WHAT WORKS? EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES IN PAROLE AND PROBATION

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

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

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

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

Introduction and Background

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

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

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

State of Corrections Today

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

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

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

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

“What Works”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Focus Areas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSOSA and Evidence Based Pratices

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

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

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

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Returning From Prison to Washington D.C. “We Make Transition Possible”

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

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

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

The name sounds like the essence of bureaucracy-the Transitional Intervention for Parole Supervision unit, or TIPS. The TIPS teams of Community Supervision Officers evaluate and assist the vast majority of offenders returning from prison to Washington, D.C. They are part of the federal, executive branch agency that provides parole and probation supervision in the nation’s capital, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA).

CSOSA supervises approximately 15,500 parolees, supervised releasees and probationers on any given day. Each year, approximately 2,300 men and women return to Washington, D.C. from any one of the federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities throughout the United States. For most of them, the first CSOSA staff member they meet is a TIPS officer.

The TIPS unit was a core requirement when CSOSA was initially established as a new federal agency in August of 2000. Recognizing that the District of Columbia’s Lorton prison would soon close, and that D.C. offenders would be housed in any one of the Bureau of Prison facilities, CSOSA knew it would be difficult for D.C. offenders to successfully reintegrate and reestablish ties with their families and the community. To address this need, the TIPS unit was established to work solely with returning offenders.

TIPS is truly unique. Through a collaborative, working relationship with the BOP, TIPS staff begin to work with offenders long before the offenders are released to the community or a BOP Residential Reentry Center (RRC, also known as halfway house). TIPS staff begin working on an offender’s case once they receive notice from the BOP of the offender’s pending release. TIPS staff begin to identify the offender’s needs and investigate the offender’s proposed home and employment release plans. One TIPS team is located in an RRC, working closely with offenders living there, but still under BOP’s supervision. In addition, CSOSA established a relationship with the faith-based community that links offenders to mentors who serve as a positive role model and community resource for the returning offender. TIP staff serve a vital role in this function by determining offenders suitable for participation in the program and linking them to mentors.

“TIPS staff perform a key, critical function in the reentry planning process,” says Thomas H. Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services. “TIPS staff not only address offenders’ needs upon release so they can have the opportunity to successfully reintegrate in the community, but also help ensure public safety by approving or denying offender home and employment plans.”

TIPS officers can be compared to air traffic controllers: They take a look at thousands of incoming “flights” and organize their “arrival.” They act as persuaders and negotiators with offenders, families and service providers. They “set the stage” for the offender’s future supervision. Their first priority is public safety while being an offender’s advocate for needed services.

“I was doing a home plan for a returning offender with sex offenses in his background,” stated Sharon Jackson. Sharon has over 20 years of experience supervising juvenile and adult offenders. “His living arrangements would have put him in contact with children. There was no way I was going to approve him living in that house. He had to make other living arrangements,” she said.

There are 22 Community Supervision Officers (known as parole and probation agents elsewhere) and three supervisors dedicated to the TIPS function. Their job is to assess returning inmates for risk of re-offending and need for services. They work principally with offenders residing in six halfway houses operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (Since December 2001, D.C. offenders serve their time in federal prisons.)

Federal Bureau of Prison case managers submit a release plan to CSOSA; TIPS officers investigate these plans, which address a proposed place to live (or lack of one) and potential employment. Using the plan as a baseline, TIPS staff analyze the incoming offender’s needs and arrange for the offender to access services at the time of release. This can include medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment, as well as any requirements imposed by the US Parole Commission as conditions of release. Sometimes, TIPS officers have months to do their jobs-sometimes days.

“We had an offender who weighed 600 pounds coming out of prison in a couple days,” stated Sharon Jackson. “The federal halfway houses were not equipped to deal with him. He had a challenging medical need, and I was able to help him find housing with a private transitional center. That’s just one example of what we do and the unique challenges that confront us every day.”

To understand TIPS is to acknowledge that returning offenders bring with them very little luggage but a lot of baggage-the complex issues that need to be addressed to give them the highest likelihood of staying out of prison. TIPS officers prepare the way for the offender and those in CSOSA who will supervise him directly upon release from prison or the federal halfway houses.

