Archives for April 2015

The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment-William Burrell

The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment-William Burrell

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, ladies and gentlemen, Bill Burrell. Bill is an independent corrections management consultant and author of a book that I find very interesting. He can be reached at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L, at The topic of today’s program is the challenge of justice reinvestment; what’s happening in parole and probation throughout the United States in terms of new ways of doing things, new ways of coping with the criminal justice system. Bill, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

BILL BURRELL: Thank you, Len. It’s great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, before we started the program we were talking about the corollary of mental health back in the 60s and 70s. We did have a massive undertaking throughout the country, where we sort of recognized that these large mental hospitals in virtually every state in the Unites States, and it probably was not a good idea to keep mentally incapacitated people in these large hospitals, these large structures. They probably could be a better treated, better dealt with out in the community. Yet we never did develop the community infrastructure to handle all those people coming out of all of those state mental hospitals and the disparaging fact is that it now seems that the criminal justice system is the principal provider of mental health treatment. Comment on that. Am I right or wrong?

BILL BURRELL: Yes. You’re right on the money there, Len. The idea was a good one. You think about those hospitals. You think about the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They were pretty horrible places. And once these new psychotropic drugs were developed back in the 50s and 60s they were able to stabilize the symptoms and consider the release of these to the community, which made a whole lot of sense, it’s a lot cheaper, much more humane, and more effective. But, as you mentioned, the community infrastructure, the group homes, residential facilities to house these folks in the community were never built. So we ended up with a good idea that went pretty horribly wrong. And now some 20, 30 years later we’re looking at the jails and prisons being populated largely by some of the socially released with mental problems.

LEONARD SIPES: But what we’re talking about here is that we had a great idea and we implemented it and they went into the community. Without community infrastructure to take care of the mentally ill they end up with us in the criminal justice system. And there’s a lot of people out there who would say that somehow, someway there became a big difference between what was conceptualized and what actually happened.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s exactly the problem. We had a great idea, but it was implemented poorly, and that seems to be a very common story in the criminal justice system and maybe in government in general, that a good idea is developed, researchers come up with it, they test it, they evaluate it, and they put it out there, and then once it’s turned over to folks in agencies, for a variety of reasons, some of which relates to the fact that folks are really not trained in large scale organizational change and implementation, the execution of a good idea is flawed and the results that we expected don’t happen, because we really didn’t do the program as it was designed. And that was the lesson I guess we have to learn from the institutionalization of the mentally ill. It was one of the stools on the, one of the legs on the stool, so to speak, was the capacity in the community to have, supervise, and oversee the people released, and that never was completed, and we lost those folks in the community, in the boarding houses and the single room occupancy hotels in cities and they just disappeared.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, our program is called today the Challenges of Justice Reinvestment: The Impact on Parole and Probation because we see the possibility of a connection between that experience, the idea in terms of the institutionalization, dealing with mentally ill, the fact that there was not a sufficient infrastructure created to deal with all these people coming out. So we’re saying today that there’s the possibility that with justice reinvestment or reorganizing the way that we conduct business within the criminal justice system in terms of evidence based practices, in terms, again, of justice reinvestment, that there’s the possibility that the same thing may happen with parole and probation agencies that are not given sufficient staffing, money, resources, to deal with an increasing parole and probation population. Is that the connection?

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. That’s kind of the nub of the problem. Again, we have a situation with our prisons in the United States, they’re massively overcrowded, they’re not good places to house people with addiction problems, lack of education, and a whole variety of other problems. So the justice reinvestment model is saying we need to reduce those prison populations, get people out or don’t send them in, in the first place who are lower risk, nonviolent, less serious offenders, and handle them in a different way, thereby reducing prison populations, and if you can reduce those by enough you can actually close institutions and save money. And the second part of that logic is that a portion of that money would be reallocated or reinvested in community corrections to build the capacity to handle these folks. Now, and that’s a great idea, and where it has happened it has worked pretty well, if we look at the state of Texas and their experience. But part of the challenge is that the probation and parole system in this country is so overwhelmed. We have 70% of the correctional, adult correctional population is under the supervision of probation and parole, which surprises some people though, because they think we’ve locked everybody up over the last 30 years. Well, we have, but we’ve also put a lot more people under community control on probation and parole.

