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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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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The Core Mission: Partnerships for Public Safety

By Leonard Sipes, Beverly Hill and Bryan Young. 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.

It’s 5:30 a.m. at the Fifth District station of Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Jody Tracy, a Branch Chief with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), is here at this early hour to meet with her staff and police officers regarding warrant service. Community complaints about violence prompted the initiative.

Associate Director Tom Williams is also there. “We’re doing more warrant service throughout the city,” explains Williams. “Our objective is to take non-compliant offenders off the street. For example, close to 300 offenders with outstanding warrants were arrested by D.C. Police and CSOSA security staff at our offices during the first six months of the year.

But we cannot pick-up everyone when they make office visits. You’ve got to go out to their homes.” As they serve warrants in the Edgewood Terrace apartment complex in northeast D.C., they encounter enthusiastic residents who welcome the joint presence of MPD officers and CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers (CSOs). CSOSA is the federal agency that provides probation and parole supervision in the District of Columbia.

“Thank God you’re here,” one resident says as he watches the officers go to work. A mother holding a child nods approvingly when told that officers were searching for errant parolees and probationers. “The quicker you can get the bad ones out, the safer we will be,” she states. “Help the good ones, but take the troublemakers,” she added.

Edgewood Terrace, like several other neighborhoods in D.C., is improving economically but still struggling with crime. The day before the warrant service, there was a shooting. Citizens asked for help. Five police cars responded; three CSOSA officers accompanied the police.

“We responded with the police because community supervision is a partnership,” Associate Director Tom Williams explained. “We have to be out there with the police, responding to serious incidents, in order to earn the community’s trust and support.” Central to this collaborative concept of community supervision is CSOSA’s relationships with its partners. CSOSA’s community relations staff attends most of the community meetings in the city where crime is an issue. They also schedule monthly meetings with community leaders in every police district to discuss whatever issues are most pressing to citizens of that area.

CSOSA supervision staff attends monthly intelligence-sharing meetings at every police district. Weekly exchanges of information occur in district subdivisions, or Police Service Areas. Specialized CSOSA teams, such as the Sex Offender Unit, routinely share information with MPD detectives that result in the incarceration of child sex offenders.

Jody Tracy emphasizes that the key to successful collaboration is “information, information and more information.” She sums up the benefits: “The more we can exchange information and take action based on what the community and our law enforcement partners want, the more successful we will be.”

From Community Policing to Community Parole and Probation

Most practitioners agree that community policing has been an effective strategy. The same is proving true for community-based parole and probation efforts. Throughout the country, parole and probation is emerging from its “central office” orientation, putting officers on the street to work side-by-side with police and community members.

From its inception, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency has embraced this philosophy. Created in 1997 as part of a federal effort to relieve the District of Columbia of some state-level criminal justice operations, CSOSA became an independent federal agency in August of 2000. The agency dedicated itself to implementing state-of-the-art community supervision system with high levels of offender contact and drug testing. Caseload ratios are among the lowest in the nation. Almost 50 percent of the population of 15,500 probationers and parolees are assigned to specialized caseloads or are classified as “intensive” supervision, both of which results in more frequent face-to-face contact.

A special unit and treatment services exist for sex offenders (including GPS monitoring), high-risk substance abusers, and traffic-alcohol, mental health and domestic violence cases. Information technology systems may be the best in the country.

What CSOSA Brings to the Table

Effective crime control depends upon the ability to collaborate with the community. CSOSA maintains field offices and learning labs throughout the city in neighborhoods where the offender population is concentrated. At each location, agency operations focus on assessing offender’s risks, closely supervising offenders based on risk, arranging treatment and support services to address offender’s needs, and working in partnership with law enforcement and community-based organizations to provide offenders the opportunities necessary to contribute to family, the workforce, and the community.

