Sex Offender Supervision in the Nation’s Capital

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

 

 

 

By Paul S. Brennan, M.P.A. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Leonard Sipes.

See http://media.csosa.gov for our social media site or http://csosa.gov for the website of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

When he was arrested on the bench warrant in February of 1999 and brought to court to answer for his non-compliance, it seemed reasonable at the time to give Michael the benefit of the doubt to his claim that he did not know he was on probation.  This time he would be supervised by the newly formed Sex Offender Unit at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. 

In the wake of federal legislation passed in the mid 1990’s to address the growing public concern about sex offenders in the community, community corrections officials in Washington, D.C. followed a growing trend around the country to develop a specialized supervision team of community supervision officers to manage its sex offenders.

His probation officer decided to stop by his home, unannounced, one random weekday evening in 1999.  Michael was not home at the time of the visit; however there was an answer at the door.  The probation officer was stunned to find alone in Michael’s one bedroom apartment, a small, frightened, eight-year-old girl. The probation officer knew instantly that the child was in imminent danger. 

Michael’s deviant behavior ended the day his probation officer found the child in his home and, ultimately, when the Judge sentenced him to eighteen to fifty-four years in prison for molesting the eight-year-old and two other children; this was in addition to the ten years he received when his probation was subsequently revoked. 

It did not take long for SOU to conclude that sex offenders presented unique challenges that demanded more from those of us responsible for managing them in the criminal justice system and in the community. Over the past decade the Sex Offender Unit has been directly involved in many cases that highlight the need for a specialized supervision program.

The program has become one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive in the country. 

The Sex Offender Unit is a special program of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia (CSOSA).  CSOSA is an independent executive branch agency of the federal government responsible for the supervision of nearly 16,000 offenders on probation, parole and supervised release, sentenced in D.C.  Superior Court or transferred to D.C. from other jurisdictions. 

Approximately 700 of CSOSA’s offender population are considered to be sex offenders.

Defining Sex Offenders

The Sex Offender Unit generally defines a sex offender as anyone who has been convicted of a crime that is sexual in nature.  This means that SOU seeks to supervise the behavior as opposed to the conviction. 

Under this definition it occurs with some frequency that offenders being supervised by SOU may be serving a sentence for a non-sex related offense, such as Simple Assault or Burglary, but elements of the crime suggest that it was sexually motivated. 

An example of such a case would be an offender who breaks into a home and is found to be standing over a victim in bed masturbating.  This definition is also designed to identify for assignment to Sex Offender Unit the offenders who may have incurred a sexually motivated conviction in the past but may not currently be on supervision for a sex offense.  For example, a case in which an offender is on probation for Driving Under the Influence, but was convicted of Rape ten years earlier. 

SOU’s rationale for including offenders who are on supervision for an offense other than one that is by statute a sex offense is to ensure that:

  • offenders with potential issues of sexual deviancy are being monitored appropriately;
  • offenders with potential issues of sexual deviancy receive appropriate evaluation and therapy if needed.

 Approximately 40% of SOU’s current offender population is on supervision for an offense that is not one of sexual abuse by statute. 

 Sex offenders on community supervision represent a small fraction of the offenders who commit sex offenses. Many crimes of sexual abuse are never reported to law enforcement.  Even fewer of the crimes result in an arrest or conviction.  Issues that impact this often include, but are not exclusive to: 

  • The victim is influenced by the offender, family or other external factors to recant;
  • The victim decides not to cooperate out of fear of embarrassment or physical harm;
  • The victim or other critical witnesses are not available for court proceedings;
  • A lack of corroborative evidence (i.e., witness or forensic evidence);
  • The victim is too emotionally fragile or mentally ill to endure a trial;
  • The victim is too young or impaired to describe the crime to a jury or judge;
  • The crime was reported years after it happened therefore evidence is lost or the statute of limitations has expired; 
  • The prosecutor determines that the evidence otherwise is not sufficient to win a conviction. 

 Likely to Have Committed Other Crimes

 One of the unique aspects of crimes involving sexual abuse is that they tend to be very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  Sex offenses often are committed in secret; the offender is usually someone known and trusted by the victim, victim’s family and community.

The Sex Offender Unit is aware that many of the sex offenders placed on supervision are likely to have committed other sex offenses for which they were never held accountable.  SOU is also imminently concerned that convicted sex offenders have the potential to commit new sex offenses while on supervision (or beyond) that may go undetected. 

