Supervising and Treating Violent Drug Offenders in the Nation’s Capital

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

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

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

Since the increase in crime during the mid 1960’s, the primary challenge within the criminal justice system has been the substance-abusing offender. Society in general, and the justice system in particular, has revised their thoughts on crime and what we should do about criminals. However, the concern regarding the drug addicted offender remains constant.

We have learned a lot in the last four decades. For instance, we have experienced epidemics of heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and endless other illicit substances along the way. Proposed remedies have ranged from therapeutic communities (sometimes involving whole prison wings devoted to drug treatment) to “tough-love” environments to today’s focus on assessment (placing the offender in the most effective modality) and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Both state and federal governments have tried mandatory incarceration and alternative community-based approaches.

Although the rate of crime in the U.S. has been at record lows for the last ten years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that populations within the prison and community corrections systems have increased. Most of the increase is driven by substance abusing offenders and changes in sentencing.

In the 1994 report “Controlling Cocaine: Supply vs. Demand Programs,” the Rand Corporation projected that for every dollar spent on drug treatment society reaps seven dollars in benefit (http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/Cocaine-Supply-Demand1994.htm). There are many studies (The Washington State Institute for Public Policy provides a summation) that supply the good news that drug and alcohol treatment works to reduce criminal activity, as well as a range of other positive results (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/06-06-3901.pdf).

But the bottom line of 40 years of effort is that 80 percent of offenders coming into this country’s correctional institutions have histories of substance abuse, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the vast majority do not receive treatment in prison. These same individuals will enter community supervision, where the lack of treatment will influence whether, and how quickly, they relapse into using drugs and committing crimes.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) attempts to deal not just with criminal offenders with histories of drug use, but with individuals that some describe as the most difficult people in the criminal justice system.

CSOSA (http://www.csosa.gov/ and http://media.csosa.gov/ ) is the federal agency that provides parole and probation supervision for D.C. Code offenders in Washington, D.C. CSOSA is responsible for approximately 15,000 offenders each day. Approximately 2,000 offenders return from prison to the nation’s capital each year.

CSOSA has adopted notably stringent contact and drug testing standards. The agency is equally committed to providing the services necessary to assist offenders on supervision. Special supervision units involve high-risk drug offenders, sex and mental health offenders, and those with drinking and driving, or domestic violence issues. The agency also provides educational and vocational assistance. CSOSA has developed an innovative network of partnerships to bring as many resources as possible to the task of community supervision.

The Drug Unit Teams

Two special supervision teams provide interventions for approximately 500 high-risk offenders with extensive criminal and substance abuse histories. They are:

  • Substance Abuse and Intervention Team (SAINT) provides supervision for high-risk parole offenders;
  • Sanctions Team for Addition and Recovery (STAR) supervises probationers using the drug court model.

“The drug units deal with the toughest substance abuse offenders within the CSOSA system,” states DeAndro Baker, Branch Chief for substance abuse, mental health and traffic-alcohol teams for CSOSA. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, Master Addiction Counselor, and certified train the trainer in “What Works” by the National Institute of Corrections.

“We go where few dare to tread,” Baker states. “We know that offenders in the specialized drug units have co-occurring disorders [concurrent mental health and substance abuse diagnoses], are more likely to re-offend, and are at a higher risk to commit anti-social acts. We utilize a range of graduated sanctions to reinforce positive behavior and to swiftly address antisocial attitudes and belief systems. Appropriate sanctions are then followed by proper interventions, including a variety of community-based treatment and programming options. We take public safety and the conditions of release very seriously. The overall effort is to change criminal thinking and behaviors.”

Fifteen Community Supervision Officers (CSO’s–known as parole and probation agents elsewhere) in SAINT and STAR, along with three supervisors, provide a combination of supervision and services. The caseload ratio of 35 offenders per CSO enables close supervision of these high-risk offenders. The normal ratio of supervision in CSOSA is 50 to 1. Lowering caseloads to a level that permits substantial, meaningful contact between the offender and the CSO has been a priority within CSOSA since the agency was established in 1997.

A combination of veteran officers and new CSO’s fresh from the agency’s training academy staff the unit. Mr. Baker indicates that officers “are grounded in clinical evaluation, treatment planning, and establishing and maintaining a continuum of care.” CSO’s provide individual and group counseling. They use a combination of strict accountability and motivational counseling to try to reorient offenders into a new way of thinking and gaining control over their lives. Working with this tough offender population is not only challenging but also critical to public safety. Mr. Baker indicates, “The key to effective supervision is the Community Supervision Officers.”