Several community leaders insist that the placement of new field offices have stabilized communities. It also allows them direct access to managers about troublesome offenders. CSOSA’s partnerships to promote public safety include the following:

Community Justice Partnerships – Strategic Cooperation among Community Supervision and Law Enforcement Since 1999, CSOSA has worked with the Metropolitan Police Department to establish a citywide partnership designed to help Community Supervision Officers and police be effective resources for each other. The partnership is built on three basic activities:

Intelligence and Information Sharing: Community Supervision Officers and police officers form teams responsible for defined geographic areas to share photographs, addresses, and background information on high-risk offenders. Behind the scenes, CSOSA electronically shares offender data – photographs, names, aliases, associates’ names, criminal histories, employment history, and housing data-with partnering police agencies. A recent article in the Washington Post (“Electronic Trail Leads to Arrest in D.C. Hotel Holdups,” October 1, 2005) documents the sharing of satellite tracking-GPS data that prompted the arrest of an offender implicated in 24 robberies.·

Accountability Tours: Community Supervision Officers and uniformed police officers in marked police vehicles conduct Accountability Tours (joint visits with offenders in the community). These activities have led to multiple arrests for weapons and narcotics violations in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and elsewhere throughout the city. They also reinforce the need for offenders to comply with community supervision requirements, such as drug testing.

Mass Orientations: Community Supervision Officers and law enforcement partners further seek to prevent repeat crime by hosting Mass Orientations, in which police and Community Supervision Officers meet with offenders recently ordered or released to community supervision. Prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia also attend Mass Orientations to warn offenders about the significant consequences of possessing or using a firearm while on probation, parole, or supervised release. The orientation sessions emphasize the collaboration between CSOSA and other law enforcement entities and offer opportunities for job training or other vital services for offenders. Police officers assigned to the meetings have discovered an array of offenders who are suspected in criminal and questionable activities being on CSOSA caseloads. They immediately create joint supervision strategies with Community Supervision Officers that result in offenders being placed on increased supervision or returning to incarceration. In many cases, added supervision and services have lead to increased compliance with the rules of supervision and successful outcomes.

From these activities, police on the street learn who’s on probation or parole, where they reside, and with whom they live. Community Supervision Officers gain the eyes and ears of police who have a presence in the community 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

This structure also provides numerous benefits for additional law enforcement officials. Investigators benefit from having immediate access to current information on offenders. At a recent training session for Metropolitan Police Department investigators, a narcotics unit detective reported that because of her access to CSOSA data, she was able to obtain a search warrant for an offender’s residence and his girl friend’s residence because the Community Supervision Officer had recorded that the offender split his time between two addresses. When she later obtained an arrest warrant in this case, the Community Supervision Officer was able to supply police with complete information about the layout of the house, how many people lived there, and the presence of threatening dog.

The fundamental features of this partnership also make possible key elements of the Project Safe Neighborhoods strategy to reduce gun-related crime in Washington, DC. CSOSA, police and the United States Attorney’s Office collaborate to identify individuals who are aware of or possibly involved in gang-related activity in violent “hot spots” throughout the city. Community Supervision Officers order offenders to attend call-in sessions in which police, prosecutors, CSOSA officials, and community leaders urge the offenders to “clean up their act” or face joint enforcement and prosecution by everyone in the Washington D.C. criminal justice system. These efforts are currently being evaluated.

Faith-based PartnershipsTo assist offenders returning from prison, CSOSA has established a Faith Community Partnership to provide mentors for returning offenders and establish a network of faith-based institutions that offer resources and support programs that can benefit returning offenders. Offenders who maintain family contact during and after incarceration have a stronger likelihood of avoiding arrests, technical violations, and a return to prison after release.

Since March 2002, CSOSA referred 212 offenders for participation in the faith-based mentoring program. 168 (79 percent) of offenders were matched to volunteer mentors who had completed 12 hours of training on mentoring skills and communication.

51 active faith organizations offer more than 90 programs in the areas of addiction, housing, psychological/life skills, vocational development, education/literacy, and community support.

These efforts have resulted in many offenders successfully reintegrating into the community. One offender returning to the city after serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder described it as “The essential ingredient in my ability not to re-offend.” He is gainfully employed, married, and a deacon in his church. “Without the help of the church, God knows where I would have ended up,” he stated.

Community Involvement

CSOSA also maintains a team of five Community Relations Specialists who organize Community Justice Advisory Networks (CJAN’s) in each police district of the city. These networks consist of community members, faith-based organizations, business leaders, and other stakeholders who work together to identify solutions to public safety issues and to promote opportunities for offenders to become productive, law-abiding members of their communities. Highlights of CSOSA’s community outreach activities include:

Hispanic Outreach: The Community Relations Specialist assigned to function as a liaison with the Hispanic community organized a Latino public safety forum in June 2005 and conducts Spanish-language mass orientation sessions among offenders and police on a quarterly basis. Cooperation from the community led to an Accountability Tour with CSO’s and police that produced arrests for guns and drugs.

