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

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

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA)

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

 Updated, Summer, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

The CSOSA Website

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

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

Examples include:

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

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

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

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

Services Available from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

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

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

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

The CSOSA Starting Point: Risk and Needs Assessment

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

The Role of the Community Supervision Officer (CSO)

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

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

The CSOSA/Faith Community Partnership

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

Substance Abuse Treatment

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

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

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

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

Offenders access treatment in several different ways:

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

The CSOSA substance abuse treatment continuum includes the following programs:

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

 The Reentry andSanctionsCenter(RSC)

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

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

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

The Secure Residential Treatment Program (SRTP)

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

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

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

 Mental Health Services

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

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

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

Violence Reduction Program (VRP)

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

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

Specialized Treatment:

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

 Traffic Alcohol Program (TAP) 

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

Sex Offender Assessment and Treatment

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

 Domestic Violence Treatment

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

 Women Offenders

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

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

 Anger Management

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

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

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

 Conclusion

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


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Using Social Media to Protect Public Safety

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

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

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


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


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


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


Fugitive Safe Surrender in DC

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

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


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


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


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


Social Media

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


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


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


Why?

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


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


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


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


Social Media and FSS

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


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


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


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


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


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

We created a radio show that fully explained the program.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Results

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


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


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


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

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

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Offender Reentry: What it Means to the Law Enforcement Community

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

Please see http://media.csosa.gov for “DC Public Safety” radio and television programs

Please see www.csosa.gov for the web site for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

Approximately 650,000 offenders are released from incarceration every year in the United States. Hundreds of thousands more are released from jails. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over two thirds of state releases are rearrested for felonies and serious misdemeanors within three years (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rpr94.htm).

Fifty percent are reincarcerated. The numbers would be greater if one counted all arrests (rather then just serious misdemeanors) and revocations for technical reasons from parole and probation agencies.

Those statistics produce an array of responses. To some, it’s a problem that’s too big to “solve.” The response by many is to ignore it, especially considering the enormity of other social problems.

But others, particularly those of us within the criminal justice community, focus on the evidence that reentry programs can make a meaningful difference in the lives of many returning offenders. Programs conducted both within and outside of prison can reduce criminality and its broad societal impact.

Any impact on recidivism means fewer victims of crime. The stories that many read about in the morning paper, and often forget by lunchtime, become landmark events in the lives of victims. These events stay with them forever, and have a profound impact on any community’s ability to sustain itself. As all of us know, criminal victimization has endless social, moral and political implications.

The majority of offenders are parents. Many of us have interacted with their children, as well as with the mothers and grandmothers who are caring for these children. The results of a parent’s criminality can be devastating to the lives of children; research indicates self-destructive behaviors and increased delinquency.

Why Support Reentry?

For some, supporting programs for people coming out of prison is difficult. But it is in our pragmatic self-interest to become meaningfully involved in reentry efforts. When it comes to improving the lives of those mentioned above, efforts to assist offenders lessen the burden for everyone.

The reasons for supporting reentry programs are as varied as people themselves. Some see it as a religious duty. Others view reentry as part of a need to assist people coming from troubled backgrounds. Many within the victim’s community understand that reentry programming reduces recidivism and produces fewer victims. Some see it as a common-sense approach to dealing with returning offenders. Governors seeking ways to redirect tax dollars for schools or the elderly offer support in lieu of building and operating new prisons

During his State of the Union address in 2004, President George W. Bush called for support of reentry, and community and faith-based programs. President Bush proposed “[a] plan to harness the resources and experience of faith-based and community organizations in dealing with the challenges of helping returning inmates contribute to society.” The President’s statement moved reentry to center stage in the minds of many.

