GPS Tracking of Criminal Offenders in Washington, D.C.

Updated March, 2012

By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

In Washington, D.C. offenders on community supervision—probation, parole, or supervised release—face an impediment to criminal activity and non-compliance:  GPS tracking, which monitors the individual’s whereabouts 24 hours per day.

This article summarizes the effort in the nation’s capital and offers a brief overview of national GPS research.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the federal agency that supervises D.C. Superior Court sentenced offenders in the nation’s capital, has been using GPS since April 2003.  About 600 offenders are currently in the program.  The numbers will change to respond to new initiatives or requests from law enforcement partners.

“GPS is a wonderful tool to help protect society,” states Carlton Butler, Program Administrator of the unit that oversees CSOSA’s GPS program.  “We share our GPS technology with law enforcement agencies in D.C and throughout the metropolitan area. They have the ability to track any of our offenders via their own computers and see if they can place them in the vicinity of a crime scene, which they do numerous times throughout the week.”

 “The use of GPS Technology is not a panacea and will not replace good old one-on-one interaction data exchange by the supervision officer and/or the traditional law enforcement investigation techniques, but it is another helpful tool to assist in supervision and crime fighting,” stated Butler.

CSOSA supervises about 16,000 offenders, half of whom are in treatment or on a specialized high-contact caseload.  The agency emphasizes evidence-based practices in case management; GPS is just one of the strategies it employs to promote compliance. 

It is typically employed as a sanction for non-compliance among high-risk offenders and those with specific geographic limitations (such as stay-away orders).  It is also used to monitor high-risk offenders who refuse to maintain or actively seek employment.

 “In addition to sex offenders, we place high risk and domestic violence offenders on GPS,” says Thomas H. Williams, Associate Director for Community Supervision Services at CSOSA. “In the past, a domestic violence offender could stalk a victim without our knowing it. Now we know and can notify both the victim and our law enforcement partners and take swift and certain action in conjunction with the courts or parole commission.” 

GPS can greatly increase Community Supervision Officers’ (CSO’s) ability to protect the public.  The following case illustrates how quickly GPS data can make a difference. 

Local news in Washington, D.C. reported a string of assaults on teenage girls in a particular neighborhood.  Police provided a sketch of the suspect to the media in order to solicit the public’s assistance with the investigation.

An alert CSO saw the sketch on the news broadcast and recognized the subject as a high-risk parolee on GPS.  She immediately checked the individual’s whereabouts at the times of the assaults and placed him at the crime scenes.  She visited his home to verify that his car matched the description of the vehicle used in the crimes.  She then arranged for the man to come into her office, where he was arrested by Metropolitan Police Department officers.  CSOSA works closely with the United States Attorney’s Office, wherein a conviction was achieved.

An Enormous Responsibility

Implementing GPS tracking places an enormous responsibility on any agency.  While CSOSA has stringent contact standards, requiring eight contacts per month for offenders at the highest risk levels (even more contacts are possible for drug testing and treatment programs) GPS provides a great deal of additional information on each offender.  Learning to interpret and respond to that information is a challenge for even the most experienced CSOs.

Generally, the Community Supervision Officer will review daily reports provided by the vendor: (1) a daily summary on each offender indicating whether the GPS unit transmitted appropriately and whether the offender remained in compliance with location parameters the CSO had previously defined, and (2) an incident hit report, which details whether offenders on GPS were in the vicinity of crime locations reported by the Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. 

The CSO can also review the actual tracking data, which shows the offender’s movements through the city.  For some types of offenders, including sex offenders, daily review of the tracking report is a must.

Paul Brennan, a Supervisory Community Supervision Officer for one of CSOSA’s sex offender teams, demonstrates his ability to interpret the tracking report.  He pulls up the report, which follows the movements of a particular sex offender on the previous day.  With a few keystrokes, Brennan lays a detailed map of the city over the tracking report. 

For an even higher level of detail, he superimposes satellite images from Google Earth over the offender’s movements.  Suddenly, a daycare center with a playground appears in the offender’s path.  Brennan now has a good idea why that sex offender has been loitering in the area.  He and his team also share intelligence with the police and use it to inform their own surveillance and case management activities.

“We use polygraph tests, GPS, drug testing, surveillance and other forms of human and technological intelligence with our sex offenders, but we are only as good as our ability to interpret and react to the data we get,” Brennan says.  “We are not perfect, and offenders will test the capabilities of the system, but we have some of the best tools in the country to provide accountability while getting offenders into programs they need.”