Approximately 50 percent of all offenders returning to D.C. transition through a halfway houses. Another 30 percent enter post-release supervision without a halfway house stay. The remaining 20 percent are released with no supervision obligation. TIPS officers assist everyone having a term of community supervision.

Once the offender is released to the community, the offender’s supervision is transferred from TIPS staff to a general or special supervision team. Although TIPS work is short-term and intensive, it is critical to ensuring the smooth transition of the offender from incarceration to the community.

Every offender has issues; approximately 70 percent have substance abuse histories. Approximately 30 percent of DC offenders have temporary housing arrangements. Many have complex issues, like mental illness or medical problems. Most need services to find education or jobs.

“The issue is public safety, and will always be public safety,” states Edmond Pears, Branch Chief the Investigations, Diagnostics and Evaluations Branch that encompasses TIPS. “We fully understand, for example, that unmet mental health needs and homelessness greatly increase the possibility that the offender will commit another crime. We can intervene. We can stabilize. We can help this guy and lessen the chance of someone getting hurt.”

The Initial Process

TIPS receives information on most inmates from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) approximately six months before the scheduled release date. In addition, TIPS staff can access the BOP’s information system for the inmate’s criminal history, institutional behavior records, medical conditions, mental health and social needs, prior community supervision adjustment and programs and services received during incarceration. The TIPS staff create a plan of action that is ready when the offender enters the federal halfway houses and/or the community. (The offender is still in BOP custody while in the halfway house.)

The halfway houses provide an array of services, such as intake, orientation, screening, assessment, case staffing, referrals, crisis intervention, counseling, home and employment investigations and discharge planning. But the offender’s stay is limited and most cases does not exceed 30 days.

“Thirty days is not a lot of time to analyze a person and his risk and social history and to arrange for needed services,” said Trevola Singletary-Mohamed, a TIPS Community Supervision Officer (CSO). CSO Singletary-Mohamed started community supervision with the adult probation division of D.C. Superior Court before CSOSA assumed the function in 1997. “You may have the file months ahead, and that’s vital to the process, but nothing beats having the person sitting in front of you answering your questions. The file and evaluation may state that he has a history of cocaine use and received treatment while in prison, but you find out through an interview that a ‘history’ meant daily use for several years. Sometimes, it’s the quality of the information that you gain through personal interviews that tells you what you need to know.”

Housing

Finding housing for returning offenders is one of the most difficult parts of the job. The hyper-heated housing market in Washington, D.C. makes this especially difficult. If the average offender who comes back through a halfway house only stays there for a month, then that’s just a temporary solution.

Some do not come back through halfway houses because of limited bed space or previous medical or mental health issues that the halfway houses are not equipped to manage. Halfway house staffs also evaluate offenders based on criminal history and prior problems while in a previous halfway house.

Approximately 25 percent go home or to another residence upon release. TIPS staff investigate all proposed living arrangements to ensure that they are viable and safe for all concerned. The home environment is reviewed and evaluated. Issues include the occupants’ legal right to the residence, adequate living space, and evidence of illegal substances or criminal activity. The bottom line is whether placement will lead to future crimes.

Many offenders have burned their bridges with the family. Community corrections professionals have heard many stories of mothers who state that they will allow a returning son to live with them in public housing, but she never places his name on the lease. Other family members promise the use of their homes but back out when the home plan is investigated.

Some families have moved outside of D.C. US Probation or state agencies will assist with placement in the family’s new state of residence if the US Parole Commission approves. If the offender has a detainer on other criminal charges, he must resolve those legal matters before pursuing supervision in another jurisdiction.

Offenders also cannot be a hardship to their family members (for example, a one bedroom apartment with one adult and three children). For the returnee to live in public housing, his name must be on the lease. TIPS staff do not take the family’s word for it; they must see a copy of the lease.

TIPS staff will not automatically approve a plan if another offender is living there; it’s up to the discretion of the CSO. Each case is individually assessed and investigated for suitability of the residence and peer support within the residence.

