parole, supervised release or probation every day.

CSOSA enforces the conditions and requirements imposed by the court or the US Parole Commission (such as drug testing and finding employment) and also refers individuals to supportive programs .

An individual supervision and treatment plan is developed for each offender.

The CSOSA Starting Point: Risk and Needs Assessment

Every individual entering supervision receives a comprehensive risk and needs assessment.  The assessment identifies the particular areas in which the offender needs assistance and accountability. The assessment is updated throughout the year.

The Role of the Community Supervision Officer (CSO)

We encourage you to contact your friend’s or relative’s CSO, but please note that most information regarding an individual’s status on supervision or program participation is protected under the Federal Privacy Act.  This information cannot be shared with anyone other than relevant government agencies without the offender’s written consent. Within these limitations, however, CSOs can be helpful and encouraging to family members and loved ones trying to assist offenders.

If you are uncertain of the name and telephone number of your loved one’s CSO, please contact 202-585-7377.

The CSOSA/Faith Community Partnership

CSOSA works with a wide variety of faith institutions throughout the city to coordinate a network of support services for people returning to the District from prison.  Many of these services are also available to offenders not under CSOSA’s supervision, as well as probationers.  CSOSA’s faith partners provide an array of services including mentoring, drug counseling, emergency food and clothing, job placement, housing assistance and more. See the CSOSA reentry web site mentioned above.

Substance Abuse Treatment

 In fiscal year 2010, 90 percent of offenders entering supervision self-reported a history of illicit drug use.  The connection between drug abuse and crime has been well established.  Long-term success in reducing recidivism among drug-abusing offenders depends upon two key factors:

  1.  Identifying and treating drug use and other social problems; and
  2. Establishing swift and certain consequences for violations of release conditions.

Treatment reduces drug use and criminal behavior; it also can improve the offender’s prospects for employment.

CSOSA’s treatment resources are focused on the highest-risk, highest-need individuals.  We also work with District government to place other individuals, as appropriate, in city-funded treatment as slots are available.

Offenders access treatment in several different ways:

  • By testing positive for drug use, which usually results in referral for assessment and possible treatment placement;
  • By talking with the Community Supervision Officer and requesting treatment;
  • By having a condition for substance abuse treatment imposed by the U.S. Parole Commission or D.C. Superior Court; or
  • By completing the pre-treatment program in CSOSA’s Reentry andSanctionsCenterand being discharged to continue treatment.

The CSOSA substance abuse treatment continuum includes the following programs:

  •  7-Day Medically Monitored Detoxification,
  • 28-Day Residential Treatment,
  • 90- to 120-Day Residential Treatment,
  • 120-Day Residential Treatment and Transitional Housing for Women with Children,
  • 120-Day Residential Treatment for Dually Diagnosed Offenders (mental health and substance abuse),
  • 90-Day Supervised Transitional Housing, and
  • Intensive Outpatient and Outpatient Treatment.
  •  After the individual completes treatment, he or she generally is assigned to an aftercare support group.

 The Reentry andSanctionsCenter(RSC)

CSOSA’s 102 bed Reentry and Sanctions Center (RSC) provides 28 days of intensive assessment and pre-treatment programming for individuals with long-term histories of substance abuse and criminal involvement.  These individuals are the highest-risk, highest-need offenders under CSOSA supervision.

Offenders are generally referred to the RSC directly upon release from prison or early in their supervision period.  Participation for offenders is voluntary, though some defendants are court-ordered to participate.  The program provides offenders and defendants with tools to prevent relapse, improve family relationships, and modify deviant behaviors.

After completion, most participants are placed in custom-designed  community-based programs to continue treatment.

The Secure Residential Treatment Program (SRTP)

 The Secure Residential Treatment Program (SRTP) is a 32 bed, residential 180 day program operating within the DC Department of Corrections’ Correctional Treatment Facility.

The program is an alternative to incarceration for individuals facing revocation by the US Parole Commission. The primary focus is a comprehensive, intensive cognitive behavioral model aimed at the inmates’ individual criminal and substance using lifestyle rather than a focus on substance abuse alone.

