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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s program is on recidivism reduction in the State of Iowa. We have a continuing series of programs where we interview states about the fact that they have been able to reduce recidivism. Everybody’s involved in re-entry nowadays, but the trick is, can you reduce recidivism? Can you reduce the rate of return of people coming back into the prison system thereby saving the states, literally tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, or saving tax payers from further victimization? And we have two guests with us from the State of Iowa, Lettie Prell, she’s the director of research, which is at the Iowa Department of Corrections, WWW.DOC.STATE.IA.US, for the website, and Jerry Bartruff. He’s the deputy director of offender services for the Iowa Department of Corrections, again the same web address, WWW.DOC.STATE.IA.US, and to Lettie, and Jerry, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Jerry Bartruff: Thank you, Len.
Lettie Prell: Hi Len.
Len Sipes: Before getting into the program, ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing, believe it or not, some commercials. One, actually not commercials, but just announcements, the American Probation and Parole Association which I’m a proud member of, what they want us to do is to remind everybody throughout the country of the leadership of the sacrifice of literally thousands of individuals, not just in the United States but around the world who are out there in our streets protecting our safety, and to acknowledge them doing an upcoming probation and parole officers’ week in July, but we’re starting early. We ask everybody, to again, remember parole and probation agents, what we call community supervision officers here in the city of Washington DC. The website for the American Probation and Parole Association is WWW.APPA-NET.ORG. Also what my people here have asked me to focus on the work of the National Re-entry Resource Center. The fact that they’re putting out some really wonderful materials lately in terms of cutting edge state of the art material research on this whole issue of re-entry, they are funded by the office of justice programs of the United States Department of Justice, and their website is WWW.NATIONALREENTRYRESOURCECENTER.ORG, WWW.NATIONALREENTRYRESOURCECENTER.ORG. Back to our program, to Lettie Prell and to Jerry, welcome again to DC Public Safety. Lettie, let’s start off a little bit about the reduction of recidivism in the state of Iowa. We’ve had a pretty good reduction in overall recidivism for the last couple of years, but it’s larger for some groups. We were talking in the preshow about say for mentally ill offenders and for women, there have been some significant reductions, so why don’t you just start off with the larger reductions in recidivism, and then we’re going to go over to Jerry and get a sense as to why these things are happening. So Lettie, why don’t you start us off?
Lettie Prell: Um, yes. The people return to prison who were released in fiscal year 2004, that’s our prior year that we are on comparing our newer data with. For those people who were checked for three years following release, their return rate to prison was 34 percent. Our more recent group, fiscal year 2007 releasees, who were followed through 2010, their return rate to prison overall was 32 percent. Now that’s a two-percentage point drop which sometimes just indicates statistical noise, but when we drill into the subgroups and by the way, these are subgroups that we have been specifically targeting some special efforts with, we find that their recidivism rates have dropped down more, and that has pulled down the overall recidivism rate.
Len Sipes: And you know, that’s interesting, because there are large drops for the mentally ill category and for women and for some other groups, correct? A much larger than the two percent in the overall reductions.
Lettie Prell: Yes, yes, and you’ve mentioned the mentally ill, and so let’s just start with them. We were looking at the return rate to prison for chronically mentally ill offenders, for men and women separately because their groups are very different. For female offenders who are chronically mentally ill, their return rate to prison was reduced from 45 percent to 29 percent.
Len Sipes: Now that’s huge.
Lettie Prell: That is huge.
Len Sipes: That is a very big reduction.
Lettie Prell: Yes, and that’s not explained by statistical noise like a two percent drop can be.
Len Sipes: Right.
Lettie Prell: For male offenders, the same thing. For chronically mentally ill male offenders, they’re recidivism rates were reduced from 52 percent to 41 percent.
Len Sipes: Again, a large drop.
Lettie Prell: Yes, and now we’ve also reduced the disparity in return rates between the chronically mentally ill and the not chronically mentally ill.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Lettie Prell: There’s still a difference, but the difference isn’t as huge as it was in FY ‘04.
Len Sipes: And Jerry Bartruff, this is a result of programs specifically aimed at these particular groups, correct?