There are faith-based, charitable and private institutions that will provide services for returning offenders. Some deal with unique needs, like medical or mental health issues. Some are merely shelters offering a legal place to stay at night and something to eat. Staff would rather not use shelters. They also strive for housing that promotes the offender’s transitional process.

With only 25 percent living in private residences (and some of these placements are temporary) then it is easy to see why housing can take so much staff time.

“It takes a dedicated person to make these arrangements,” states CSO Daynelle Allison, a D.C. resident who has worked for CSOSA for three years. “I’ve had months, but sometimes just days to find a place to live for people with special medical or mental health needs. We do not compromise the quality of our supervision or housing investigation based on how much time we have. We do what we need to get the job done.”

“We need to be sure that arrangements are made to the point that an ambulance will meet the returning offender’s plane or bus and transport the offender to the residence, a hospital, or mental health clinic. Part of all this is a commitment to meeting simple human needs, and part of it is a commitment to protecting the public,” Sharon Jackson said.

Finally, when other options have been exhausted, the TIPS officer can recommend public law placement to avoid homelessness. Under this option, TIPS staff request that the U.S. Parole Commission add a special condition of release for the offender that will require the offender to reside up to 120 days in a halfway house until suitable housing is available. This type of placement is utilized only as a last resort.

Services

Beyond housing, the placement of returning offenders into the right services is a challenging task. CSOSA provides direct services to a variety of offenders on special supervision caseloads, which include sex offenders, mental health, domestic violence, anger management, drinking and driving, and high-risk drug cases. CSOSA also provides educational and employment assessment and placement.

The bulk of support services are provided by the D.C. government and non-profit agencies; in recent years, CSOSA has instituted a partnership with the city’s faith community to augment these services. CSOSA is leading a movement in the nation’s capital to galvanize churches, mosques, and synagogues to provide direct mentoring services. Hundreds of offenders have taken advantage of this initiative.

Service organizations throughout the country often express reluctance to work with offenders. With limited budgets, some organizations prefer “easier” clients. TIPS staff have expressed that providers in the District of Columbia are more likely to assist offenders because of close supervision imposed by Community Supervision Officers.

“CSOSA has worked extensively with service providers throughout the city to make sure they understand that helping a returning offender means fewer crimes and a safer community,” states Elizabeth Powell, Supervisory Community Supervision Officer (SCSO). “CSOSA has some of the toughest contact and drug testing standards in the country. Service providers know they have allies when it comes to addressing non-compliant offenders. The Community Supervision Officers are there to help if the offender creates a problem or does not take their interventions seriously. Close supervision works.”

“We also help offenders readjust to life in D.C.” states CSO Singletary-Mohamed. “Some of them have never ridden the Metro [D.C.’s subway system] before. Some of them just want to talk, to express their hopes and fears. And some offenders refuse services and require motivation from TIP to understand how they can benefit from participating in services. But we care, and they seem to understand that and comply.”

Conclusion

All of us in community corrections understand the challenges. President George W. Bush clearly laid out the issues for reentry in his State of the Union speech in 2004. He announced a new plan to bring local and faith-based groups together with federal agencies to help recently released prisoners make a successful transition back to society – reducing the chance that they will be arrested again. This 4-year, $300 million initiative seeks to provide transitional housing, basic job training, and mentoring services. Reentry is now a popular topic within criminological circles. More has been written about reentry in the last three or four years than the last ten.

Reentry may be the buzzword in the criminal justice system right now, but it is not just a buzzword at CSOSA. TIPS staff do the real work of reintegration. With one eye on public safety, and the other on the offender’s needs, TIPS staff guide returning offenders through their first steps beyond the prison gates and give them a real opportunity to successfully reintegrate into the community.

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Technology that Works:An Overview of the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) Application

By Frank Lu, Laurence Wolfe, Beverly Hill and Leonard Sipes. 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.