The Offenders

With the right mix of treatment services and accountability, many offenders go on to lead productive and crime free lives. CSOSA is dedicated to offering the right combination of case management and treatment. The Washington State Public Policy Institute’s 2006 study of adult corrections programs concluded that the combination of supervision and treatment holds one of the more promising approaches to community supervision and reducing recidivism (http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/pub.asp?docid=06-01-1201).

CSOSA has been successful in using special units and partnerships (especially with the faith-based community) to achieve promising results. Close to half our daily population is in a specialized treatment unit or is undergoing intensive supervision, vocational assessments, coordinated treatment activities, and drug testing. The drug units, however, deal with offenders who pose challenges beyond those presented by other offenders.

“In supervision, we provide in-depth case management that includes: screening; assessments; treatment planning; referrals; staffing; counseling and documenting the offenders’ efforts. A performance plan is constructed that provides instructions to assist the offender in making lifestyle changes towards desired pro-social activities,” states Mr. Baker.

To understand the kind of offender and modalities we are talking about, you need to get to the root of the problem-the underlying psychological problems and issues that drive substance abuse and criminality.

According to staff, it’s that “root understanding” that causes some observers to have difficulty in understanding what the units do. “We’re not about business as usual,” Baker states. “We are about restructuring a person who desperately needs help with problem solving, self efficacy, internal accountability, employment readiness, and simple life skills.”

“Working with substance abusers is challenging,” states Cassandra N. Brown, a 15-year veteran in community supervision who has been with CSOSA since its inception. “There are always other issues in the background.”

Brown works with probationers in the drug court. She finds the drug court effective and supportive because of the swift impositions of sanctions and the attention of caring judges. An increasing body of national research on drug courts, such as that cited in the National Institute of Justice report Drug Courts: the Second Decade, points to their efficacy and impact on recidivism (http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/211081.pdf).

The Program

“We tell them that it’s going to be different,” states Ms. Brown. “They don’t believe us, but that’s how the process begins.”

Every offender brings an array of issues. Housing, health care, jobs and substance abuse are just the tip of the iceberg. Significant numbers of offenders, according to Department of Justice research, claim histories of child abuse and neglect  or mental health problems.

While most of us can be compared to a glass that is 70 or 80 percent full, many criminal offenders are people whose glass is perpetually 30 percent full. Addressing the needs of housing and providing job opportunities or drug counseling increases the fullness of the glass. The question that continues to confound criminologists is defining the point at which a combination of supervision and services tips the scales and the offender begins to overcome his or her difficulties. “To overcome those problems, you have to screen, assess, and plan to restructure the person,” states Mr. Baker.

The process begins with comprehensive evaluation of the offender’s background. Within CSOSA, there are teams of specialists who perform evaluations of substance abuse, mental, educational or criminal histories. Offenders in need are placed in specialized programs as appropriate.

According to Mr. Baker, the foundation for effective supervision of these offenders is identifying the crisis points in their lives. The unit does not simply focus on substance abuse but also on the many issues that offenders face. Relapse and problems are expected. A variety of sanctions and interventions are in place to deal with anticipated problems.

“We teach them how to deal with the endless triggers of negative behavior in their lives,” Ms. Brown says. “Through individual and group counseling, we role play these triggers for violence and drugs and teach them that there are better ways to conduct their lives. They need to understand the triggers and how to govern themselves.”

A psychologist, a licensed counselor, supervisors and Mr. Baker run the group counseling sessions and provide individual assistance. They assist with the “heavy duty co-occurring” cases. Community Supervision Officers can also run groups to constantly reinforce the lessons of role-play and “trigger” management.

Modalities used in groups can include cognitive therapy under a variety of guises, including psycho educational classes with names like “Thinking for a Change” or “Reality Therapy.” Strategies are chosen that fit the lifestyle and background of the offender. Baker insists that there is nothing “cookie-cutter” in their approach. “The assessments tell us what the person needs, and we build a case management strategy that evokes change,” he states. “Basically, it all comes down to understanding stages of change, criminological identifiers, anti-social thinking, environmental triggers, pro-social modeling, interventions, structure, and what the offender can do about them.”

Strict supervision is crucial. The units constantly interact with the offender within the office and out in the community. The drug units, drug testing professionals and sanctions teams within CSOSA can come into contact with the offender as many as six times each week. The Drug Court side of the program (for probationers) insures that offenders are before the judge as needed.

It’s the combination of strict supervision and treatment that works to reduce recidivism, according to staff members. “They need the structure. They require the contacts and drug testing. Anything less is setting them up for failure,” according to staff.