We understand that there are sex offenders who are not likely to commit new sex offenses and, therefore, require minimal services and monitoring.  In fact, over-supervising a low risk sex offender can potentially increase their risk to reoffend.

The bottom-line is what’s in the best interest of community safety.  For example: in D.C.  a misdemeanor sex offense allows for a maximum incarceration period of 180 days, whereas the maximum period of community supervision could be up to five years.

Provisions in the sentencing guidelines also allow for registered sex offenders to be placed on ‘supervised release’ for periods from 10 years to life depending on their registration classification.  Community supervision can offer the community a better option for long term monitoring and intervention in many cases than incarceration alone.

Close supervision/accountability

To maintain a successful sex offender management program there must be a comprehensive effort to monitor the offenders and hold them accountable for their behavior.  The Sex Offender Unit achieves this through a myriad of techniques designed to minimize a sex offender’s opportunity to offend.

Close supervision and accountability is predicated on the ability of SOU to take swift and meaningful action once the risky behavior becomes evident.  CSOSA uses a system of graduated intermediate sanctions in order to maintain community safety while fostering successful supervision completion.  The Sex Offender Unit incorporates these sanctions into the Containment Model. 

The following are some of the mechanisms SOU uses to address a variety of compliance issues that arise:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring;
  • Search and Seizure;
  • Reentry and Sanctions Center (RSC);
  • Polygraph testing;
  • Offender surveillance;
  • Drug treatment;
  • Joint CSOSA/Police accountability tours;
  • Interagency crime initiatives; and
  • Computer searches/monitoring.

None of these mechanisms to address offender behavior existed a decade ago.  The introduction of these countermeasures has allowed SOU to reduce revocations by at least 30%.  Furthermore, they provide the means to prevent crime and hold offender’s accountable for behavior that may have otherwise gone undetected in the past. For example, the SOU has:

  • helped police solve a number of crimes by correlating crime scene data to offender GPS tracking data,
  • uncovered evidence of crimes and violations of release conditions through search and seizures of offenders’ property,
  • used the polygraph to help reveal the existence of victims not previously known,
  • found child pornography on the computers of sex offenders that has lead to criminal convictions and revocations, and
  • used evidence provided by our law enforcement partners in order to establish violations of supervision conditions that have lead to revocations.

 Support services and treatment

 The primary treatment intervention strategy revolves around the sex offender treatment program.  SOU invests nearly 1.2 million dollars a year into providing sex offender evaluation and treatment services.  All sex offenders assigned to the SOU undergo a comprehensive psychosexual evaluation.  This evaluation is critical in assisting us with assessing offender risk to commit another sex offense and identifying supplemental needs. Sex offender treatment is conducted by an outside vendor hired for their qualifications and expertise in this field.  Sex offender treatment is marked by the following characteristics:

  • Victim/community safety;
  • Targets accountability and thinking errors;
  • Primarily delivered in a group setting;
  • Often mandated;
  • Waivers of confidentiality;
  • Provider is part of the  management team;
  • Specialized training/experience is essential.

A sex offender typically will be engaged in sex offender treatment from 18-24 months.  This is followed by an indefinite period of aftercare.

CSOSA also created the Re-entry and Sanctions Center (RSC) which is designed to be a 28-day residential assessment facility.  The RSC is a facility where offenders can report directly from prison for a comprehensive assessment of needs.  Or, it is used as a constructive means of sanctioning offenders exhibiting acute drug abuse issues where removal form the community is needed while avoiding revocation and incarceration.   Programs to address anger, domestic violence, substance abuse, employment, and housing, among others are offered as well.  In short, CSOSA has demonstrated its commitment to providing opportunities for its offender population to make positive changes.

Partnerships

There is value in developing and maintaining strong partnerships with other stakeholders.  Successful outcomes in sex offender management can not occur without all stakeholders coming together around a common goal: of public safety. Existing partnerships include the Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Attorney’s Office, D.C. Superior Court, the F.B.I. Innocent Images Unit, Metro Transit Police, Prince George’s County Sex Offender Registry, Montgomery County Sex Offender Registry, State of Virginia Sex Offender Registry, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, D.C. Housing Authority, D.C. Child and Protective Services, the D.C. Victims Advocacy Center, U.S. Probation, U.S. District Court for D.C., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (NOVAICAC) and the U.S. Marshal’s Service. 