Community Service: Community Relations Specialists routinely develop agreements with not-for-profit agencies to provide activities for offenders to fulfill court-ordered community service requirements. The team frequently sets up community clean-ups in association with civic groups and arranges for offenders with community service requirements to work at the events. A fall cleanup involving CSOSA offenders over three weekends in the Shepard Park community resulted in tons of trash being removed. “Clean alleys means a safer community,” wrote a community leader in the “Sheppard Park News.”

Community Capacity Building: In addition, Community Relations Specialists coordinated thirty-five events to create opportunities and resources in offenders’ neighborhoods, such as the Anacostia Museum development activities, the Fourth District Mount Pleasant Festival, and the Alfarero Church and North Capitol Collaborative Community Job Fair. In southeast D.C., community leaders and offenders assigned to community service distribute flyers on community meetings. These efforts have lead to increased participation in the meetings.

Education and Trainin CSOSA’s Office of Vocational Opportunities for Training, Education, and Employment (VOTEE) maintains a number of partnerships to address the individual service needs of offenders, such as math and reading skills development, General Equivalency Degree preparation, and job training and placement support. Much of this work occurs through partnerships with other government agencies or community-based organizations, such as the Department of Employment Services (DOES), Jobs Coalition (a faith-community organized network of employers with a commitment to hiring offenders in the community), the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and the Washington Literacy Council. Intergovernmental, business and community cooperation have lead to hundreds of hundreds of offenders finding training and good paying jobs. Some former offenders receiving commercial drivers licensees are now managers who hire others under CSOSA’s supervision. It is not unusual for ex-offenders to make in excess of 50 to 60 thousand dollars each year.

The Overall Impact on Rearrests and Crime

The partnership strategy is making a positive difference in the District of Columbia. According to CSOSA’s information management system, recidivism for probationers (who constitute 70 percent of intakes) is down from 21 percent arrested in 2002 to 13 percent arrested in 2004. The combined rate for probationers and parolees remains flat at 18 percent during the same time period. Baseline data on rearrests for parolees collected before 2002 show larger decreases. Obviously, the degree of CSOSA’s interactions with law enforcement affects the percentage of arrests. Reincarcerations, revocations and drug use have also decreased.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, crime and violence in D.C.decreased since 2002, although the decrease is attributable to a variety of factors. CSOSA is dedicated to establishing effective community and criminal justice partnerships. These activities are essential to achieving the agency’s public safety mission, which results in a safer city.

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Sustainable Community Involvement in Community Corrections

A Solution to NIMBY in Community Corrections?

By Bryan A. Young, Beverly Hill and 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.

“We can make this city safer, and it will be done through community and criminal justice partnerships.” Paul A. Quander, Jr., Director, CSOSA

On a recent April evening, thirty residents and neighborhood leaders filled the community room at a police station in northeast Washington, DC to talk with representatives of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) about domestic violence, violent crime, and what the agency does to address it. CSOSA, established in 1997, is responsible for supervising offenders on probation, parole, or supervised release in the District of Columbia.

Shortly into the meeting, the conversation moved to CSOSA’s new violence prevention program, which attempts to reorient offenders’ decision-making through cognitive behavioral therapy, mentoring, common supervision techniques, and drug testing.

A woman sitting in the third row raises her hand. Visibly upset, she protests, “Why wasn’t the community told about this? This program brings dangerous people into my community. It’s disrespectful to the community.”

Lawrence Jordan is a Community Relations Specialist for CSOSA who lives in this part of town has and has been a District of Columbia resident for 54 years. He hears these kinds of questions frequently in his role as liaison between the CSOSA and the community. Calmly and rationally, Jordan explained that the offenders already live in the community and that CSOSA provides services designed to reduce the risk that the young men in the program would continue to solve problems through violence.

The exchange is valuable for more than one reason, according to Jordan. “Every objection is another opportunity to repeat the message about the agency’s value to public safety,” he says. “Second, by being out here, we build credibility and pockets of support for everything we do.”