Staff insists that they will not hesitate to start the process that may return or place a person in prison. But they are equally adamant that offenders can be taught to successfully deal with the addictions and other challenges their lives.

The Reentry and Sanctions Center–Reductions in Re-arrests are Possible

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67 percent of all those released from prison commit felonies and serious misdemeanors within three years of release. Many commit multiple serious crimes. The lesson of this and other research is that future criminality is probable (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/rpr94.pdf).

CSOSA has a new and important tool to help interrupt the cycle of substance abuse and crime. The agency’s Reentry and Sanctions Center (RSC), which opened in the spring of 2006, is a 100-bed residential facility that provides 28 days of intensive assessment, pre-treatment programming, and case planning for offenders with long histories of drug abuse and crime. The RSC expands the strategies available to CSOSA-and increases the probability that at least some of these offenders will escape the revolving door for good. More information on the RSC is available at (http://www.csosa.gov/) or (http://www.csosa.gov/reentry/rsc_leadership.pdf). The latter provides specifics as to components for the SAINT program.

The SAINT parole team supervises offenders who graduate from the Reentry and Sanctions Center. Prior to the RSC’s opening, CSOSA operated a smaller program, the Assessment and Orientation Center, which was partially funded by the Washington-Baltimore HIDTA. Studies by the University of Maryland’s Institute for Behavior and Health found that offenders who completed the program at the Assessment and Orientation Center were significantly less likely to be arrested after the program.

A 2001 study indicated that all HIDTA program participants (from programs in other locations) experienced a 47 percent decrease in arrest rate. The Reentry and Sanction Center graduates supervised by the drug units experienced a 35 percent decrease. Considering their drug, criminal and social histories, this type of success seems nothing short of remarkable.

“If we can achieve these results with a very difficult population, it’s clear that, given the resources, parole and probation agencies throughout the country can do a better job of supervision,” states Thomas Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services. “We can protect the public and reduce future criminality. Our experience can help.”

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Domestic Violence Prevention in Washington, DC

The Domestic Violence Branch of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

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

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

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

“To experience domestic violence is to walk into hell over and over again,”she said. She was a victim of constant beatings by her former husband. She decided to bring charges. I was a young police officer, assigned to check on her (and her children’s) safety while she navigated the criminal justice system. She explained that the beatings were severe and frequent. Her self-esteem had reached rock bottom. Her children, ages five and nine, wanted their father. She had hinted at suicide.

To many, the phrase “domestic violence” does not do justice to the far-reaching impact of this crime on the lives of the perpetrator, victim, children, extended family, friends and larger society. One victim said that anything less than the phrase “vicious beatings by someone who knows you” does an injustice to the issue. Another suggested that “constant assaults that screw up the lives of everybody” comes closer to reality. The trauma of domestic violence is almost endless: mental health issues, school dropouts, workplace problems, drug and alcohol abuse and the general deterioration of families all correlate to the presence of violence in the home. There are criminologists who believe that solving the domestic violence crisis in America is central to reducing crime and restoring neighborhoods.

For example, studies suggest that 3-10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. A 1998 study by found that slightly more than half of female victims of intimate violence live in households with children under age 12. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to exhibit health and behavioral problems including depression, anxiety and violence toward peers. They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution and commit sexual assault crimes.

In the nation’s capital, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) is addressing domestic violence in an aggressive and comprehensive way. “Domestic violence is a pervasive problem with far-reaching consequences. Solving the problem requires a comprehensive approach that holds people strictly accountable for their actions while providing them the tools to avoid the behavior in the future,” states Paul A. Quander, Jr., CSOSA’s Director. ” Domestic violence is a community problem that cannot be ignored.”

Legislative Remedies

The mission of CSOSA’s Domestic Violence Branch is to increase public safety and prevent future victimization by providing close supervision and treatment for individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses. CSOSA also provides a range of services for victims. The Domestic Violence Branch also partners with stakeholders to facilitate awareness of domestic violence in the community. The US Attorney’s Office, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), DC Superior Court, the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, victim advocates and others are intimately involved in the process.

Domestic violence has been a high-profile issue in the nation’s capitol for more than a decade. In 1991, the D.C. Council enacted the Prevention of Domestic Violence Amendment Act. In 1992, the D.C. Superior Court established the Domestic Violence Intervention Program to address the increase in domestic violence arrests and the number of offenders sentenced to probation for those crimes. The initial thrust of the program was to provide batterers with counseling in an effort to reduce repeat offenses.