Offenders try to “get around” GPS in a variety of ways—some as simple as failing to charge the unit or attempting to cut it off.   One of the ways that GPS is tamper-resistant is “double” monitoring; the offender is tracked not just by satellite but by cell phone towers as well.  GPS transmission may be hampered in large buildings or homes, but supplemental devices can be placed in those buildings to continue transmission.

National Trends

GPS tracking is poised to play a significant role in the system’s ability to protect society and place and keep offenders in programs.   The use of this technology will likely grow significantly in coming years.

The ability to track an offender every minute of every day provides new opportunities and challenges for the criminal justice system.  Criminological research has consistently emphasized the importance of immediate response to violations for those under supervision.

The nationwide adoption of intermediate sanctions (i.e., increased reporting or drug testing, community service, treatment programs, day reporting, halfway back measures or brief periods of incarceration) to respond to violations requires agencies to be in frequent contact with the offender if sanctions are to be imposed effectively.

GPS increases officers’ awareness of potential violations.  The offender’s non-compliance with GPS—attempting to tamper with the device or the signal—also constitutes a serious violation in itself.

One of the few evaluations that include both GPS and radio frequency monitoring was completed in 2006 by Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.  The study (“Under Surveillance: An Empirical Test of the Effectiveness and Consequences of Electronic Monitoring”) concludes that electronic monitoring has produced promising results:

“Overall, Florida’s program is found to provide an effective public safety alternative to prison for serious offenders, including those convicted of murder/manslaughter, sex offenses, robbery, and other violent offenses…Our findings indicate that electronic monitoring actually reduces the likelihood of revocation for a technical violation for offenders on home confinement. More importantly, electronic monitoring also reduces the likelihood of revocation for a new offense [emphasis added] and the likelihood of absconding which demonstrates a positive effect on public safety.”

The authors conclude:  “…it appears likely that the use of electronic monitoring devices will increase dramatically in the very near future.”

Source: http://ccoso.org/undersurveillance.pdf

Recent Research

A new study (“A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”) was offered by the Florida State University in January of 2010. It provides the latest update of previous studies using GPS and other forms of electronic monitoring.

The report indicates, “The balance of evidence from these studies shows that EM is effective in reducing supervision failure rates, as measured in a variety of ways.”

Researchers examined 5,034 medium- and high-risk offenders on EM and 266,991 offenders not placed on EM over a six year period plus interviews with staff and offenders. Selected findings include:

  • EM reduces the likelihood of failure under community supervision.  The reduction in the risk of failure is about 31%, relative to offenders placed on other forms of community supervision.
  • EM allows offenders to remain in the community thereby promoting family ties.
  • EM supervision has less of an impact on violent offenders than on sex, drug, property, and other types of offenders, although there are significant reductions in the hazard rate for all of these offense types.
  • There are no major differences in the effects of EM supervision across different age groups.
  • There were no major differences in the effects of EM for different types of supervision.
  • Approximately 1 in 3 EM offenders would have served time in prison if not for the electronic surveillance option available to the courts. 

Source: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/230530.pdf

Improved Public Safety

GPS is a useful tool in community supervision but, “It’s not foolproof,” Paul Brennan says.  “Nothing’s foolproof. If people want ironclad guarantees that the offender will not commit additional crimes in the community, their only alternative is incarceration.”

Despite its limitations, however, GPS helps CSOSA achieve its goal of protecting the public through effective community supervision.  “We can provide the citizens of the metropolitan area with improved public safety,” says Thomas Williams.  Because of its contribution to the bottom line, GPS will continue to be part of CSOSA’s supervision strategy.

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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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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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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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WHAT WORKS? EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES IN PAROLE AND PROBATION

By Thomas H. Williams. Edited by Leonard Sipes, Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

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

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

Editor’s notes: This article was created from a paper delivered by the author at the New Developments in Criminal Justice and Crime Control Conference at the China Pudong Leader Resorts in Shanghai, China, October 18-19, 2006. The author was invited by the University of Maryland, Office of International & Executive Programs to address the history of community supervision in America and the impact of evidence-based practices. Research released this fall was added to the original presentation. Please see our audio and video podcasting site, http://media.csosa.gov/.

Introduction and Background

My name is Thomas H. Williams, and I am the Associate Director for Community Supervision Services for the Court Service and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). I am responsible for the delivery of parole and probation services in the District of Columbia for offenders who are sentenced by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. I supervise a total staff of 581, including 400 Community Supervision Officers (CSOs, also called parole/probation agents or parole/probation officers in other jurisdictions) and supervisors.