Performance-Based Structure for Community Involvement

To make community involvement sustainable, CSOSA has made it an integral component of the agency’s organizational structure. The partnerships nurtured through community involvement expand the capacity of the agency to provide close supervision, treatment, and support services for offenders.

The meeting that Jordan hosted in April is part of the agency’s emphasis on Partnerships; one of the four critical success factors that CSOSA has identified as key to improving public safety by giving offenders the tools and support necessary to change their behavior. The three other critical success factors are Risk and Needs Assessment, Close Supervision, and Treatment and Support Services.

Risk and Needs Assessment determines the likelihood that the offender will re-offend and establishes a supervision and service plan to mitigate that risk.

Close Supervision is achieved through frequent contact between the Community Supervision Officer (CSO) and the offender, in both the office and in the community, and regular periodic drug testing.

Treatment and Support Services address offenders’ substance abuse, education, employment, physical and mental health needs.

Partnerships allow for creative collaborations with other organizations and the community to diversify the ways the agency supervises offenders and provides support services.

Six Community Relations Specialists maintain crucial relationships with community representatives in each police district. Known formally as Community Justice Advisory Networks (CJAN’s), the networks are comprised of key stakeholders including residents, faith institutions, schools, civic organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and local law enforcement entities. CJAN’s are designed to resolve key public safety issues and concerns resulting in an improved quality of life.

The Community Relations Specialists are also responsible for maintaining CSOSA’s involvement in any grassroots venue that relates to public safety. In a typical month, it’s not unusual for Community Relations Specialists to attend events organized by the police department, public housing resident councils, homeowners’ associations, and area neighborhood commissioners (non-paid elected representatives who serve as community liaisons to the local government).

“We strive to be out there,” Jordan says, “so that we can be a resource that people can rely upon when public safety issues arise.”

Community Relations staff develop resources that contribute to the agency’s focus on close supervision and support services. They routinely work with civic groups to organize neighborhood clean up or beautification activities, which provide opportunities for offenders to fulfill court-ordered community service requirements.

Community Relations Specialists also convene groups of offenders for community supervision orientation sessions hosted jointly by CSOSA and the local police district. The orientations are just one part of CSOSA’s effort to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies to expand CSOSA’s supervision capacity by sharing information on offenders and promoting a coordinated law enforcement response to public safety issues. “Accountability Tours,” one of CSOSA’s most effective partnership activities, pair Community Supervision Officers travel with uniformed police officers to conduct community contacts with offenders.

CSOSA also maintains partnerships with more than forty Washington, DC faith institutions to link offenders returning from prison with trained mentors and other services that many houses of worship have to offer, such as job training, parenting classes, and transitional housing assistance.

The Value of Sustained Community Involvement

In addition to strengthening the agency’s capacity to provide close supervision and treatment and support services, community involvement also builds the goodwill necessary to the agency’s efforts to locate community supervision field offices in the communities where the offenders live.

“One very real test of a community corrections agency’s value,” says Jasper Ormond, CSOSA’s Associate Director for Community Justice Programs, “is whether or not you can place your operations directly in the neighborhoods where your population lives.”

A recent Washington Post story, “Parole Building Plan Stirs an Outcry,” demonstrates how important sustained community involvement is in the process of placing community corrections facilities in neighborhoods.

The Post focused on resistance to CSOSA’s plans for a new field office in far northeast, Washington, DC. It’s the only area of the city with substantial numbers of offenders and no CSOSA field office to which individuals on probation or parole would report to meet with their Community Supervision Officers, take drug tests, and participate in educational and vocational programs. While the report quotes one homeowner and refers to “many residents” who do not want CSOSA to place an office in their neighborhood, the story also acknowledges that CSOSA “has some community support.”

“CSOSA does have some backing from residents,” the Post reported. Three of seven members of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7D wrote a letter of support to the zoning board in support of CSOSA’s new field office. In a letter to Director Quander, The Neighbors of Burns Street Organization indicated that the field unit “will be good for the offenders and defendants who reside in Ward 7.”

“We’ve been through the experience of placing new field sites in Washington, DC,” offers CSOSA Associate Director for Community Supervision Services, Tom Williams. “We know from that experience that some people may embrace you. We know that others will mount opposition. We know that if the media covers it, they’re likely to focus on resistance.”