Jerry Bartruff: Well, I think so, and I think whenever you look at re-entry and its impact on reducing recidivism. I think there needs to be a recognition that those things don’t just happen because you focus some effort. I think that there’s some historical things that have happened in the Department of Corrections that have lead us to this point where we’re able to impact those numbers successfully. So I would suggest that one of our strengths in Iowa is that we have a very strong and vibrant community based corrections system, which works very collaboratively, and I may say, even intimately with the Department of Corrections. We also share one database, so as offenders move through the corrections continuum, when they’re first placed on correctional supervision, we record all offender movement, case management, interventions, risk assessments, all on one database, so folks in CBC and the institutions have an opportunity to share information instead of creating a new case file when an offender moves from one jurisdiction to another. So I think that that historical piece has benefited us today. I also think one of the historical decisions that we made was in 2000 when we implemented evidence based practices in community based corrections programs and focusing on those elements we know, with interventions that work, with the outcome being reducing risk which then reduces recidivism, which then makes our community safer. So I think if you look at our community based corrections system, our ability to share data together and for Lettie to be able to report out on that data to help guide our decision-making, and our commitment to evidence based practices. All those things have coalesced into affecting that bottom line which we know is most important to us. How many people enter our system, leave and don’t come back again? Because we think that equates to fewer victims and safer communities.
Len Sipes: Well, it’s extremely – it’s very well put, Jerry. I couldn’t have done it better myself. The whole concept is to save the state of Iowa money, and to save the citizens of Iowa, victimization, and so it’s a win-win situation for everybody, but if you take a look around the country, you’re going to find states that are cutting back on these programs, so they, the states may say to themselves, fine. I buy into evidence based practices, I buy into the fact that when we did the interview with Kentucky, Kentucky is at their lowest rate of recidivism in ten years. I’ll buy I – I’ve listened to the program on Iowa, and find the good people of Iowa have convinced me once again that evidence based practices work. We simply don’t have the money. This is other states speaking. We’re in a dire jam in terms of our own budget. We have to cut from some place, and so it’s pretty easy to cut programs for prison inmates, so I think that’s the dichotomy, what are the dynamics in Iowa that have allowed you to put programs into place?
Jerry Bartruff: Well, I think we’re struggling with those issues that you just very well described, Len, but I think one of the things that doing is recognizing that evidence based practices, and being able to get the out comes from our data systems tells us what’s working and what’s not working. So one of the things we’ve done after we committed to ensuring that evidence based practices were guiding our work was that we looked at every intervention that we offered in the state of Iowa both in the prisons and the institutions. We developed an EBP steering committee, and we had a group of folks who were experts in evidence based practices and principles who went out to every district and every institution and assessed and evaluated all of our interventions. As a result of that, we identified those interventions as needing improvement, promising, or Lettie, what was the other one.
Lettie Prell: Excellent.
Jerry Bartruff: Excellent.
Lettie Prell: Excellent, correct.
Jerry Bartruff: And so it’s needs improvement – I’m sorry I lost my train of thought.
Lettie Prell: Well, let’s put it this way. When we started this process, we found after that process, 31 percent of our programs were rated promising or excellent, meaning, well, two-thirds, over two-thirds needed improvement. Well now, that became a performance measure by the way, and people have been improving programs – actually, we’ve also discontinued some programs so that more recently, we find that 41 percent of our programs now are scoring promising or excellent according to these evidence based practices.
Len Sipes: And this is amazing because that’s exactly what the criminological literature, that’s exactly what the re-entry experts, ask states to do, is to take a hard look at what it is they’re doing, to figure out what’s working and what’s not working based upon the best available evidence, and then to go back and to intervene and to tweak the programs, to improve these programs based upon best practices. I mean we throw out this word best practice over and over again, and I’m not quite sure it’s – it means all that much to everybody. All you’re trying to do is take what you’re doing and to make it better and discard what doesn’t work, right?
Jerry Bartruff: Right, and engaging stuff in the process.
Lettie Prell: Right.