Core treatment components include pre-screening, intake, orientation, assessment, crisis intervention, individualized treatment planning, inmate psycho-education, abstinence directed counseling, supportive group and individual counseling, urine toxicology screening, comprehensive case management, anger management education, spiritual education and group counseling, recreation therapy, group/individual psychotherapy, relapse and recidivism prevention, community re-integration, supervision compliance planning, discharge planning, introduction to community support meetings and continuity of care planning.

 Mental Health Services

CSOSA contracts with mental health service providers for psychiatric screening and evaluation; psychological case reviews; pretreatment counseling; aftercare counseling; medication compliance/education groups; and full battery assessments on an as needed basis.

CSOSA does not provide mental health therapy or medication management.  Based on the assessment results, CSOSA will refer the individual to the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health for appropriate services.

CSOSA has a supervision branch comprised of six teams that specialize in managing offenders with mental health issues.

Violence Reduction Program (VRP)

 The Violence Reduction Program (VRP) is a programmatic intervention that blends best practices from the literature – such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mentoring – into a three-phase treatment intervention for men, aged 18-35, with histories of violent, weapons, and/or drug distribution convictions.  The goal of the VRP is to help offenders:

  •  Develop non-violent approaches to conflict resolution,
  • Increase problem-solving skills,
  • Adopt communication styles that improve social skills,
  • Establish an alternative peer network by promoting pro-social supports and accountability networks, and
  • Learn and apply skills to regulate anxiety.

Specialized Treatment:

 Several specialized treatment interventions are provided to offenders who have committed certain types of crimes or are assigned to special supervision caseloads:

 Traffic Alcohol Program (TAP) 

 Offenders are court-ordered to complete the Traffic Alcohol Program (TAP) following conviction for traffic and/or alcohol related offenses.

Sex Offender Assessment and Treatment

CSOSA contracts with treatment providers to assess and treat individuals convicted of sex offenses, as ordered by the Superior Court or U.S. Parole Commission.

 Domestic Violence Treatment

As part of CSOSA’s supervision of offenders with domestic violence convictions, offenders convicted of domestic violence may be court-ordered to participate in an 18-week Family Violence Intervention Program or a 22-week Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

 Women Offenders

 One example of a community-based program providing services for women offenders and their families is Our Place DC (www.ourplacedc.org). The phone number is 202-548-2400. Our Place works with CSOSA to bring comprehensive services to women offenders.

CSOSA has specialized supervision teams, treatment services, and groups for women offenders.  Women offenders have unique and challenging needs that are best met through gender-specific groups.

 Anger Management

 CSOSA Treatment Specialists facilitate a 12-session Anger Management group program.    Participants attend one 90-minute session each week.

Educational Assistance and Job Placement–Vocational Opportunities, Training, Education, and Employment Unit (V.O.T.E.E.)

The Vocational Opportunities for Training, Education, and Employment (VOTEE) Program assesses and responds to the individual educational and vocational needs of offenders.  Vocational Development Specialists provide direct assistance in preparing offenders for job readiness training, community-based vocational and rehabilitative programs, and job search/placement and retention assistance.  The unit also provides adult basic education and GED preparation courses at one of four learning labs staffed by CSOSA Learning Lab Specialists.  The Learning Lab Specialists assist offenders in improving their educational levels.  In addition, the Learning Labs provide information systems technology training and referrals for certification training.

 Conclusion

CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers (CSOs) are responsible for creating a supervision and treatment plan for each offender under CSOSA’s supervision. Please contact the CSO supervising your friend or family member if you would like to discuss your loved one’s needs. Your support, encouragement and guidance are often critical elements that keep many offenders from returning to crime or drugs.


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Using Social Media to Protect Public Safety

Please see http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television programs
Please see www.csosa.gov for the web site for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

DC’s Fugitive Safe Surrender Prompts 530 Offenders with Warrants to Voluntarily Surrender in a Church

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks


It’s not easy to understand why anyone with a warrant would voluntarily surrender to law enforcement. But I spoke to many offenders during an event in the nation’s capitol who told me that they were looking for a safe opportunity to turn themselves in. They wanted another chance to return into normal society.


But they and family members needed to learn about the program and be convinced that it wasn’t a scam. We had to earn their trust. We did that through social and conventional media efforts. This may have been one of the first efforts on the part of a federal agency to use social media during a campaign.