This is not an article about an information system; it is an overview of our attempt to dramatically improve the criminal justice system in Washington, DC and beyond. For too long, justice system managers could only guess the impact of their operations and strategies. In the nation’s capitol, we know (or will know) the impact of policy quickly, and in some categories, daily. Our information system is a management tool more than it is a collection of data. Finally, we intend to prove that aggressive and fair community supervision of offenders in the community is a cost effective method of reducing crime and recidivism. We intend to offer the supervision, staffing ratios, drug testing and treatment, partnerships and services to have an impact. SMART provides us with the accountability and measurement tool to accomplish our goals.” Paul Quander Jr., Director, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

There was a murder of a young woman in the District, and the Metropolitan Police Department had scanty information about a possible suspect. Within a few minutes, we were able to run a series of screens regarding aliases and offences, and we were able to provide a list of possible suspects. When the investigation narrowed the field to one suspect, we were able to provide a recent digital photograph, and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives, friends, coworkers and treatment providers. The suspect was quickly found, and brought to justice.” Community Supervision Officer.

Introduction

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA-a federal agency) of the District of Columbia got its start during the “Revitalization Act” of 1997 when Congress “federalized” selected agencies that were part of DC government. With CSOSA’s independence in August of 2000 and the implementation of the SMART system in January of 2002, the agency publicly declared that a system of (1) risk and needs management, (2) close supervision, (3) treatment and support services and (4) partnerships would have a significant impact on recidivism.

To achieve long lasting results, management decided to measure key variables, and to constantly add or alter more as initiatives progressed. Rearrest, reincarceration, technical violations, drug use, job retention, contacts with staff or treatment providers, educational or vocational efforts are or will be a growing package of measurements. Management can track progress (or lack of progress) by employee, team region or the entire system. Early warnings are built into the system to provide frontline managers with the tools to insure that offenders are properly supervised.

Advocates for effective supervision of criminal offenders in the community have long called for adequate training, salaries, supervision levels and services to €˜prove” that state-of-the-art strategies work. Some criminologists have stated, with proper funding and structure with a robust management and record keeping system, community supervision agencies could take their place as equals in the provision of crime prevention and safer communities.

CSOSA reports its findings to the President through the Office of Management and Budget, the US Congress and indirectly, the international and national media based in Washington, DC. You may not be aware of CSOSA and its status as an independent federal agency, but the agency and the SMART system are about to take center stage. Public accountability in the criminal justice system is about to enter a new day.

Overview

SMART is a superior means of case management; everything is at your fingertips immediately. You do not have to read someone’s handwriting. The information is current. You can respond with accurate and timely information. You hit a few buttons; you can get anything at all.” Tosha Trotter, Community Supervision Officer,

Imagine the serious effects on public safety of using manual pen and paper methods and a two-decade-old database to track convicts, felons, sex offenders, and violent criminals when they are released back into society on parole or probation. That was the situation in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, until the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency developed its new automated criminal offenders case management system – SMART – the Supervision and Management Automated Record Tracking (SMART) system.

Taking an innovative approach to applications development, CSOSA developed its new SMART system to serve as a Web-based information retrieval and tracking system providing enhanced capabilities not found elsewhere. Building on top of traditional SQL technology, SMART adds enhanced logic through specialized modules that provide tracking and monitoring capabilities not found in other law enforcement applications. It incorporates features including E-mail notifications and workflow support, and is recognized as a highly successful project. SMART’s success is demonstrated by the use of SMART data by several local government bureaus, federal agencies, and the federal and local courts to perform their judicial functions. SMART is used to monitor and supervise convicted offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release; and offenders undergoing pre-sentence investigations in Washington DC. SMART is on track to add advanced capabilities such as biometrics, predictive logic, and mobile computers to aid fieldwork.

As the provider of supervisory and treatment services to over 26,000 individuals on pretrial release, probation and parole, as well as the key advisory agency in assisting federal and local courts in determining eligibility for release, CSOSA made the decision in September 2001 to replace an existing case management and tracking system that was difficult to modify and no longer able to meet the changing requirements of its users, mainly judicial and paroling authorities. The decision to develop a system from the ground up was made after careful research into the options available to CSOSA: customizing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system. Ultimately, an analysis of the time constraints, financial comparisons, and core system requirements led to the decision to develop SMART as a new, independent, Web-based system that would address the agency’s needs.