Our total caseload is 15,284 offenders. Our average general supervision ratio is 50 cases to one CSO, and 25 cases to one CSO in our specialized units, including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, and sex offenders. The larger CSOSA structure provides state-of-the art drug assessment and treatment, anger management, educational and occupational assessment and placement, faith-based counseling and many attritional programs (see http://www.csosa.gov/).

Some consider us to be one of the most public safety and treatment oriented parole and probation organizations in the country.

State of Corrections Today

Professor and criminologist Michael Tonry writes that there no longer exists an “American System” of sentencing and criminal justice. Up until 1975, indeterminate sentencing was the primary correctional approach in the United States, and this philosophy changed little in the preceding 50 years. He notes that there were broad sentencing ranges exercised at the discretion of the judges, and parole boards released offenders after individualized case reviews. As noted above, the primary premise of correctional policy was offender rehabilitation with decisions and plans specific to the individual.

Many believe that there is not a single correctional philosophical approach in America today. As public policy shifted away from indeterminate sentencing to determinate sentencing, many states have abolished their parole boards. In addition, officials elected on “get tough on crime” political platforms have enacted a number of statutes, such as truth-in-sentencing statutes that require the convicted offender to serve at least 85% of his or her sentence before release. Over the past 25 years, the number of incarcerated offenders in the United States has more than tripled. Community supervision has also experienced significant growth. As the number of offenders entering the criminal justice system has increased, so too has the percentage of offenders with substance abuse histories.

Despite the fact that incarceration is a unique opportunity to treat offenders with substance abuse issues, most correctional facilities are unable to meet the need for substance abuse treatment. As a result, many incarcerated offenders return to the community under community corrections supervision without having received substance abuse treatment while incarcerated.

There is no debate that drug abuse is highly correlated with frequent criminal activity. Drug testing of arrestees in 35 cities around the United States has found that between one-half and three-quarters of all arrestees have drugs in their system at the time of arrest. Self-report data on incarcerated offenders found that more than 50 percent of the offenders openly acknowledged that substance use somehow contributed to the criminal activity that resulted in their current incarceration.

“What Works”

The great debate is in “What Works” to reduce offender recidivism, the primary outcome measure by which the “success” of community correctional agencies is measured. The discussion began with the publication of the landmark, 1975 analysis conducted by Lipton, Martinson, and Wilks. The authors concluded that, “the field of corrections has not as yet found satisfactory ways to reduce recidivism by significant amounts.” The message understood by the public and many correctional officials was that “nothing works” to reduce offender recidivism.

In recent years, however, a number of studies have been published which show the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment and support the idea that correctional interventions can be effective in reducing recidivism. The Washington Institute for Public Policy (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/pub.asp?docid=06-10-1201) provides a comprehensive overview of well-designed studies that provide evidence that programs for criminal offenders do indeed reduce recidivism. The Institute also provides a comprehensive overview of “what works” as to drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse provides principals of “what works” in treating offender populations (http://www.nida.nih.gov/PODAT_CJ/principles/).

NIDA also offers research indicating that rates of success for mandated drug treatment are similar to those who volunteer for treatment.

Data on the success of drug courts as to reducing arrests and substance abuse is impressive and growing (http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/178941.pdf). The evaluation offers data on programs for D.C. offenders. Additional positive programmatic data on D.C. offenders is available through the CSOSA web site (http://www.csosa.gov/). See Reentry and Sanctions Center.

Recent research on the national “Ready 4 Work” program also indicates reduction in recidivism(http://www.ppv.org/ppv/publications/assets/216_publication.pdf)

States like Washington, Texas and others are now providing independent assessments of data and are proposing adult and juvenile interventions based on positive results.

These and other studies show effectiveness in reducing criminal re-offending, substance abuse use and other related criminal justice outcomes. This body of literature has become known as the “What Works” literature or evidence-based practices (EVP).

International Community Corrections Association (ICCA) sponsored a “What Works” conference

In an effort to share information on successful programs, the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA) sponsored a “What Works” substance abuse conference in 1998. One result of the conference was a publication, “Strategic Solutions: The International Community Corrections Association Examines Substance Abuse.” The conference addressed questions such as, “Are we assessing drug offenders effectively? What are the best substance abuse assessment tools? What is effective treatment? What are all the “models” of drug treatment that we hear about?”

Five Focus Areas

The “What Works” conference focused on five important areas, which form the foundation of the “What Works” literature: assessment, treatment, monitoring and drug testing, co-occurring disorders, and relapse prevention.