The thrust of this article is not Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington, D.C. (www.dcsafesurrender.org) but an overview of the possibilities that social media affords the criminal justice community. By social media, I’m referring to radio and television on the Internet (podcasting), articles on the Internet (bloging) combined with more traditional efforts such as web site creation, a telephone answering system, e-mail and radio and television ads.


Fugitive Safe Surrender in DC

Before we delve into social media we need a quick overview of Fugitive Safe Surrender in Washington:

The effort encouraged those wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes in the District of Columbia to surrender voluntarily to faith-based leaders and law enforcement in a church. Fugitive Safe Surrender recognizes that many offenders are looking for a way out. The program provides an opportunity for individuals wanted for non-violent offenses to resolve their warrants and get on with their lives. Surrendering within the confines of a church (or other religious entity) provides the assurance that they will be treated safely and fairly.


Fugitive Safe Surrender (FSS) was successfully implemented by the US Marshals Service in six cities where over 6,000 people surrendered. Those participating generally go home that day with a new court date or have their charges adjudicated on the spot. Violent offenders (yes, they surrendered as well) are held for trial.


The entire criminal justice community in D.C. came together to create the structure for FSS. I was asked to lead the public information effort.


530 offenders with violent and non-violent warrants surrendered in a church in northeast Washington D.C. over the course of three days during November of 2007. There was extensive media coverage.


Social Media

Explaining why an offender would voluntarily surrender is easier than explaining social media. Social media is more a philosophy rather than a list of strategies.


One of the lead agencies for FSS was my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C (a federal, executive branch entity). We do a series of radio and television programs under the banner of “DC Public Safety” at http://media.csosa.gov. The program includes a blog (articles) and transcripts. Some consider it the most popular criminal justice radio and television Internet site in the nation.


But the use of radio or television or blogs or transcripts or any other form of social media is not the point; they exist to create a comfortable experience for the user. People learn in a wide variety of formats. Some want to read while others want to listen or watch. For those who want to read, it’s preferable that the document be “story based” with an emphasis on enjoyment and readability. Audio and video programs need to follow the same philosophy.


Why?

The criminal justice system, like all bureaucracies, is usually conservative when it comes to news ways of communicating. As someone who has spent close to 30 years in communications for national and state criminal justice agencies, I understand the complexities and resource limitations.


Social media opportunities available for criminal justice agencies are enormous and very cost effective. Radio shows for the Internet (podcasting) can be done for cost of a computer and an additional $500.00 for equipment and broadband access. Once purchased, you have almost unlimited opportunities to communicate with a local and national audience without additional cost.


The primary objective of social media is a personal, non-bureaucratic style of communicating that respects various learning styles and encourages the development of conversations with the public and media.


The bottom line is that social media, in combination with traditional media, creates a powerful and effective method of communicating. You can accomplish organizational operational goals effectively with social media.


Social Media and FSS

When we brainstormed media outreach efforts for Fugitive Safe Surrender, we realized that money was very tight and that Washington, D.C. is an expensive market to communicate in. Campaigns like ours usually depend on unassigned airtime donated by radio and television stations. In a market like D.C., available free air-time is almost nonexistent (especially for TV).


Planed bus ads and timely television ads were cut due to budget. Money for a telephone answering system and web site dried up. This left us with radio ads developed through the Broadcaster’s Association, a telephone answering system cobbled together from our telephone system and a web site created by Mary Anderson (webmaster) from my agency (www.dcsafesurrender.org). It became clear that our use of social media would go from an accessory to a primary strategy.


The first thing we did was to go to a city that had already conducted a successful FSS (Indianapolis) and do interviews with offenders who surrendered. We were able to get compelling testimony from them and family members as well as judges who heard the cases. That testimony was mounted on our web site.


The radio and television ads that we had produced were mounted on the website. This established a one-stop shopping opportunity for offenders, their families and the media.


The concept of social media embraces the personalization of communications. To insure that we knew what to communicate and how to communicate, we conducted three focus groups of offenders under our supervision. It was the focus groups where we discovered that friends and family members would do the bulk of the research on FSS and the majority had Internet access. We now knew who we were talking to and how to reach them. But to be on the safe side, we implemented a telephone answering system with recorded messages.