Jerry Bartruff: And that’s also, it’s also a valuable component of utilizing our resources effectively. So when we went through that process, there are several programs that we’re investing staff and resources in that we said, these aren’t working the way that we want them to, so let’s focus our resources on those that do.
Len Sipes: Excellent, excellent. Now Lettie.
Jerry Bartruff: Just making those tough discussions along the way as well.
Len Sipes: Lettie, let me ask, I mean the stuff that you sent me before the program was very nice and, to me pretty crystal clear in terms of the stats that you all have produced. Once again, most states won’t do that self-examination. Most states won’t do – I mean, there’s a growing, growing, growing number of states that are, but it’s still very interesting when a state like Iowa comes up with graphics that you produced that are so easy to understand, and so easy to comprehend. I mean, that’s a compliment to the state of Iowa.
Lettie Prell: Well, it’s also been a challenge to me. They – the do you want has challenged me to not only make information available, but to make information available and speak English in the process, and communicate clearly, as clearly as we can. We put out these one and two page data download issues, and I do that in conjunction with the executive assistant to the director, Kurt Smith, to makes sure when everything is said and done, it’s in English.
Len Sipes: But, do you understand how rare that is? I mean I’ve worked with empiricists my entire career and getting people from the empirical community to make a – give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question sometimes is like pulling teeth, so you certainly have crossed that bridge. I mean I just wanted to compliment you on the materials that you sent me because they were pretty easy to understand, and there were also different newspaper articles in the state of Iowa, and we’ll put those on the show notes, and we’ll put some of Lettie’s materials in the show notes to give you an idea as to what I’m talking about so it will talk about the reductions in recidivism in the state of Iowa and some of the reports that Lettie puts out.
Jerry Bartruff: And Len, if I could just comment a little bit?
Len Sipes: Please.
Jerry Bartruff: And I think that those – that data that Lettie shares with us, we push down to the practitioner level.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Jerry Bartruff: Because I think it’s an important component of this is if you have data, and data tells you certain things, that you make decisions based on what that data is telling you, so I think that the way that Lettie is able to take some kind of complex issues and make them understandable for folks then translates into practitioners following through with what the data tells us is most effective.
Len Sipes: Yep. I could go on for five years about my issue with the research community, but I won’t. We’re going to stop there. Lettie, what is the bottom line behind all of your numbers? So you’ve had – it’s a two percent drop in terms of the recent years, but larger for some groups, mentally ill, for women, for some men who are mentally ill. That’s a result of specifically programming to that particular group. Are there any other groups involved in reductions?
Lettie Prell: Um, yes. African-American offenders.
Len Sipes: Yeah, right.
Lettie Prell: They, in fiscal year 2004, the prior year, they had the highest return rate to prison of any other race of ethnic group. It was 43 percent compared to 32 percent for white non-Hispanic.
Len Sipes: Again, big drop.
Lettie Prell: Well, yes, there was a big drop. Overall recidivism for African-Americans went from 43 percent to 40 percent with the largest drop was in the return rate due to new conviction.
Len Sipes: Ah.
Lettie Prell: Where we saw a drop from 29 percent to 22 percent.
Jerry Bartruff: Again, good drop.
Lettie Prell: Greatly narrowed the gap in return rates between blacks and whites, and created a less disparate – that’s one of our goals to create a less disparate corrections system.
Len Sipes: When you talk about the issue of new convictions, set it up, either one of you in terms of the reasons people come back to the prison system. We call technical violations which I have a hard time with in some ways because if you refuse to make restitution to your victim, that could be a technical violation, or if you refuse to go to drug treatment, but in any effect I know the controversy with technical violations. People either come back to prison for technical violations, or new convictions, correct?
Lettie Prell: Yes, those are the two reasons.
Len Sipes: And so the new convictions are down, which means that crime is down.
Lettie Prell: That’s exactly right, and not only that, but these are the kinds of crimes that lead to imprisonment.
Len Sipes: Right.
Lettie Prell: So they’re the more serious crimes, so when we can say that serious crime is down, that’s really significant and translates into real public safety.