The Core Requirements

It can document everything. You can go back many months to see the offender’s entire history. It saves a lot of effort. You can research the offender in record time. The information you need is always at your disposal. ” Randy Holley. Community Supervision Officer

CSOSA’s IT team conducted numerous interviews with senior management and users of the existing legacy system, who formed subcommittees for each of the agency business processes. A key factor of the project’s success was not only to secure senior management buy-in from the beginning, but partnership, with the business users for whom the system was being developed and the vendors that are going to help developing the system. Leadership emphasized the importance of strong user participation in providing the requirements for the system.

The requirements gathered from the users, coupled with comments in a GAO report describing the need for better coordination among DC’s criminal justice agencies[1], resulted in the following key requirements, which the new system needed to address before it could be claimed a success:

  • Reduce paperwork as a step toward a long-term goal of a paperless office;
  • Provide automatic notification of events in support of CSOSA policies and procedures;
  • Track historical data;
  • Seamlessly integrate with other agencies, where appropriate and viable;
  • Provide secure access from inside and outside the agency;
  • Present a usable and navigable interface;
  • Produce management-level and operational reports;
  • Include a fully searchable diary function;
  • Provide access via the Internet; and
  • Assist senior managers in their supervisory roles.

SMART (v.1.0) released in January 2002, addressed the core agency business needs; since then, additional modules to provide enhanced functionality, automated workflow, and added business functionality have been added. Specifically, SMART (v.1.0) consists of the following core modules and functionality:

  • Intake, including automatic assignment of cases to CSOSA teams based on offender demographics and round-robin cycles;
  • Reports, including detailed management-level caseload summaries, operational reports for use by case supervisors, and reports to demonstrate agency critical success factors;
  • “Home page” defaults to show caseload list, team assignments, or branch assignments;
  • Security roles to restrict access to modules based on a user’s assigned role;
  • Limited access for external users (e.g., judges, US Attorney’s Office, Metropolitan Police Department) to review case information and documents;
  • Tracking of offender demographics, including physical descriptions, identifiers, housing and employment history, contacts, drug test results, assessments, and victim data;
  • Replication of drug testing results;
  • Detailed supervision information, including dockets and charges, supervision sentences, and violations;
  • Treatment referral, placement, and tracking module;
  • Automatic generation of complex pre-sentence investigation and alleged violation court reports;
  • Attachment of case documents, including Word documents, offender photos, and Adobe PDF documents;
  • Electronic signature and workflow feature, including the integration of the supervisors’ signature image into an non-editable, secure document for delivery to the courts (see also figure 1);
  • Spell check for running record (diary) entries;
  • Tracking of offenders in Community Service and *Vocational, Educational, and Employment programs

Technical Specifications

“Smart is the most comprehensive computer based probation system I have seen. The different subtexts in Smart allow you to have complete picture of an offender from housing and employment to his drug usage to sanctions taken against them and appropriate interventions. . Smart allows me to access physical description of our offenders and cross reference them with recent sex offenses that have taken place in the Metropolitan area.” Akil Walker Community Supervision Officer

SMART is the result of over three years of research and development effort by the CSOSA’s IT Service Development team in partnership with SRA International, Inc. (a company providing systems design, development and integration services).

Unlike traditional case management solutions, SMART is “offender-centric” – i.e., all data center around the offender, with the specific case information represented as simply one attribute of an offender. This model is particularly representative of the real business process of supervising offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release, since the agency’s concern is truly with the activities surrounding the offender, rather than the court actions or other activities.

SMART is a fully Web-based application. It is designed based on a three-tier architecture, with HTML as the presentation layer, Microsoft Active Server Page (ASP) as the business logic layer and Microsoft SQL Server 2000 as the database layer. It is running on a Microsoft Windows 2000 server with IIS 5.0 Web server. Data communications to the SMART system were secured through the use of V-One’s VPN software, and code was maintained using Microsoft Visual SourceSafe and Source Offsite

Conclusion

“Record keeping and management systems within the criminal justice system are vital ingredients in keeping the public safe from harm,” states Director Quander. “CSOSA offers some of the best supervision and services within the criminal justice system. But we are only as good as our management and supervision systems allow us to be. State-of-the-art information systems must be an everyday part of effective operations. At CSOSA, they are.”