Conclusion

Over the past decade CSOSA’s Sex Offender Unit has come a long way toward achieving the right balance between enhancing community safety and offender rehabilitation.  SOU consistently maintains one of the highest success rate among the CSOSA offender population; less than one percent of the sex offenders we supervise have been arrested or convicted for new sex offenses.  In the rare instances where new sex offenses were committed by those we supervise, we and our interagency partners have worked closely to see that there was justice for the victims.

If Michael was on supervision with SOU today we believe the likelihood that his sexually deviant behavior would have been prevented or detected much sooner.  It is impossible to predict how Michael’s case may have turned out if he were subjected to the program requirements we have in place today.  The Sex Offender Unit is certain that he would have found it substantially more difficult to hide his behavior between polygraphs, accountability tours with police, GPS monitoring, computer searches, intensive therapy and the investigative eye of a well-trained community supervision officer. 

SOU FACTS:

  • CSOSA invests nearly one million dollars on sex offender treatment services per year;
  • SOU supervises nearly 700 sex offenders ;
  • Average SOU caseload size is 25:1;
  • Approximately 25% of sex offenders actively under supervision are on GPS monitoring at a given time;
  • All sex offenders submit to polygraph exams.

United States v. John Anthony:

In 2007, the offender was given a polygraph exam.  The polygrapher determined that the results were inconclusive. After further questioning, the offender admitted to his Community Supervision Officer (CSO) that he had viewed pornography.  His CSO determined that a search of the computer was needed.  Consent was obtained to allow officers to conduct a “scan” of the computer in question using special software. 

The scan revealed one image of a nude male, some MySpace activity, and password protected files. Officers asked the owner of the computer if she would allow them to take the computer back to the office in order to conduct a more extensive examination of the computer since the software they were using is not powerful enough to view protected files.  She refused. 

SOU consulted with the US Attorney’s Office who agreed to assist by securing a search warrant in order to seize the computer and conduct a forensic examination with more powerful software. 

Child pornography was found on the computer in question.

Anthony entered his guilty plea in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before The Honorable Ellen S. Huvelle.  Anthony was subject to enhanced penalties because some of the images of child pornography he possessed involved prepubescent minors or minors who had not attained the age of 12 years, and some of the images and videos he possessed portrayed sadistic or masochistic conduct or other depictions of violence.  Most of the evidence was pornographic videos depicting graphic sexual acts by young boys.  The evidence was sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which was able to verify that at least 4 of the images were known (previously identified) children.  The offender was sentenced in US District Court to 121 months in prison to run concurrent to his other sentence.  His probation was subsequently revoked.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chain of Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the moment, everybody’s listening.

Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offer of Services is Always There

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

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

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

An End, or a Beginning

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

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

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

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Managing the Mentally Ill Offender in Washington, D.C.

“We Fix the Complexities of Life”

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.

Walk down the streets of any major American city and you will likely encounter more than a few mentally ill individuals. Sometimes friendly, sometimes demanding and often scary, mentally ill people pose both a serious public health problem and a moral dilemma for our society. Both victimizer and victim, the mentally ill present especially unique challenges for those of us within the criminal justice system.

According to a Washington Post story filed by Rick Weiss on June 7, 2005, a recent National Institute of Mental Health study found that “One quarter of all Americans met the criteria for having a mental illness within the past year, and fully a quarter of those had a serious disorder that significantly disrupted their ability to function day to day.” Many criminologists suggest that rates of mental illness are even higher among the criminal offender population.

The vast majority of criminological concern for the mentally ill seems directed towards incarceration. Anyone working in our jails or prisons knows of the unique challenges mentally ill offenders offer to institutions attempting to balance security and treatment needs with the realities of budget. It’s difficult to operate within a purely medical model when a mentally ill offender becomes violent or disruptive and threatens the safety and security of the institution. Most correctional professionals have witnessed nurses and psychologists attempting to “talk down” an inmate after a verbal and near-physical encounter with staff or fellow inmates. Seething with emotion and ready to burst, the mentally ill inmate may sometimes stay in that agitated condition for hours at a time while the realities of prison continue to surround them.