Len Sipes: I’m going to reintroduce both of you right now because we’re quickly half way through the program. These programs go by so quickly. Lettie Prell, director of research, Iowa Department of Corrections. WWW.DOC.STATE.IA.US. Jerry Bartruff, he is the deputy director of offender services, Iowa Department of Corrections at the same website, WWW.DOC.STATE.IA.US. Okay, for the second half of the program, the fact that – Does anybody understand, except for those of us in the re-entry field as to the significance of what you all have been able to do, or are you laboring in obscurity? You’ve got a couple newspaper articles about the reductions in Iowa. I’ve seen some coverage from the re-entry community about the reductions in Iowa. Does anybody else understand what’s happening in the state of Iowa?
Jerry Bartruff: I think so. One of the things we benefited from is since the federal government started to issue grants to promote re-entry activities; we first participated in the Edward R. Byrne grant in 2005. We participated in two PRI grants, one an urban focus, and because Iowa is a mostly rule state, another PRI grant that focused on re-entry in rural areas, and we’re also involved in a technical assistance program through the National Institute of Corrections which brings folks from the Urban Institute and the Center for Effective Public Policy to Iowa on a fairly routine basis to help us move forward in adopting the transition from prison to the community initiative as our re-entry model in Iowa. So I think our work through the grant process, through our involvement with NIC and then with the center and the Urban Institute, we’ve received feedback from them that what Iowa’s doing are the things that jurisdictions needs to be doing, and there’s always some work to do. There’s always a lot of improvement we need to make, but we rely on the expertise of those folks to help us move forward.
Len Sipes: Right, but I mean, this is in the re-entry community. Somebody said, Len, you need to do a program about Iowa. They’re doing significant things out there. They’re doing a lot of evidence-based ideas. They really are going through an analysis of how – of what they do it, and how they do it. They’re really being bold in terms of that self analysis, of – It’s very hard for government agencies to turn that evil eye on themselves and ask critical questions -
Jerry Bartruff: Uh-huh.
Len Sipes: as to whether or not we’re really serving the citizens by reducing recidivism, and so the re-entry community understands this. Does the larger citizens, do the larger group of citizens in the state of Iowa understand the significance as to what you’re doing?
Jerry Bartruff: I think that there is this – there’s always room to tell the good stories, because as you know, often in our business, it’s the high profile crime that creates people’s perspective of what the criminal justice system or the corrections systems does.
Len Sipes: That’s exactly right.
Jerry Bartruff: We have several success stories that I think that we need to continue to tell people because I do thing it has impacted community safety. One of the things that I can say that we’re fortunate in the state of Iowa is that we’ve gotten a whole lot of support from the executive branch of state government. In July of 2009, the Governor issued an executive order, which established the Ex-offender Re-entry Coordinating Council.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Jerry Bartruff: The primary goal of that counsel is to integrate successful re-entry principles and practices in state agencies and communities resulting in partnerships that enhance offender safety and successful reintegration.
Len Sipes: That’s right.
Jerry Bartruff: The group was chaired by our director, and also the director of IWD, and we think employment and opportunities for offenders to receive an education, to find a job and maintain a job. That’s a huge re-entry success indicator.
Len Sipes: We just did a radio show on correctional education, so that was the show that preceded yours. So what is the lesson in all of this, either Jerry or Lettie? In terms of, you know, what do we tell people around the country? What do we tell people here in Washington DC? In terms of what works because we have – I mean what we’ve done here is focus specifically on the mentally ill, and broken it down by male and female. We’ve talked about African-American offenders. We’ve talked about good reductions there. What are we talking about? And so I’m assuming that you have implemented programs specifically for mentally ill offenders. What does that consist of?
Jerry Bartruff: Yes.
Lettie Prell: Well, it started with, go ahead.
Jerry Bartruff: Go ahead Lettie.
Lettie Prell: It started with John Baldwin’s. Director John Baldwin established focus groups in 2007, and focus groups got together on exactly around the issue of mental health, mentally ill offenders and mental health re-entry, and I’ll let Jerry take over because he’s really been spear heading a lot of that.