With its modular architecture and extendable platform, SMART can react to new business requirements. Its reliability, sturdiness, and user-friendly qualities have translated into increased business efficiency. Though SMART was designed to reflect business processes that are specific to the needs of CSOSA, the processes used in gathering requirements and developing SMART, along with the advanced technologies used throughout the system, can be applied to offender-based case management solutions for other criminal justice agencies.


[1] GAO, D.C. Criminal Justice System: Better Coordination Needed Among Participating Agencies, March 2001. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d01187.pdf

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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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“We Save Neighborhoods” Police and Parole and Probation Patrols in Washington, D.C.

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

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

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

It’s a cold and sunny late November day in Washington, DC. We are on patrol with Police Officer Grady Holmes and four employees of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). For the next few hours we will visit the homes of offenders on probation or parole. We are conducting an Accountability Tour.

CSOSA is a federal, executive branch agency responsible for parole and probation services in the District of Columbia. Community Supervision Officers (known as parole and probation officers in most states) conduct approximately 5,000 Accountability Tours every year. “Accountability Tours are self explanatory,” states Gladys Dorgett, a veteran Supervisory Community Supervision Officer who has been with CSOSA since it’s inception in 1997. She was a liaison with foreign officials for the State Department before that. “We hold the offender accountable for his actions. The partnering of members of the Metropolitan Police Department with Community Supervision Officers (CSOs) sends a powerful message that we are in this together. We and the police department are partners in making sure that the offender does what he is supposed to do. If you screw up, you deal with both agencies.”

Every Accountability Tour involves visits to approximately 10 homes. If an offender misses a drug test, he gets an Accountability Tour. Not cooperating with special conditions imposed by the court or Parole Commission merits a visit. New to the neighborhood? That too produces a meeting at the offender’s home. Not reporting to the CSO as required will guarantee a visit before a warrant is obtained.

Most Accountability Tours are scheduled. Some are a surprise. It depends on the offender and the circumstances prompting the visit. It makes sense for the offender and his family members or sponsors to be there for questions.

“He can’t stay here unless he gets a job,” states the mother of an offender on probation for a drug charge. “He knows that he has to improve, and I’m not putting up with any foolishness!”

The mother’s statement illustrates the value of Accountability Tours. During office visits, the offender can say anything he wants and it’s often the responsibility of the supervising CSO to verify the information. Verifications come quick during Accountability Tours.

“What about commercial driving licenses,” the mother of the probationer continues. “Is he eligible for some kind of program where he can get his CDL?” The CSO explains the process for obtaining a CDL and offers to help the offender get employment. While the offender’s mother is intent on finding training and employment for her son, the offender does not seem to be trying hard enough to take advantage of available services. The CSO, the offender and his mother agree to another meeting at the office to further explore job training and employment possibilities.

“This shows another aspect of the Accountability Tour,” states CSOSA Branch Chief William Ashe, who is along on the tour. Bill was a Deputy Chief of Community Corrections in Virginia before coming to CSOSA. “The mother will insist. The wife will not take ‘no’ for an answer. The family is often our best ally in the effort to produce a taxpayer out of a tax burden. The court, Parole Commission, police department or the Community Supervision Officer may struggle to get the offender to comply with the rules or take advantage of services. But in the home, in the presence of family, they often become partners with the purpose to help the offender succeed.”

The price for repeated failure can be harsh. The presence of the police officer reminds all that the next visit may not be a support meeting. It may result in handcuffs and a trip downtown and a possible return to prison. No one misunderstands the purpose of the visit.

It’s About my Mother

CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department conduct over 5,000 Accountability Tours in the nation’s capitol each year. Accountability Tours are part of an overall strategy to get the parole and probation officer in the community. “Fortress probation” is a term used by many to decry the practice of the supervision officer conducting his work from behind the desk. “Street supervision” is the preferred method of supervision at CSOSA.