Society justifiably calls for humane treatment. Correctional staff just try to keep the peace. But sooner or later, the mentally ill inmate is released back to the community, usually with the same mental health issues they went in with. What happens then?

In the Community

In the District of Columbia, they come to a unique federal, executive branch organization, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). CSOSA supervises 15,500 offenders on parole, supervised release or probation every day. CSOSA assigns almost 50 percent of its caseload to its highest levels of supervision or to specialized caseloads, where each Community Supervision Officer (CSO – known elsewhere as a parole or probation officer) is responsible for only 25 or 30 offenders. Backed up by extensive drug testing, cooperative endeavors with police and prosecutors, a state-of-the-art information technology system, satellite tracking and 50 to 1 general supervision caseload ratios, CSOSA is well positioned to implement its community-based model of offender supervision. This research-based model combines the traditional elements of supervision with an equal emphasis on treatment, social services, and community involvement.

CSOSA’s specialized units offers counseling and special supervision techniques to offenders who are hard core substance abusers, involved in acts of violence, domestic violence, sex offenses and traffic-alcohol issues. Offenders with mental health issues may interact with any of these categories and are assigned to the Metal Health Unit. CSOSA currently supervises almost 800 offenders with confirmed mental health diagnoses Eighty-five percent are male. Some are assigned to mental health institutions and are monitored through regular correspondence with the facility.

CSOSA’s mental health teams have among the lowest caseload ratios in the country. At 30 offenders to each Community Supervision Officers, CSOs and their supervisors have contact with the offender an average of three to four times per week. All CSOs come to the job with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and many hold master’s degrees as well. Most have a background in law or the criminological or social sciences. Most CSOs on the mental health teams volunteered for the assignment.

Thirty CSOs and supervisors staff the mental health teams. Mental health offenders are assigned to this specialized unit via a D.C. Superior Court or U.S. Parole Commission order; offenders assigned to another unit may also be referred by the CSO for evaluation. CSOSA contracts with psychologists who conduct an assessment of every referred offender. If the psychologist establishes a diagnosis of mental illness, retardation or a personality disorder, “gatekeepers” (licensed professional counselors with master’s degrees) then see the offender. It’s their job to represent the offender as he or she navigates through the District of Columbia’s mental health system to obtain counseling, therapy and medication services.

CSOSA’s gatekeepers have expert knowledge of the public and private resources available. In addition to the standard D.C. agencies, CSOSA explores alternative strategies, such as accessing services through Medicaid or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The focus is on developing a precise diagnosis and an appropriate intervention plan, so that psychologists and social workers can act as advocates to get each offender the best possible treatment.

Once the offender’s mental health condition is controlled, he or she can benefit from other CSOSA services, such as job training, drug treatment, anger management or a faith-based mentor.

Community Supervision Officers

But CSOSA contends that a vital ingredient in the success of the program is the dedication of the Community Supervision Officers who see the offenders on a regular basis. “We care about the public’s safety and the offender’s progress,” states 30-year veteran and supervisor Verna Young. “We are determined to achieve both.”

Ms. Young suggests that the CSOs who volunteer for the mental health team are some of the best in CSOSA, if not some of the best in the nation. “Think about it for a moment,” she urges. “These are highly educated individuals who deal with the toughest clients possible. These offenders bring an immense array of problems that would challenge the most dedicated professional. We are the lifeline between the mental health profession, their families and friends, their employers and everyone who interacts with them. We talk them down from negative encounters. We act as intermediaries with frustrated family members. They grow to depend on us for structure and guidance in a world that offers fear and resistance. We help them survive on their own without returning to the criminal justice or social services system. More importantly, we help them exist without doing harm to anyone else.”

DeAndro Baker, Verna’s supervisor and another seasoned veteran of the criminal justice system, explains that offenders with mental health, retardation issues and personality disorders offer an amazing array of problems.

Research for all criminal offenders (examples: Bureau of Justice Statistics-Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers and the National Institute of Justice-Early Childhood Victimization Among Incarcerated Adult Male Felons) indicates that substantial social problems result from child abuse and neglect, sexual and physical violence, early age onset of alcohol and drug use and criminal activity. Couple all of this with poor school performance and limited employment histories and involvement in the criminal justice system, and the challenges seem insurmountable. To state that the average offender is a trial is an understatement. Add mental health or retardation or personality disorders, and the challenges are immense.