Jerry Bartruff: Yes, and we had previously received a federal grant that provided a mental health re-entry pilot project that involved folks that are going to be supervising offenders in the community, and case managers and offenders and mental health professionals in the institution doing this case management process together because I think what often happens with mentally ill offenders is they go through the system, return to the community – you’ve got several people with their hands in the offenders pot, and we were thinking that if we have a consolidated case management process, that we will be able to impact that recidivism rate, and that is -
Len Sipes: To the congressional staffer, consolidated case management means what?
Jerry Bartruff: Uh-huh, uh-huh. That means that historically, and one of the reasons I think the Ex-offender Re-entry Coordinating Council is important is that IWD has a case file for an offender who has left the institution, goes back. The Department of Human Services does, education may have a focus. There are several different agencies that are kind of helping to – helping the offender navigate what they need to be doing in the community to be successful, and we’re saying that instead of having a separate case plan from every agency that is working with the offender, if we can consolidate that case management process so that the offender is only accountable to one case plan, that people that are working with the offender wrap themselves around the offender. The expectation for the offender and the services that can be provided are clear, and we just think it’s a better process for both the offender and the agencies that are working with the offender to provide effective service.
Len Sipes: Now that’s understood. For the programs in the state of Iowa in terms of the Division of Correction, the Department of Correction, are they getting good solid programming, individualized programming focusing on their own mental illness in the – while their locked up?
Jerry Bartruff: Yeah, and we’re also, again going back to some comments I made about community based corrections. We’ve also developed a pilot re-entry mental health courts where we’re looking at people before they come to the prison system and making some determination whether or not their mental illness could be better managed in the community because we think one of the evidence based principles is keeping people as close to their natural community as possible so not only are we trying to provide those services to people who are incarcerated, but we also want to try to provide those services as those people are at the very entrance point into the criminal justice system, and some of those people should be diverted back to the mental health system because the further you enter the criminal justice system, the more difficult it becomes for people to receive the services they need and then hook up with those resources when they leave the system.
Len Sipes: Right, and there we’re talking about lower level offenders, diverting them off into treatment so they don’t go into the prison system to begin with.
Jerry Bartruff: Right, right.
Len Sipes: And then you’re talking about treatment in the prison system.
Jerry Bartruff: Correct.
Len Sipes: And that treatment being carried out seamlessly into the community, so in everybody’s operating off of one plan and in terms of their own plans.
Jerry Bartruff: Exactly.
Lettie Prell: Uh-huh.
Jerry Bartruff: You’ve got it.
Len Sipes: Okay. What about drug treatment? You mentioned before employment and vocational programs, education programs and drug treatment. What about all that?
Jerry Bartruff: We think that there’s a myriad of interventions that we need to have available for us to use with offenders, and so we spent a whole lot of time with front end risk assessments to both identify risk levels but also to identify needs, and then making you’re that our interventions – that reduce risk and address those criminogenic needs, are the programs we offer both in the institutions and in community based corrections so -
Len Sipes: Now most states don’t have sufficient slots, numbers, treatment slots, people, to do this.
Jerry Bartruff: That’s where I’m coming next.
Len Sipes: Okay.
Jerry Bartruff: Our need for treatment slots in those various areas of criminogenic needs does not nearly – the capacity does not meet the need.
Len Sipes: Right.
Jerry Bartruff: So one of the things that we’re forced to do is to focus our resources on that risk population that we have the most likelihood of impacting, so we focus a lot of our resources, our core programs, our cognitive programs, on those offenders that moderate to high risk offenders.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Jerry Bartruff: And so, there’s a targeting piece that comes in there that is important too, and consistent with what the evidence tells us – so we wish we could provide the programming that we need for all offenders, but sometimes, and especially with low risk offenders, you can actually make them worse by forcing them to go through some of those programs.
Len Sipes: Well, number one, there’s no state in the United States that has all the resources that it needs. If you take a look at drug treatment, if you take a look at other sorts of interventions, it’s not unusual to see 10 percent of the population being treated, 15 percent of the population. I’m talking about the population who needs it, not the overall population.
Jerry Bartruff: Right, right.