“You have to be on the street sharing information with the police and everyone who comes into contact with the offender” states Dwayne Murray, a five year veteran of CSOSA and a former DC Correctional Officer. “Everything is about standards and holding the offender accountable for his actions. You hold the offender accountable by knowing what’s going on in his life. You know what’s going on in his life by visiting his home, place of employment and where he hangs out. The police officer that accompanies you acts as your eyes and ears. He shares the information with other officers, who also keep an eye on the offender.”

“Now, if your guy is on the corner messing with the sanity of the neighborhood, you know about it, and you can take appropriate action. Nothing shakes an offender out of his sense of getting lost in the system like a police officer showing up and pointing out the fact that they are under supervision, and there are consequences for behavior that threatens the community.”

“The police officer can only take action for lawlessness. I can put an offender in prison for not following the rules of supervision. Together, we form a potent bond. The community is appreciative for the intervention; the family is appreciative for the programs to help the offender. The collective pressure is what many offenders need to succeed.”

“It’s about my mother. Everything I do protects her and everyone else in D.C.”

“The thing to remember is that the officers like these encounters,” states D.C. police officer Grady Holmes. It keeps us in touch with the offenders on our beat. We appreciate the constant sharing of information with CSOSA. It a partnership that works!”

A Comprehensive Approach — Accountability and Treatment

Joint warrant service in the community is another new initiative for CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department. Approximately 1,200 arrest warrants are served in field offices every year. Teams of Community Supervision Officers are now joining police officers to track down offenders for warrant service. CSOSA’s information system (SMART) puts comprehensive information on the offender right at the CSOs fingertips whether he is in the field using a laptop computer and a wireless network card or in the office. One of the best offender information management systems in the country, SMART gives the CSO immediate access to information on the offenders known hangouts, the address and telephone numbers of family members and acquaintances, gang affiliations, tattoos and other physical features. That information can be vital in finding offenders in the community. Law enforcement has direct access to the CSOSA computer system.

In addition to Accountability Tours, Community Supervision Officers make thousands of additional home and employment visits without the presence of police officers. Generally, Community Supervision Officers conduct these visits in teams, but sometimes they go alone. Armed only with a bulletproof vest, cell phone and a jacket that identifies the CSO as CSOSA employee, CSOs routinely travel into very high crime and drug neighborhoods. Despite the obvious risk, they recognize that effective supervision goes beyond office visits.

CSOSA enjoys some of the lowest caseload ratios in the country. General supervision caseloads average one CSO to 50 offenders. Special caseloads that include sex, mental health, high-risk drug and domestic violence offenders and offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated offenses often have ratios of 25 or 30 offenders to each Community Supervision Officer. While there are no national statistics on caseload ratios, it is not unusual for states and counties to have 150 offenders for every parole and probation officer.

What this means is that CSOSA has frequent contact with the offender. Close to 50 percent of the population is on either maximum or intensive supervision or are part of a special supervision program (sex offenders, mental health, etc.) that also demand lots of contact.

Substance abuse testing is strict. All offenders submit drug tests twice a week for the first eight weeks of supervision. If all tests are negative, drug testing is reduced to twice a month for the next twelve weeks, then one a month thereafter. One violation returns the offender to the original testing schedule.

Thus CSOSA probably comes into contact with offenders more often than the vast majority of supervision agencies in the United States. Back that number of contacts with Accountability Tours and additional home visits without police officers, then it is clear that offenders can be held accountable for their actions.

Services are Necessary

But it’s vital to note that accountability is not just an emphasis on enforcement. Research from the Department of Justice on boot camps and intensive parole and probation supervision makes it clear that strict supervision cannot and will not keep offenders from recidivating. Reducing recidivism requires both accountability and services.

Intensive supervision alone will not help a mentally ill person to be compliant. An offender with a sexual orientation towards children needs targeted treatment. A drug-addicted person will continue to be a drug-addicted person if not provided treatment services. Intensive contact with a community supervision officer will not change these facts. Treatment is a necessary component of successful community supervision.

CSOSA has locations throughout the City of Washington to assist offenders with everything from GED preparation to employment. Hundreds of volunteer mentors from approximately 50 churches and mosques assist offenders returning from prison. The faith-based community has formed a coalition to coordinate a wide array of services. All of CSOSA’s special supervision programs have treatment, intervention and counseling components. CSOSA provides direct services to some special supervision offenders and funds private treatment services for others. In 2006 CSOSA will begin operation of a 100-bed Reentry and Sanctions Center to provide state-of-the-art assessment and pre- treatment for high-risk drug offenders.