When the U.S. Congress created CSOSA in 1997, through the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act, the new agency assumed responsibility for the community supervision of domestic violence offenders. The transition to a federally-funded probation and parole agency has dramatically improved domestic violence supervision. Since its inception, CSOSA has established four specialized supervision teams focusing exclusively on domestic violence offenders and two domestic violence treatment teams to provide needed counseling and treatment services and referrals. Reduced caseloads on these specialized supervision teams has allowed for increased monitoring of these offenders and improved support services.

Ground Zero: The Community Supervision Officer

CSOSA’s Community Supervision Officers (CSO) are at “Ground Zero” in the agency’s efforts to provide effective supervision of domestic violence cases. The agency ratio of CSOs to offenders is approximately 52 to 1. In specialized units, such as the Domestic Violence Unit, the ratio is 33 to 1. CSOSA’s four supervision and two treatment teams manage 1,300 domestic violence offenders. Domestic violence offenders are subject to the same drug testing regimen, periodic police contacts through joint patrols (Accountability Tours) and strict accountability requirements of other offenders. They have the same opportunities for drug treatment, vocational and educational placement and training, and faith-based mentoring offered to any other offender. Domestic Violence offenders can be on both probation and parole.

CSO Rodney Carter, a five-year CSOSA veteran, is a member of Team 40, which is devoted exclusively to domestic violence supervision work. Rodney was a treatment provider during his first year, and has been a supervision officer for the other four. He holds a masters degree in social work from Howard University and moved to the District of Columbia from Charlottesville, VA to pursue his goal of being a probation officer. “This is where the need is,” he explains. Working with disadvantaged populations and providing a positive role model is important to me. It’s important to provide an example and keep the community safe.”

“When I ran treatment groups for domestic violence, the focus was on offenders accepting responsibility for their actions and challenging their belief systems. Many offenders believe that violence is okay. They think it is an appropriate way to treat a person, whether they were strangers or intimate others,” he states.

Carter explains how domestic violence treatment works. “In treatment, we challenge the notion that violence is acceptable. Many offenders witnessed the abuse of their mothers or other women. The popular culture promotes violence-it suggests that violence is OK. Substance abuse is often connected to, but not necessarily caused by, domestic violence. It removes inhabitations. Offenders would say that it happened because “˜I was drunk.'”

“My job to break through these myths. In a group setting, members of the group would challenge and learn from each other. Not everyone can be helped. But I’ve learned that I can affect people and help them change. I can provide a safer environment for the participants and their children. The vast majority of those involved in domestic violence have children, so the implications are considerable for all involved. I provide offenders with the skills they can apply during difficult situations.”

Carter says that this work has changed him, too. “The experience has taught me to be a better person,” he says. “It’s taught me that domestic violence is an ongoing challenge that must be dealt with to create a better society. I love this work, and I love the challenge.”

Domestic violence CSOs meet regularly with offenders to monitor compliance with all supervision conditions. They are required to establish and maintain communication with victims to verify compliance with all “Stay Away” orders. CSOs are responsible for consultation with others associated with the offender (known as collateral contacts). These include family members and friends, employers, counselors and others to determine the offender’s overall adjustment to supervision.

Meeting with collateral contacts allows the CSO to determine if offenders are complying with their supervision obligations and to verify information provided by the offenders. The supervision level and frequency of contacts by the CSO is based on a risk and needs assessment conducted at the beginning of supervision and at regular intervals during the term of supervision. Poor adjustment and non-compliance automatically results in increased contacts and sanctions imposed by the CSO in an effort to correct negative behavior.

Field visits are a critical component of the supervision process. They provide insight into the offender’s environment, associations, belief systems, and other factors. Incorporated into the field visits are accountability tours conducted with District of Columbia Metropolitan Police officers. These joint home visits provide police officers with critical information about offenders residing within the Police Service Area the officer patrols. Information sharing between the CSO and MPD officer is a vital component of supervision, especially if there is police contact with the offender in the absence of the CSO.

“We provide them with the chance to save their lives.”

Mark Collins is one of eight CSOs on Team 38. Mark has a BS in communications from Bowie State University. He began his career with CSOSA in 2001, serving as a drug-testing technician for 10 months until a CSO position opened up. He’s been a CSO for two years.

“I love it,” he states. “Every offender is different; every set of circumstances is a challenge. We take threats to victims very seriously. We act on their information immediately. Domestic violence is a real problem in DC. We try to work with the offenders; we try to help them, provide them with domestic violence and drug treatment, and we do whatever it takes to keep them from engaging in further acts of violence. But if offenders violate the terms of their court orders, and do it constantly, then they go back to the judge or the Parole Commission, and often jail.”