But others justifiably want some assurance that programs for offenders have an impact. One indicator of success is the record of those released from prison via parole. Parolees participate in programs in prison and generally receive assistance and supervision from parole authorities. This results in a lower recidivism rate than those not released via parole. This conclusion is based on Department of Justice data and has been a consistent finding for many years. In every year between 1990 and 2000, State prisoners released by a parole board had higher success rates than those released through mandatory parole. Among parole discharges in 2000, 54% of discretionary parolees were successful compared to 35% of those who had received mandatory parole (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/reentry/success.htm).

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy issued a study with national implications titled, “Evidence Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not.” The publication documents well done research throughout the country indicating that prison and community based programs focusing on the treatment and supervision of offenders reduce rearrests and prevent further victimization (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/06-01-1201.pdf ).

The cited research, plus the many findings from individual programs, especially as it applies to drug courts and drug treatment (even for those forced into treatment), indicate that programs can have a positive impact on crime, victim trauma and society.

Law Enforcement And Reentry

Many law enforcement officers feel they have been conducting reentry related activities for years. Like community oriented policing or other “new” initiatives, officers often feel that national efforts simply replicate what they were already doing. Not mentioning this would be insulting to many.

Police officials have often stated that much (if not the majority) of law enforcement is the process of helping people rather then a strict enforcement of laws. Officers have worked with countless mothers of young offenders to provide them with lists of resources and options. Officers have referred many to drug treatment and gone so far as to advocate an early entrance into programs with administrators. If officers had a dollar for every offender they have counseled over the years, they would retire thousands of dollars richer.

Officers engage in frequent conversations with parole and probation agents to keep an eye on offenders under supervision. They work cooperatively to help those in need of assistance and take action against those who pose a threat to public safety. They patrol together with parole and probation agents and exchange information. Many do this as a matter of good policing rather than taking part in an effort of national importance.

Resources

That said, national resources are becoming increasingly available to law enforcement agencies that will aid their efforts to systematically engage in reentry activities. One document is available now and two others are forthcoming. They are:

1. The Jail Reentry Roundtable, hosted by the Urban Institute and other agencies, and funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (http://www.urban.org/projects/reentry-roundtable/roundtable9.cfm). Considering the fact that Sheriff’s Departments operate most of the jails in this country, the document can be seen as a resource for law enforcement. The Jail Reentry Roundtable found that “At least 50 jails operate programs to successfully help inmates return successfully to society”– reported by Crime and Justice News on June 29, 2006.

2. “Prisoner Reentry and Community Policing,” from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), U.S. Department of Justice and the Urban Institute: (http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/411061_COPS_reentry_monograph.pdf#search=%22%20%22prisoner%20reentry%20and%20community%20policing%22%22). The document provides a comprehensive review of reentry strategies and examples from the field.

3. A DVD and report are available from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) from the US Department of Justice on “Offender Re-entry”. The link for the DVD and additional materials is http://www.theiacp.org/profassist/ReturningOffenders.htm.

4. Another document, “Building an Offender Reentry Program: A Guide for Law Enforcement,” from the Bureau of justice Assistance and the IACP is available at
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/pdf/Reentry_LE.pdf.

The essence of all the publications is a “call to action” for law enforcement to take leadership roles regarding reentry. All urge law enforcement to enter into partnerships with allied agencies to make the reentry process as effective as possible.

The Experience in Washington, D.C.–The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency:

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is responsible for providing community supervision to approximately 15,500 men and women on probation, parole and supervised release in the District of Columbia. CSOSA is a new federal agency, independent as of August of 2000. The agency’s operations embody the best practices of criminological research. Returning offenders are a top priority.

Most citizens of the District of Columbia are supportive of our presence and understand that the more closely we supervise and assist offenders, the less likely they are to threaten the community. The public understands that our mission, first and foremost, is their safety.

CSOSA offers a wide array of initiatives. Close to 50 percent of the offender population are in special programs or intensively supervised. Special programs involve sex offenders, high-risk substance abusers, domestic violence, drinking and driving, mental health, day reporting and anger management. These programs include both treatment and supervision.