Intermediate Sanctions

The final element in CSOSA’s arsenal of interventions is a system of intermediate sanctions. The research is clear, the more closely an offender is supervised, the more opportunities there will be to violate them for failing to meet a condition of their release. The court can mandate a GED program as part of an offender’s probation, society will not likely support returning an offender to prison for not going to school or for repeat positive urines. Were society to take this stance, few offenders would succeed under community supervision, and the prison system would have to expand dramatically. Seventy percent of the people under correctional supervision are “managed” in the community. Problems and violations are routine and expected.

CSOSA employs a comprehensive series of intermediate sanctions that mandate immediate actions for violations. Depending on the offense, sanctions may range from meetings with supervisors to daily reporting. Home visits, Accountability Tours and satellite tracking, home detention and curfews are all strategies CSOSA employs to ensure accountability while allowing the offender to remain in the community. However, while we may employ the best in supervision services, there are no guarantees that the offender will remain crime free.

Back to the Tour

We are in the home of a parolee, released from prison after serving time for PCP distribution. He greets the police officer by his first name. He asks about another police officer, again by his first name.

Officer Holmes smiles and relates that he has lots of history with the offender. “Yeah, I know him,” the officer states. “I know lots of repeat offenders. All of us do. That’s why officers like to interact with CSOSA. If he’s on supervision, we can contact the Community Supervision Officer and form a plan for treatment or supervision. That’s the only way these guys are going to straighten out their lives. I can ask CSOSA for help.”

Another point made by several of the Community Supervision Officers the day of the tour is their pride in the District of Columbia. They know they play a major role in the stabilization of communities. D.C. is reemerging as a city with intense neighborhood pride. Gladys Dorgett constantly points out the cleanliness and beauty of the middle and working class sections of the city. “Residents take great pride in their communities,” she states. They want us here. They want us to form a cooperative bond with the police. They, more than anyone else, want us to succeed.”

“I Require a Lot From my Offenders”

“We save neighborhoods,” explains Rosalyn Brown. Rosalyn worked her way up from a clerical position with the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency as a program assistant to her current job as a Community Supervision Officer with CSOSA. “These neighborhoods are beautiful. Property values are soaring. People here have always been proud of being Washingtonians.”

“But it can change in a heartbeat. If the system is not vigilant, if we are not careful, the progress made in northeast D.C. and throughout the city can be easily be undone. We are in the position to make neighborhoods livable. Neighborhoods can be greatly impacted by one criminal. He can make life miserable for everyone. We are here to make sure, to the best of our ability that decay does not happen because of an offender’s actions.”

“If a community member or police officer brings an offender’s actions to my attention, we take action. I require a lot from my offenders.”

“But it’s not all about enforcement. Home visits allow for a greater sense of intimacy. The offender will often communicate more in an environment he is comfortable in. They will open up as a person. That’s the kind of interaction that can lead to real progress. If he tells me what’s going on in his life, and I can win his trust and provide the services he needs. Often they will tell you that they are tired of the system and the never-ending cycle of arrest and incarceration. I can help, especially if family members are supportive or if they demand change. We can then act as a team and produce real change.”

“But you can often tell how well the offender will do while on community supervision by the reaction of the family. If they show great interest, then there is a chance. If they don’t care, then the odds for a successful outcome decrease. That’s why you have to be in the community and in their homes. Being here allows me to assess the situation first hand.”

We visit the last home. We knock on the door of an offender who is not reporting for supervision. No one answers the door. There are no signs of life in the home. A notice is left. The CSO will follow-up with final attempts to locate the offender before a warrant is sought for violation of probation. We visited 10 homes during today’s Accountability Tour.

CSOSA and the Metropolitan Police Department will continue efforts to jointly supervise offenders. It’s all part of a strategy to use partners and community organizations to suppress crime and produce safe communities. And its all part of Rosalyn Brown’s assertion that “We save neighborhoods.”

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