“We are in constant contact with the victims to protect them, and to learn from them. Many offenders feel that violence was justified because they claim that they were assaulted first. It’s the role of the 22-week treatment program to help offenders understand the dynamics of interactions with others. In many instances, offenders feel that aggression directed to them justifies violence in return. Counselors and supervision officers get them to understand violence and alternatives, or how to deal with a situation without busting a window or slashing a tire. We help them change the way they deal with anger. We help them see the world differently. We provide them with the chance to save their lives.”

“It’s very important for folks to succeed, and to get on with their lives. We will take an offender to treatment, we will take an offender to a job, and we will do whatever it takes.

It’s my goal to keep the community safe.”

Intervention

The DC court and community supervision system has used the Duluth Model since the early 1990s, which focuses on how the concept of power and control adversely affects intimate relationships. As mandated by court order and based on the offense, offenders are placed in either an 18-week Family Violence Intervention Program or a 22-week Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

The Duluth Model views power and control as the primary factors in battering behavior within intimate relationships. It advances the idea that males have internalized a set of socialization values that predisposes them, in intimate relationships, to be the dominant violence initiators and perpetrators of domestic violence, which the model considers a learned behavior that can be changed through counseling.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program also offers a special counseling component dedicated to treating the Latino offender, under the counseling guidance of a Latino CSO.

The program has about a 60 percent completion rate. In the groups, counselors focus on persuading the offender to see the futility of violence in relationships, to accept responsibility for his/her role in the incident and to explore alternative ways to avoid violence using a safety plan. The program CSOs are specially trained, certified and licensed in the area of domestic violence counseling.

The program receives about 2,000 domestic violence referrals each year from the DC Superior Court. These referrals are usually the result of Civil Protection Orders, Deferred Sentence Agreements, Adult Probation, Parole or Supervised Release. Occasionally, pre-trial defendants are referred to the program by the Pretrial Services Agency.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program also has a vendor component, which employs well-qualified private treatment providers to provide domestic violence counseling to employed offenders or offenders who have income, as opposed to unemployed offenders who receive the counseling at no cost from CSOSA domestic violence CSOs. The vendor and the non-fee programs are mutually complementary; offenders can transfer from one to the other if their employment status changes. The program currently has 14 vendors and 8 CSOSA CSOs providing treatment to domestic violence offenders.

The CSOSA domestic violence initiative, although very young, has achieved some positive results. Within two years of release from CSOSA supervision, 29.3 percent of all offenders are rearrested (for all crimes), versus 26.2 percent of those offenders going through the domestic violence program.

With an emphasis on public safety, examples of CSOSA’s efforts to improve offender lifestyles and modify behavior include:

  • An individual on probation for assault was being uncooperative with the supervision officer, evasive in providing information on employment, residence, and activities and was on occasion missing appointments without notice. Information was presented to the CSO that the offender was communicating with and intimidating the victim, in violation of the court order. It was also reported that the individual had come to the attention of local law enforcement authorities for possible involvement in other illegal activity in a designated police “hot-spot.” Based on this information and the officer’s contact with individuals familiar with the offender, the officer requested a court hearing to address the offender’s overall non-compliance. The court ordered the offender placed on intensive surveillance through the use of our Global Positioning System (GPS)-based electronic monitoring. The offender’s daily activity and location are now constantly monitored and community safety has been greatly enhanced. Restrictive areas have been imposed and we are now able to verify where the offender has been at all times.
  • A probationer on supervision for destruction of personal property within a domestic abuse setting, reported for supervision with numerous problems beyond her need for domestic violence treatment. A mother of two young children and a regular user of PCP, she displayed a negative attitude and unwillingness to comply with her conditions of supervision. The offender was returned to Court to address these issues and the Court’s intent was to revoke her probation. However, the supervision officer recognized redeeming qualities in the offender and presented options to the Court including residential treatment that would accommodate the offender’s two young children. The court agreed with the CSO and the offender was immediately placed in a residential treatment facility that allowed her to keep her children with her. She worked closely with the program staff and the CSO and successfully completed program. During her stay in the program, she was diagnosed with mental health problems. After participating in a transitional housing program, the offender and her two young children are now living in their own apartment. She continues to address her addiction issues with no evidence of relapse, and is participating in mental health counseling on a regular basis. The Court has extended her supervision period to allow continued monitoring of the offender’s progress.