Len Sipes: So if we’re saying – I think it’s safe to say that somewhere between 60 to 80 percent of every offender and every correctional system in this country, whether it’s yours or ours has a serious history of substance abuse.
Jerry Bartruff: Uh-huh.
Len Sipes: So even we, we’re federally funded. We can do 25 percent out of our own funds of that particular population, which means we, like you have to target, so I’m not trying to put the State of Iowa on the spot. I’ll put ourselves on the spot. You can’t do everything for everybody. That’s why they’re saying target the more difficult and serious offenders.
Jerry Bartruff: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Lettie Prell: Right.
Jerry Bartruff: And we started out at the front end with doing a whole lot of assessment work, and parsing that population of substance abusers into the people who need intensive inpatient. People who would better be served by outpatient, people who have received treatment before and need relapse, and so looking at a continuum of care and using assessments to say, where should we put this offender based on his needs and his assessment in those critical beds that we know we don’t have enough of, so doing that front end assessment work is huge with our then trying to match the offender to the intervention that meets that offenders needs and reduces the risk.
Len Sipes: And Lettie, you’re on the opposite end of the continuum taking a look, a hard look at all these different programs and figuring out, you know what, we don’t have all the money we wish we had, so let’s do away with the programs that aren’t performing as well, and let’s put adds intersection al funds and resources into the programs that are doing well. So the research part of it is an extraordinarily big piece of re-entry programming in terms of state of the art practices, right Lettie?
Lettie Prell: Yes, and our executive from the very top on down is committed to basing these tough decisions on the data, and speaking of risk, listeners in other states and jurisdictions, you know, the Iowa data really show. Don’t be afraid to treat that high risk offender because we’ve shown the largest drops in recidivism rates, getting the bang for your buck out of treating those high risk offenders. We have a dynamic risk assessment. We use the LSIR, the Level of Service Inventory, revised that with developed in Canada, and when we recess for risk, we find that there’s some score drop that is happening, and we had a research partner, she got her PhD doing this study, and we said, well, we’re seeing these score drops. Does that translate to lower recidivism? And her research says that, yes. That for that highest risk group, a 10 percent drop in their assessment score means a 6 percent reduction in recidivism.
Len Sipes: Uh-huh.
Lettie Prell: And that’s the largest recidivism reduction of any of the risk groups, is at the highest level, and that’s really important because at that highest level of risk, you see a disproportionate number mentally ill, a disproportionate number of African-Americans, so this exactly translates to the targeted treatment we’ve been doing for these subgroups.
Len Sipes: All right, final minute of the program. So you guys going to have to be concise. What are the lessons for everybody else? Again, for the congressional staffers and the other people in other states listening to this program, it’s to do what?
Jerry Bartruff: I’ll go first. I think the first thing to recognize is that incarceration and re-entry is not just a criminal justice issue. It’s a community safety issue, and that other agencies and the community needs to be involved with this if we are going to be able to make your community safer.
Len Sipes: Lettie.
Lettie Prell: Improve programs that you have. Get rid of programs that aren’t working, and treat the high risk offender.
Len Sipes: I really appreciate the summation. Both of you, I think, did an extraordinary good job of explaining something that is very complex, and hopefully other states and jurisdictions will benefit from what you’ve said today. Lettie Prell, director of research for the Iowa Department of Corrections, again, WWW.DOC.STATE.IA.US. I wouldn’t that repeat that again for Jerry Bartruff. He is the deputy director of offender services, again for Iowa Department of Corrections. Big drops in recidivism, and again, congratulations to you both. Again a reminder as we said at the beginning of the program, the American Probation and Parole association. WWW.APPA-NET.ORG is talking about honoring parole and probation agents, community supervision officers throughout the country, and for that matter, throughout the world. Check out their website in terms of activities coming up, and also, once again the National Re-entry Resource Center funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance for the US Department of Justice, WWW.NATIONALREENTRYRESOURCECENTER.ORG, ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety, I am your host Leonard Sipes. Listen for us next time as we explore another very important topic in our criminal justice system. Please have yourselves a very, very, pleasant day.