We created radio ads in Spanish to accommodate that part of our population.

We created a radio show that fully explained the program.


We mounted easy to understand print materials on the web site.


All radio and television ads referred people back to the web site and telephone answering system.


We posted the radio and television ads on the same server used by our “DC Public Safety” programs.


But possibly the most powerful strategy was to interview the first person in line to surrender every day. The interviews were mounted on the web site by Enterprise Architect Timothy Barnes and publicized to media via e-mail and press release within an hour of their creation.


These individuals told compelling stories that resonated with the mainstream media and they presented those stories to the public at a crucial time of the campaign. One offender walked several miles to the site beginning at 3:00 a.m. at the request of his mother (it was her birthday). He described the surrendering process as a pilgrimage for change to a new life. He and several additional offenders agreed to be interviewed by mainstream media which furthered coverage.


Throughout the process, we looked for additional compelling stories to tell. We understood that story-based accounts communicated better than a public safety angle.


Results

The social and traditional media approach employed (with very little money) worked beyond our expiations with 530 surrendering during the three day process. Friends and family members told us how they heard the radio ad and went to the web site and how the audio and video ads and testimonies of prior participants convinced them that the effort was legitimate. They became so comfortable with the process that surrendering mothers brought in their children. Some offenders were accompanied by multiple family members and friends. A son recently released from prison brought in his father for a theft warrant.


It’s important to understand that the social media approach worked with reporters, DJ’s, talk show hosts and their management. Several told us that they thought that the program was a bit silly until they went to the web site and listened to the audio and watched the video. The web site convinced them that this was a program worth investing in and, through the stories we provided, they helped us to publicize the program.


Podcasting and other forms of social media are powerful strategies that everyone can use. Whether it’s a quick form of emergency notification, getting the word out about a dangerous criminal or talking about new strategies, citizens and their leaders like the informal and informational aspects of audio, video and story based written material.


It’s time for all of us within the criminal justice system to use social media tactics within our own communities.

Articles on social media, podcasting and community outreach for criminal justice agencies are available through our blog at http://media.csosa.gov. I look forward to your suggestions.

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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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Faith-Based Offender Reentry Programs in Washington DC

The CSOSA/Faith Community Partnership

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.

“Religious organizations are long-standing and powerful community institutions. They often have histories with the families and the returning offender. That link often makes it easier for the individual to have new contacts that can move them to do well. Faith succeeds where other things often fail.” Rev. Donald L. Isaac, Executive Director of the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership in Washington, D.C. and Chair of the CSOSA Faith Advisory Council.

Many offenders are truly ready for change. Those of us in the profession have often heard offenders state that they “are sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We typically read that 50 percent of releases return to prison within three years. But 50 percent do not. Many professionals and policymakers, including President Bush in his 2004 State of the Union speech, believe we can do better.

Successful offenders tell us that the stabilizing influence of family and caring community members made the difference. Job training, substance abuse counseling and other forms of help are important. But nothing is as powerful as the mother, father, wife, children or friend who provide the structure and support necessary to succeed. Many of us have struggled in our own lives and contemplated the lure of alcohol or other destructive behaviors as relief. When confronted with an angry and insistent mother, spouse or friend, we often find the courage to mend our ways. It’s no different with offenders.

But who can repair the broken link between a returning offender and his or her family?

The Role of Faith Communities

It’s often the church, mosque or synagogue that provides the bridge between the returning offender and family. Religious leaders and their congregations can act as intermediaries, coaches and sources of services. They can also influence the broader community’s attitudes toward ex-offenders.

In many neighborhoods, few institutions are as powerful than the church, synagogue or mosque. These institutions speak for the community in ways that other organizations cannot. They often set moral standards. Their leaders become spokespersons for local issues. More important, these institutions provide structure, fellowship and a frame of reference for both identity and possibility. On the day-to-day level, they also provide necessary social assistance.

Law enforcement organizations have embraced “faith-based” solutions to problems for as long as cops have walked local beats. Officers dealing with verbally abusive husbands go to local ministers (as well as clinics) for intervention. They ask priests to arrange for drug counseling or Imams to mentor straying probationers. Many of us have asked religious leaders for assistance at one time or another. We do it because they have the resources. We do it because they have the moral authority, and they know how to use it. They know when to speak softly and encouragingly. They also know when to challenge a “knucklehead” because he desperately needs a wake-up call.