CSOSA’s domestic violence initiatives will continue to include aggressive supervision and appropriate treatment for offenders. In an effort to promote community awareness and offer additional assistance to victims, Domestic Violence staff is conducting an ongoing cell phone collection drive to in collaboration with non-profit agencies that assist domestic violence victims. In 2004, CSOSA conducted its first annual conference on domestic violence. The conference focused on prevention and intervention techniques from government, advocates and nonprofit organizations and drew participants throughout the city and metropolitan area.

“Programs to deal with domestic violence can make our communities safer,” said Thomas Williams, CSOSA’s Associate Director for Community Supervision Services. “These efforts mean justice for victims and their children, which is essential to any caring society.”

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Supervising Criminal Offenders in Washington D.C.

A Day in the Life of a Community Supervision Officer

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

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

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

It is a cold and misty morning in Southwest Washington D.C., and rain falls intermittently as we travel from house to house checking on adult criminal offenders in an area known for crime, drug use, poverty and despair. Joseph C. Alston moves through the community with intimate knowledge of its citizens and its problems. He is a Supervisory Community Supervision Officer, and is in charge of ten Community Supervision Officers-known as Parole and Probation Officers in most parts of the country. He knocks on the doors of people recently released from prison. Some expect his visit, some do not. Our arrival is greeted with a mix of friendly greetings and mild consternation.

Joe enters their apartments with confidence and a smile as he quickly scans the rooms for signs of danger, drugs or weapons, as well as any indicator that the offender is doing well. “Let me see your pay stub,” he politely asks the recipient of our latest visit. The offender is well known to Joe and the other Community Supervision Officers (CSOs) who observe offenders in this part of the District of Columbia. He greets Joe’s request with a smile and produces the document. They discuss drug treatment and the problems, hopes and aspirations of an individual who has seen the inside of many prisons and many programs.

“This job is about public safety and assisting offenders,” Joe says. “Our first priority is to protect the citizens of the District of Columbia. But it’s essential to make sure that offenders have the services they need to transform their lives.”

A New Agency

Joe belongs to a unique federal executive branch agency that Congress established as part of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997. The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency of the District of Columbia (CSOSA) combined the D.C. Board of Parole and the probation function of D.C. Superior Court into a new federal agency. The D.C. Pretrial Services Agency is also included within CSOSA. After an initial three-year trusteeship, this new independent agency came into existence on August 4, 2000. The designers of the new agency were determined to make CSOSA a research and numbers driven organization that would incorporate the state-of-the-art in community supervision. The principals in CSOSA were determined to get it right and set the benchmark for the country.

There were problems before the establishment CSOSA. Large caseloads hampered effective supervision of offenders. There was little drug testing. Offenders with social needs were referred to agencies within the District of Columbia government for services. Experience teaches us that in many cases, effective community supervision depends on the direct provision of services or professionals who assist offenders in finding their way through complex and overwhelming bureaucracies.

Research from the National Institute of Justice in the mid 1990’s told us that intensive supervision alone would not reduce recidivism. Agencies had to provide tough regulation and social services that addressed the seemingly endless array of problems that offenders bring to supervision. That combination of accountability and services was lacking. Also lacking was computerization, research and a “management by objectives” style of operation. There was a need for partnerships with law enforcement, prosecutors and community organizations. These items have been addressed.

CSOSA has some of the lowest supervision caseloads in the country. The ratio for regular supervision is approximately 50 offenders to each CSO. The ratio for special supervision teams is approximately 30 offenders per CSO. There are specialized treatment and supervision teams for sex offenders, mental health, high-risk substance abuse, domestic violence, day reporting and violators of drinking and driving laws. The frequency of contact with these offenders is high. Classified at the upper end of the risk scale, they are seen a minimum of eight times a month, excluding time spent with treatment providers and drug testing professionals.

Unemployed offenders in some parts of the city are required to report to an extensive Day Reporting Program, which focuses on the educational and occupational needs of the clientele. Some offenders are tracked by satellite or other types of electronic monitoring.

Offenders are drug tested twice a week for the first eight weeks of supervision; the frequency of testing declines as the offender demonstrates continued compliance. However, one positive drug test mandates that you go back to the original testing schedule.

CSOSA conducts joint patrols with the Metropolitan Police Department, and conducts Mass Orientations for new offenders with police, staff of the US Attorneys Office, and treatment providers.

The agency has also developed and deployed one of the best automated case management tools in the country. The Supervision Management Automated Records Tracking (SMART) system is one of the most innovative record keeping systems available. Information is electronically shared with all personnel within CSOSA and allied agencies. “SMART” Lite is CSOSA’s next generation information management system, operating on small portable computers to accompany personnel wherever they go.