We opened a state-of-the-art substance abuse assessment and pre-treatment center that will provide a 28-day residential program. This program will be used as both an initial placement after release from prison and a residential sanction for offenders facing revocation of release. The Reentry and Sanctions Center will serve approximately 1,000 offenders each year.

CSOSA has an inclusive faith-based partnership with local religious institutions and recruits mentors from within their congregations to assist returning offenders. The faith community provides many services beyond mentoring. Drug treatment, clothing, housing and many other services are offered.

CSOSA operates seven field offices around the city where offenders report for supervision appointments and, in most cases, drug testing. An additional four learning lab locations provide computerized literacy programming, GED preparation, and job placement assistance.

CSOSA and MPD

CSOSA collaborates closely with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), conducting over 8,000 “Accountability Tours,” where Community Supervision Officers (CSO’s””what most jurisdictions refer to as parole and probation officers) visit offenders’ homes accompanied by police officers. These visits not only allow CSOs to meet with offenders and their family members in the home environment, but also ensure that MPD officers know who in the neighborhood is under active supervision.

MPD officers are often a great source of both encouragement and accountability. They frequently remind offenders that they are under supervision and that their questionable activities and associates will be reported to their CSO. This can prevent an offender from engaging in acts of lawlessness. Police personnel will ask CSO’s for a special condition of drug treatment or state that the individual has too much time on his hands and needs to go to day reporting or get assistance in finding a job. MPD officers understand that some offenders need structure and help, and some need to be brought to the attention of the U.S. Parole Commission or local court.

MPD officers also attend orientation sessions for individuals recently placed on community supervision to instruct them on CSOSA’s standards of conduct, provide information on support programs and treatment, and reinforce the consequences for further criminal behavior.

In addition to our ever-expanding collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department, we also work closely with the US Attorney’s Office, US Marshals Service, the FBI and the D.C. Housing Authority Police and others to share information and coordinate warrant service and additional public safety efforts. In addition to working closely with District of Columbia public safety agencies, we continue to strengthen our relationships with our peers in Maryland and Virginia.

The Reentry Plan in the District of Columbia

By fostering collaboration, CSOSA involves as many law enforcement, criminal justice and community resource providers as possible in an inclusive reentry effort. This is articulated in the Comprehensive Reentry Strategy for Adults in the District of Columbia, which was developed in 2003 to provide a detailed, long-range plan for effective reentry services that begin while the offender is incarcerated, continue during the transition from prison to the community and culminate in long-term community-based support.

CSOSA, the Mayor’s office, D.C. and federal government agencies, religious and community organizations and law enforcement worked together to create the Strategy. The Strategy contains an action agenda for reentry service providers that include community education and the pursuit of legislative priorities. The document and other reentry-related materials are available on CSOSA’s web site (www.csosa.gov).

So What’s Possible?

Research on community based anti-crime programs indicates that law enforcement personnel are seen as primary leaders in the fight against crime. Citizens naturally look to police executives and officers for guidance and reassurance when crime problems seem to get out of hand.

The same can hold true for offender reentry. Parole and probation agencies need the power of partnerships to get the job done. While law enforcement agencies feel that they are overwhelmed with current duties, a partnership with community corrections can pay off with fewer crimes, safer communities and a renewed emphasis on getting the truly dangerous offenders off the streets.

Law enforcement officers can assist offenders, and, as stated above, many already do. Those out of prison or on probation need structure to change their lives. If they know that officers are watching them, then maybe they will begin the process of change. Officers can encourage or insist that those under supervision enroll in drug treatment or job readiness classes. They can be the authority figures that so many young men and women need if the youth are approached in the correct manner.

Many offenders want to change and can change with the right support. Police officers have been change agents in the lives of many caught up in lawbreaking behavior. If police and sheriff’s agencies can come together with parole and probation officials, and community and business leaders to form an active partnership, then the community will be better off for the effort. It’s up to us to try.

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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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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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