But the question is how to take the moral and practical authority of “faith” and apply it to meeting the needs of returning offenders. In Washington, D.C., we are taking the power of faith and moving it to a larger (and hopefully) more productive level.

The Provision of Resources

In Washington, D.C., there are approximately 140 trained faith-based volunteers operating under the umbrella of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA-D.C.’s federally funded parole and probation agency) who provide an array of services.

Returning offenders often have at least loose ties to a congregation. Volunteers within the church, mosque or synagogue can act as mentors or coaches. They can repair damaged relationships within families. They can provide housing (which is increasingly challenging as real estate costs go up in D.C.). Drug treatment can be offered. Clothing can be provided for job interviews. Meals are offered. People are willing to listen, care and provide fellowship.

But the most important thing may be acceptance by someone beyond another addict or gang member. The power of faith-based volunteers is that they bring credibility and the potential for a long-term, positive source of support and influence that government cannot provide during the time that a person may be on parole or supervised release.

Rev. Donald Isaac understands the unique power of faith to reach returning offenders. “Everyone returning home after years away has a need to feel connected with family, friends and community,” he says. “It’s the same for offenders. The faith community can be that connection when there are no others. We can be the family the offender is looking for.”

Religious bodies have resources at their immediate disposal, or they can refer offenders to other locations or services that are part of the larger denomination. As important as spirituality is, and it may be the key for many of us, the availability of the right resources at the right time can be crucial.

“The sacred, spiritual mission must be there to change. You have to have it. It may not mean a reliance on a religion, but faith is a necessary component of change. To make progress on the path to peace, belief in yourself is a crucial first step. Offenders see it work with others. They begin to believe. Spirituality gives hope beyond human needs.” Muhammad Karim, a founder of Path to Peace, Inc.

Well over 600,000 offenders are released from prison every year in the United States. Thousands more are released from jails. According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over two thirds are rearrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors within three years. These statistics have prompted many policymakers to see reentry and faith-based programs as necessary.

This is new ground. Members of the criminal justice community are increasingly seeking alliances with the faith community. We see the possibility of tapping into new support structures with rewarding possibilities.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and Faith-Based Efforts

CSOSA is a federal, executive branch entity providing parole and probation services for Washington, D.C. CSOSA is a research-based, technologically oriented community corrections agency with a growing national reputation. CSOSA is a new federal agency, independent as of August of 2000.

The CSOSA/Faith Community Partnership was initiated in FY 2002 as an innovative and pragmatic collaboration to expand the range of support services available to offenders returning from incarceration. The program bridges the gap between prison and community by helping them get started with a new life.

But more important, we recognize that spirituality and the moral authority of religious organizations motivates some returnees in ways that conventional programs cannot. Combine this with supportive people and resources and one realizes that faith-based efforts can be a very important indegredieant for crime prevention and stable comminities.

Why do faith-based efforts work?

Rev. Stephen Tucker, pastor of New Commandant Baptist Church in northwest Washington and recipient of a grant from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing (COPS) office, recently hosted a two-day conference on how offenders relate to police and community. The sessions were designed to get offenders to understand law enforcement and police to understand offenders and their struggles to successfully reintegrate after prison. People from around the country participated.

A primary lesson? The deep distrust of police (or other government agencies) towards ex-offenders opens a door for faith-based efforts. The church can be a bridge to bring people together.

Rev. Tucker cites another reason why faith-based programs can be effective. “African-Americans are wedded to God and spirituality,” he says. We have to return to our history. Spirituality is part of our experience and our survival. It is the key to our future success.”

Evolution

During the early stages of the CSOSA/Faith Community Partnership, mentoring has been the primary focus. The mentoring initiative links offenders with concerned members of the faith community who offer support, friendship, and assistance during the difficult period of re-entry. During the transition from prison to neighborhood, returning offenders can be overwhelmed by large and small problems. Participating offenders are matched with a volunteer mentor from one of the participating faith-based institutions.