CSOSA Director Paul A. Quander, Jr. is a homeowner in Ward 7 where the proposed facility will be located. Also a lifelong District resident, he notes that 3,900 offenders and defendants under CSOSA supervision live within three miles of the proposed site. “To be effective we need to be in close proximity to the men and women who we are responsible for supervising,” says Quander.

CSOSA has a positive track record of placing facilities and services in the community. Since 1997, the agency has opened four new field sites that house Community Supervision Officers. CSOSA also placed two learning labs and one residential substance abuse treatment facility in Washington, DC neighborhoods. A fifth new field site opened in November, 2005.

“Our past success in extending our operations into neighborhoods with high numbers of offenders,” Quander notes, “reflects the fact that we have made partnerships and sustainable community involvement a significant focus of our strategic plan.”

“Part of the value of sustained community involvement,” Ormond says, “is that the meetings and other partnership activities bring stakeholders and the agency together to create a shared understanding about the impact we can have on public safety.”

Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director for Legislative, Intergovernmental and Public Affairs states, “Community and intergovernmental cooperation either makes or breaks us as an organization. There’s no doubt that our success in placing field offices and learning labs in the community would not have been possible without the continuous community presence that our emphasis on partnerships affords us.”

The placement of the CSOSA field site at 25 K Street, Northeast, serves as a case in point. This field office opened after the agency worked with the community stakeholders who had opposed two previous locations within a half-mile of 25 K Street.

“When initial support to the first proposed site in near northeast was stronger than expected,” Hendricks remembers, “we asked some of our key opponents to help us find an acceptable location. Within a relatively short amount of time, we were committed to the K Street location, just five blocks from the first site that the community opposed.”

Each effort to locate a new program is a challenge. CSOSA recently opened a 100-bed residential Reentry and Sanctions Center. The facility is an expansion of an existing 21-bed residential facility started in 1996 to prepare offenders with serious criminal histories and chronic patterns of substance abuse for long-term substance abuse treatment. An independent study of the program by researchers at the University of Maryland found that the pre- and post-program arrest rates of participants dropped significantly.

The challenge of this opportunity was that the program needed to temporarily relocate during the construction of the expanded Reentry and Sanctions Center. The best available site to temporarily house the program was located in the heart of one of Washington, DC’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

A year earlier, well-connected residents in the same neighborhood had successfully blocked the Federal Bureau of Prisons from renewing a contract for a community-based corrections center for returning prisoners. The facility had been in the neighborhood for more than thirty years.

“When the opposition started to organize,” Ormond recalls, “we were able to work with residents with whom we had built a relationship through our advisory networks and other partnerships. When opponents charged our facility would increase crime, the police came out said they welcomed us. Residents from other parts of the city where we’ve opened new field units in the last few years came out to say that they wished we’d been in their neighborhoods sooner.”

CSOSA successfully opened the temporary facility. The agency’s commitment to community dialogue and decision-making paid significant dividends in this case.

Efforts to win sufficient public support for the placement a field office in far northeast DC continues. “We understand from experience that increasing our presence in a particular neighborhood is a process that includes communication, possible misunderstandings, cooperation and collaboration,” notes Quander. “It’s also an opportunity to increase awareness about our mission and increase our base of support.”

Sustaining the Process

Criminologists and criminal justice leaders have said for years that true crime control comes from the will of the community. Decades of community-based crime control programs point to community decision-making and consensus as key to safer societies.

“We decided early in the agency’s history that investing in a staff of Community Relations Specialists and making partnerships a critical success factor were central to our operations,” notes Ormond. “We’ve learned from experience that true community engagement is a process much like being in a relationship. It takes time to cultivate. It takes real commitment, respect, flexibility, and the development of trust to sustain a relationship over time.”

CSOSA’s community involvement strategy focuses on process. Resistance is not necessarily bad. Everything has a life cycle; everything has its moment. Everyone wants things that are healthy for their neighborhood. CSOSA begins initiatives with the knowledge that there are introductions, explanations, definitions, “not in my backyard” resistance, “you didn’t ask me” objections, and “all the bad programs come here” observations.

“At the core of NIMBY and every why-didn’t-you-ask-me question,” Quander notes, “is a common desire for a safer city. If we talk through the initial resistance and come to that common ground, we can make this a safer city.”

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