The agency has also developed the “Auto Screener,” which will comprehensively assess the offender’s risk to the community as well as determine their social needs and prescribe a specific supervision plan for each offender.

CSOSA has established a research and evaluation unit that tracks information collected by the agency through the SMART system. Early indicators of rearrests for probationers, reincarcerations, drug use and revocations back to prison indicate progress. Possibly the most important measurement is the fact that 94 percent of all violations in the last half of 2004 received an immediate response (called an intermediate sanction) from the CSO’s. A basic tenet of good community supervision is the ability and capacity to respond quickly and appropriately to violations. That is being accomplished within CSOSA.

CSOSA does far more than just monitor offenders under its supervision. CSOSA provides a wide array of services throughout the city that assist offenders with the transformation from a criminal lifestyle to that of a law-abiding taxpayer. Learning Labs are staffed with employment and educational specialists who assist offenders with basic educational and occupational needs. Each year, thousands are provided with services ranging from GED programs to apprenticeship opportunities and placement in jobs. With CSOSA’s assistance, offenders find opportunities for personal and job-related success, many for the first time in their lives.

With agency-funded drug treatment for high-risk offenders, mental health assessments, anger management, domestic violence treatment, and many other initiatives, one can understand that this agency and its personnel are in a unique position to make a difference.

But all of these resources and services are meaningless unless there is a caring individual to make sure offenders are doing what they’re supposed to do as well as taking advantage of unique opportunities for success. That’s why Joe Alston is making his way through trash filled streets and walking into apartment buildings surrounded by needles and graffiti. He is making sure that offenders are living up to the terms of their probation or parole and are hopefully taking advantage of services.

“You need to get yourself down to the learning lab,” he tells one reluctant offender. “You need to get a job to take care of your children. You need to get a future.” Joe continues with a list of apprenticeships and job opportunities that are available. He assures the offender that CSOSA has people dedicated to his success. The offender has been through a variety of social service agencies in the past. The complexity and difficulty of dealing with these agencies leads many offenders to despair and failure. Joe assures him that the CSOSA personnel at the learning lab are there solely for him and his success. “They know exactly what you are going through, and they are there to help you. This is something you have to do. You’ve got to get on your feet, you’ve got to get moving, and we can help.”

With Joe’s guidance, the offender begins the process of examining his future with professionals who are trained for that purpose. Without this kind of help and persistence, too many offenders give up on themselves and sink deeper into a life of violence and drugs.

Tough But Fair

“You tested positive for cocaine again,” Liasia S. Fenwick tells the offender sitting in her cubicle on South Capitol Street in Southeast D.C. Liasia has been with CSOSA for a little under 3 years. She was a housing counselor with DC social services and a drug counselor for Maryland parole and probation. New friends are surprised when the young looking Liasia tells them that she works with offenders and makes home visits in high crime areas.

“I told you what the ramifications would be if you tested positive,” she tells the frustrated parolee. The offender offers excuses. He provides explanations, rationalizations, justifications and enough twists and turns to describe a backcountry road. Liasia will have none of it. “Do you think you’re the first offender who’s told me all this?” she asks. “Do you think this is the first time I heard the story?”

Liasia informs the offender that she will apply the sanctions she warned him about when he first started testing positive for cocaine. CSOSA can only fund treatment for high-risk drug offenders, which means those at the middle or bottom of the spectrum must take advantage of in-house drug education or services provided by the District of Columbia government or charitable providers. With his return to drug use, Liasia sees the potential for the individual to blow any progress he has made in rearranging his life. She immediately arranges for a three-way conversation with her supervisor, Joe Alston, and begins making arrangements for the offender to be evaluated for treatment placement.

Liasia sums up her role this way: “Offenders need to understand that you care about their needs and well-being. They also need to understand that you are not going to tolerate illegal behavior. I’m tough but fair. I’m here to listen and I’m here to assist, but I’m not going to allow them to place themselves, their children and the community at risk. If he cannot get with the program, I’ll send him back to prison. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that he gets the services and assistance he needs to come to grips with a law-abiding life, but I’ll also do everything in my power to make sure that he doesn’t harm individuals or society.”

The Balance

“Maintaining the balance. That’s the challenge of community supervision,” states John W. Milam, Branch Chief in an area spanning Southeast and Southwest D.C. John is responsible for the supervision of approximately 3,500 parolees and probationers residing east of the Anacostia river.