The philosophy of mentoring is to build strong moral values and provide positive role models for ex-offenders returning to our communities through coaching and spiritual guidance. Mentors also help identify linkages to faith-based resources that assist in the growth and development of mentees.

According to an in-house evaluation conducted from March, 2002 to March, 2005, CSOSA referred 212 offenders to the program and 411 individuals from the faith community participated in training designed to help them to help the offenders.

Where most mentoring programs offer one-on-one mentoring, the CSOSA/faith community mentoring program provides a group of supportive, positive mentors for each of the offenders. The group mentoring strategy allows the program to not only address what are often multiple needs of the offender, but the group also serves as a n alternative for offenders who either lack a strong family support system or face negative-anti-social peer groups.

The evaluation found that the group mentoring approach has provided the alternative positive and supportive assistance that contribute to offenders’ successful transition from prison to the community.

The mentoring initiative is a first step toward a citywide network of faith-based services, including job training, substance abuse aftercare and support, transitional housing, family counseling, and other services.

Structure of the Partnership

Early in the initiative, an Advisory Council was selected by the participating clergy to maximize the participation of the faith community. Much of the Advisory Council’s activity has centered on helping CSOSA achieve its goal of denominational inclusiveness

Three geographically based clusters were created using the District’s ward boundaries. These divisions were based upon the distribution of offenders’ residences, the location of participating faith organizations and the location of CSOSA field offices.

The faith community nominated a “lead institution” in each cluster. CSOSA prepared a formal contractual solicitation and made official selections in May of 2002. Approximately $100,000 was provided to each cluster to cover administrative costs.

Each Lead Institution hired a cluster coordinator to function as the clergy’s staff leader/liaison with CSOSA. Each cluster convenes meetings (at least monthly) to discuss experiences, opportunities and issues that need to be addressed to optimize the quality and synergy of this effort. The cluster coordinators meet with CSOSA staff on a monthly basis to review accomplishments and impediments.

Part of the faith strategy involves a successful video mentoring program with a federal prison in North Carolina in which over one thousand DC inmates are housed. In addition, CSOSA has used video conferencing at this facility to introduce re-entrants to their prospective mentors while they are still incarcerated. This has proven to be a workable vehicle to address the needs of re-entrants as they transition into release status. Many have had little or no contact with their families or the community during their period of confinement.

Involvement in this initiative has contributed to additional resources becoming available to two of the lead institutions. As noted above, New Commandment has received a COPS grant. Another lead institution, East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership, has received funding from the Department of Labor to implement a job readiness and placement program

What Do Mentors Do?

During the transition from prison to community, returning offenders can be overwhelmed by both large and small problems-everything from getting a job to maintaining a residence to negotiating public transportation. Mentors work with CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers to address some of these problems. Most importantly, mentors provide individual support and guidance. They let the offender know that the community is invested in their success.

Mentors help in a variety of ways, such as:

  • § Coaching in job interview skills.
  • § Locating a clothing bank to obtain appropriate clothes for work.
  • § Introducing the offender to a faith institution’s support services and leisure activities.
  • § Helping the offender to develop independent living skills, such as budgeting or shopping.
  • § Helping the offender negotiate changes in his or her relationships with family and loved ones.

How Are Mentors Selected?

In order to become a mentor, volunteers must meet certain criteria. They:

  • § Must be affiliated with a participating faith institution. This does not have to be the house of worship to which the mentor belongs. If an individual wants to become a mentor but his or her church is not a partnership participant, another institution will sponsor the mentor.
  • § Must complete an application and a personal interview with the Cluster Coordinator.
  • § Must complete 12 hours of initial training.
  • § Must be willing to commit at least two hours per week, and must be willing to stay with the program for six months.

Conclusion

The CSOSA Faith Community Partnership is an exciting endeavor that will hopefully result in reduced recidivism and safer communities. With large numbers of offenders in need, the task of coordination and cooperation has been challenging. The program is continuously evolving.

Churches, mosques and synagogues can provide leadership, resources and strategies in a coordinated and focused way that we in government find difficult to offer. They bring credibility, long-term support, family, community connections and faith.

Community supervision can provide a structure of accountability, drug treatment, job placement assistance, and more. The faith community can provide the essence of what it means to be a complete human being. Both are necessary.

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