Assessment. The conference concluded that assessment is the key to identifying offender needs and developing appropriate strategies. The “What Works” literature argues that substance-abusing offenders are not a homogeneous group-they have different natures and severity of substance abuse. In fact, nearly one-third of offenders do not show any substance abuse problems and only require prevention-oriented intervention. Assessments should be used to identify offenders’ substance abuse severity and relationship to criminal behavior. From sound assessments, programmatic approaches can be developed.

For example, at CSOSA, we developed an in-house automated risk and needs assessment instrument called the “AUTO Sceener” in March, 2006. The computerized tool has twelve domains (each is a screen) that capture information about the offender in both static and dynamic dimensions. Based on the offender’s response to the questions, there are additional drill-down responses required. Upon completing all of the domain questions, the system will automatically recommend a supervision level and create a prescriptive supervision plan (PSP).

Treatment. Treatment has been found to reduce offender substance abuse and recidivism, although no one program or treatment modality has been found to be effective with all offenders. Three of the most evaluated programs, methadone maintenance, therapeutic communities, and drug-free outpatient treatment, appear to have equivalent outcomes, while cognitive-behavioral approaches show promise for addressing the needs of low-to-substantially severe offenders. Lightfoot (1999) concludes that, “Improvements in treatment efficacy likely will require the careful matching of offender types to specialized treatments.”

At CSOSA, the treatment needs of the offender are identified through the use of the AUTO Screener and our new Reentry and Sanctions Center. CSOSA believes that addressing the offender’s specific needs or deficits and closely monitoring offender risk can reduce recidivism. In addition to a heavy emphasis on providing substance abuse treatment for offenders, CSOSA also provides or finds community resources, to provide mental health treatment, sex offender treatment, and domestic violence treatment for offenders.

Monitoring and Drug Testing. Monitoring and drug testing of offenders is an extremely important component of “What Works.” Treatment is the key to prevention, but first, the offender in need of treatment must be identified. Drug testing is useful in providing additional information after an initial drug-history assessment is done and can help an offender reduce denial of drug use during the first stage of treatment. In addition, drug testing and monitoring can be an effective supervision tool in closely monitoring the behavior of offenders and can possibly deter future drug use and criminal behavior.

CSOSA’s testing protocol requires that all active offenders be tested two times per week, upon assignment to supervision. Two months’ evidence of non-positive drug tests and compliance in going to drug testing will result in the offender’s drug testing schedule being lowered to once per week for two more months. If the offender complies fully with drug testing requirements, the offender will then go to a once monthly drug-testing schedule for the remainder of the offender’s supervision period.

Co-Occurring Disorders. Offenders with co-occurring disorders (e.g., concurrent substance abuse and mental health problems) are at higher risk for a wide range of problem behaviors and criminal recidivism. The higher level of recidivism can be attributable to the fact that “dual disorders” are undiagnosed or are not adequately addressed in the environments encountered by the offenders. Comprehensive assessment of offenders is key to identifying offenders with co-occurring disorders and placing them in appropriate treatment.

Relapse Prevention Programs. Cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention programs have been found to be effective in reducing substance abuse in non-correctional populations. These programs also show promise for correctional populations. One demonstration project, implemented in collaboration with the National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and the American Jail Association, found that inmates who participated in the program “remained longer in the community until rearrest, experienced fewer arrests compared to untreated controls (46 percent versus 58 percent), and significantly reduced substance abuse.”

CSOSA fully understands that substance abuse relapse is expected in an offender’s recovery period. As part of the offender’s treatment process, a treatment relapse prevention plan is developed. Offenders can be referred to prevention programs, including community self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Upon an offender’s relapse, the offender may be referred back for a substance abuse evaluation and receive more treatment.

CSOSA and Evidence Based Pratices

The “What Works” literature is still in its infancy. For the past three years we have embarked upon a journey to educate and train our staff in the “What Works” principles by training all in implementing the basic tenets of evidence-based practices.

We have many of the building blocks in place to assist us to have improved offender outcomes. They include: clear goals, objectives, and critical success factors (CSFs); a focus on evidence-based practices; a series of graduated sanctions and incentives; concerted efforts directed at caseload reduction for line workers; a focus on targeting high risk offenders and providing programmatic services to address their needs; a state-of-the-art automated case management system that allows informed management decision-making based on data analysis from the system; development of real community and faith-based partnerships to assist in the offender supervision effort; implementation of a victim services initiative; and a law enforcement partnership to focus on offenders with high criminality.

It is our vision that we, at CSOSA, will become a viable criminal justice partner that contributes to the health and well being of the community by assisting offenders to change and to reestablish themselves in the community in a manner that is consistent with community norms and results in productive, law-abiding citizens.

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