“But we do not shy from the task at hand,” states Mr. Baker. “The bottom line is protecting the public. We will not hesitate to go back to the courts or the U.S. Parole Commission and state that the individual cannot be safely supervised in the community. We will reincarcerate. But we do everything in our power, including day reporting, to make sure that offenders live a productive life without harm to themselves or others. We are the front line in the effort to serve the offender’s needs and protect society, and we do it every day.”

“The New Asylums”

All of this takes on greater importance as society grapples with the need for safety, balanced with a desire for humane treatment. This dilemma was explored in a “Frontline” episode entitled “The New Asylums” (www.pbs.org/wbgh/frontline) produced by WGBH in Boston and co-produced by Mead Street Films. The episode aired on PBS stations on May 10, 2005. The implications of the program are profound. There are no easy answers.

The New York Times reported on the episode: “An enormously disturbing Frontline report profiles the enormously disturbed.” Times reporter Ned Martin wrote that the documentary …. “explains that the mentally ill, in the decade after a mass release from mental hospitals, have often wound up in less forgiving confines.”

“The New Asylums asserts that 500,000 mentally ill patients, who in earlier decades would’ve been treated in hospitals, are now mistreated in prisons. The mental hospitals now house only a tenth of that number, the narrator says.”

Ultimately, after they leave the hospitals, or the prisons, the mentally ill return to the community.

According to the “Frontline” web site, “In 2004, some 630,000 prisoners were released back into their communities, many with mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse. Studies have shown that 60 percent of released offenders are likely to be rearrested within 18 months, and that mentally ill offenders are likely to be rearrested at an even higher rate. Experts claim that a major cause for recidivism among the mentally ill is the “epidemic” shortfall in community-based mental health services (emphasis added). While offenders have a constitutional right to receive mental health treatment when they are incarcerated, they do not enjoy a similar right to treatment in the community…”

I do not understand how everything began to unravel,” said a 52-year-old woman from northwest DC. She is on probation for drug distribution. Her years of cocaine abuse produced severe depression and an array of medical problems. She just got out of drug treatment, but recently tested positive for marijuana. She understands that CSOSA will mandate twice a week drug testing as a sanction for drug use. She believes that this level of scrutiny (and the possibility of returning to jail) will keep her from doing drugs.

“I need structure in my life, and my CSO provides that structure. My CSO comes to my home to check on me. It’s nice that I can talk to people who insist that I take care of myself.”

A 48-year-old parolee from southeast DC presents similar problems. He was incarcerated for assault and gun charges. He is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. His drug use (cocaine) was a social event with friends until it became a demon that made his illness much worse. Structure is an essential element in his rehabilitation, and the requirements of supervision help him cope with life’s problems. “As long as I keep my job, I can stay away from drugs and take care of my family. CSOSA helps me cope with problems and keeps me on track.” He admits that drug testing is an essential element. “It’s nice that they care,” he states, “but I know that they will put me back in prison if I do not improve, so I know that I must stay on my medication and do what they want me to do.”

“Public safety is combined with a sincere desire to assist…”

It was because of concern for the community that CSOSA started its innovative mental health caseload. “Public safety is combined with a sincere desire to assist these offenders in meaningful ways,” states CSOSA’s director, Paul A Quander, Jr. “We can manage this caseload in a way that services both goals.”

Thomas H. Williams, CSOSA’s Associate Director of Community Supervision Services, states, “The Frontline report only confirms our experience with mentally ill offenders. Many of the recommendations of the report are already in place within the District of Columbia. The challenges are immense, but we are attempting to meet them with vigor and dedication.”

Tiffany Robinson is ready. “We fix the complexities of life,” she states. A CSO on the Mental Health Unit, she is ready to bring her education and enthusiasm to the challenges offered by this population. Ms. Robinson understands her caseload. “They often say, “˜Please help me,” she reflects. “They do not understand the world they inhabit. It’s my job to help them cope, to reassure, to make the world a less frightening place. That requires structure, and that’s what we and the mental health professionals offer. If that need for structure leads to incarceration or commitment to a mental health facility, then so be it. We will protect society.”

Ms. Robinson understands that CSOSA embraces both sides of the challenges posed by the mentally ill offender. “But we will also offer a humane and compassionate hand to those who need it,” she says. “Thousands have become productive citizens because of it.”

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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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