John, who was born in the District of Columbia (like Joe Austin) reinforces the fact that community supervision of criminal offenders only succeeds if that “magical” balance of supervision and services is in place. John has 17 years of experience supervising offenders. He remembers working with offenders who were employed by his father in the moving business. He remembers that those with a positive outlook and support tended to do well, and those who had poor problem solving skills often failed. “I was curious as to what made some succeed and some fail,” he said. “That’s what got me into this business, my curiosity as to what makes people succeed.”

“I just went to a Mass Orientation of offenders where we assemble those starting their term of parole or probation. We provide an overview of community supervision requirements and available resources and services to make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them and what is available to assist them. I saw an offender that I supervised when I started 17 years ago. Part of the difficulty of this work is experiencing firsthand how difficult it is to assist human beings who struggle with the basics of life. We have to teach offenders how to change their thinking patterns. Some have been so ravaged by drugs and alcohol and a troubled upbringing that they have difficulty deciding what’s right for themselves and their children.”

“That is the challenge-making sure that we have the right balance of supervision and services,” Milam continues. The people who work for me must understand that they have to provide 100 percent effort every day to meet the challenges of the people we supervise. They look to me for leadership, but I look to them for ideas, innovations and strategies. I cannot imagine anything as important for society than what I do for living.”

You Have to Have Plan “B”

Anthony L. Taylor has been in the criminal justice system for a long time. He claims that he “knows when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em.” Tony came from the military and used the GI bill to pay for the rest of his college education. After leaving the Army, he went to Montana and became a residential life counselor for a college. He also coached the wrestling team.

“As a coach, you’ve got to see things through the eyes of other people,” he said. “You need to have the ability to evaluate potential and talent. A big part of what we do is to evaluate offenders. I’m happy to assist anyone. It’s very rare that I give up. But the challenge of this job is to recognize that somebody is ready to make a change. You have to be ready when they are ready.”

From his college wrestling and coaching job, Tony drifted to the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area where he became a youth counselor at a juvenile facility in Maryland and an assistant teacher at an alternative school for troubled youth. He’s even spent time as an aviation security specialist. He’s been with CSOSA since September of 2000.

Tony believes that a big part of being successful as a CSO is to have what he calls “Plan B.” “You have to be creative everyday,” he states. When he discovers an offender is ready to make a change, he is relentless in discovering untapped resources. That opportunity for creativity, combined with learning to gauge the offender’s attitude and motivation, he says, makes his job interesting. “We have to make sure that the offender is ready and we have to make sure that we are ready to assist him. But equally important is making sure he doesn’t do something crazy or become a hazard to the community. If we’re really going to serve society, we have to look out for the offender’s best interest while insisting upon public safety. It can’t happen any other way.”

350 CSOs

There are 350 CSOs who work for CSOSA. They supervise approximately 15,500 offenders. On any given day, CSOSA employees are walking the streets of the District of Columbia talking to offenders, their families, friends and employers. Each day hundreds of offenders report to field offices located throughout the city to receive that “magical” balance of supervision and services. Hundreds more are reporting for drug testing and a wide array of treatment and educational programs.

To recognize that Community Supervision Officers are the backbone of the agency is an obvious observation. Working with offenders can be one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs any of us have experienced. To ride with police officers or walk through tough neighborhoods and to deal with people with troubling backgrounds could cause most of us to pause. Community Supervision Officers meet these challenges every day.

Through the efforts of its CSOs, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency is making a positive difference in the District of Columbia. Recidivism for probationers (who constitute 70 percent of intakes) is down from 21 percent arrested in 2002 to 13 percent arrested in 2004. Please note that the combined rate for probationers and parolees remains flat at 18 percent during the same time period. Reincarcerations, revocations and drug use have all decreased. Homicides and violence have significantly declined in the city since 2002. While the lion’s share of the credit must go to the employees of the Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and engaged citizen based organizations, the women and men of CCOSA feel that they have made significant contributions to public safety

CSOs are the hub of a wheel in which law enforcement, community organizations and social service agencies collaborate to provide both supervision of, and opportunity for, the individuals placed under CSOSA’s jurisdiction. The citizens of the District of Columbia benefit from their dedication.

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The Core Mission: Partnerships for Public Safety

By Leonard Sipes, Beverly Hill and Bryan Young. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Community Policing to Community Parole and Probation

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

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

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

What CSOSA Brings to the Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Involvement

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

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

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

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

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

The Overall Impact on Rearrests and Crime

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

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

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Sustainable Community Involvement in Community Corrections

A Solution to NIMBY in Community Corrections?

By Bryan A. Young, Beverly Hill and Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Edited by Cedric Hendricks and Joyce McGinnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance-Based Structure for Community Involvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value of Sustained Community Involvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustaining the Process

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

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

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

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

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