LEONARD SIPES: I think in the seven million, the correctional population between prisons and jails, it’s two million in community supervision, it’s five million. Am I in the ballpark?

BILL BURRELL: That’s right. And what’s interesting is if you look at the historical numbers, you go back to the early 1980s when the Bureau of Justice Statistics starting reporting on probation on parole populations, we have had 70% of the population ever since that time. So it’s been consistent over decades. When you look at the impact of the war on drugs in the 80s probation actually absorbed a greater amount of the results of that war on drugs than did the prison system. So we are, in my experience, when I was with probation in New Jersey, our individual caseloads went from 110 per officer in 1981 to 189 per officer in 1988, which was directly the result of changes in our laws and enforcement practices around drugs. So we have to remember that the base that we’re looking to focus on for these justice reinvestment efforts is pretty resource poor, pretty lacking the capacity to really do the work for the population they have right now, not to mention any increased number of people coming in. And one of the challenges is when you look at diverting people out of prison these could be higher risk people with more needs and problems and demands on a system. It is currently unable to really effectively address the population that it has.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in Washington DC we do have caseloads of 50 or less per parole and probation agent, what we call community supervision officers. But my experience in talking to people from throughout the country, as a result of the radio and television shows that we’ve done and when I go out and do training, it’s no usual they tell for there to be a ratio of 150 or more for every parole and probation agent out there. Now, I do know there are some jurisdictions where it is fairly close to 50 to 1, but my guess, and this is nothing more than a guess, is that the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to that’s not their experience, the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to are operating 125, 150 cases per parole and probation agent or more. So when you have caseloads of that size it’s awfully hard to do cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s awfully hard to really get into the lives of these individuals, encourage them to do better, encourage them to look at a different way of doing things, encouraging them to get drug treatment, mental health treatment, vocational programs, encourage them to find jobs and help them find jobs to do the home visits. All of these things are very labor-intensive and very difficult to do when you have caseloads of 150 to 1.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. Well, you said it very well and my experience echoes yours. When I go to the American Probation and Parole Association conferences twice a year and other conferences and through my consulting and work with APPA I talk to a lot of folks around the country. And the ideal caseload or the optimal caseload of 50 to 1 is a very rare occurrence, unfortunately. And we do see lots of departments, particularly where you have states with county-based probation departments, these caseloads tend to be much higher than recommended, in some cases, as you said, 150 or more. And it’s hard to even keep track of the activities of those folks, no less spend the quality time you need to with them to get to know them, get to know their problems, connect them with resources, follow up, and so on. It’s just it can’t be done with those large caseloads.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, I’m hearing the same thing. When I do the radio shows I would imagine the most popular response to the radio shows is, “Len, I listen to you talk about justice reinvestment, I listen to you talk about evidence-based practices, I’m 100% behind you. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we want to do. We want to have a good relationship with the people under supervision. We want to encourage them to do better. We want to get them involved in programs. We want to work with their families. We want to work with the faith based community. We want to do all of these things. We simply don’t have the resources to do them.” So if that’s true, why is there such a disconnect between the lofty sense of what I hear from my very good friends at the Department of Justice or Pew or Urban or Vera or lots of other organizations, American Probation and Parole Association, Council of State Governments, all of us are solidly behind justice reinvestment, all of us are solidly behind evidence-based practices, so why is there such a disconnect between what all of us want and what the reality is?

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s probably the 64,000 dollar question. I think some of it has to do with a disconnect between community corrections and policymakers, legislators, governors, officers and so on. We’re kind of a stepchild of the justice system, despite the fact that we own 70% of the workload. You don’t, you can’t go to a probation department and see caseload crowding like you can go to a prison or jail and look at the tiers and see people crowded, double, triple bunked and things like that. We tend to be seen as a, what I would say, a magical expanding resource, that more cases you give us we just expand and we take them in. Well, we put them on the books, but we really are not capable of keeping up with the workload demands. So as you add more bodies to this system the amount of time spent with each one goes down, the quality of that time generally goes down. So you’re diminishing the capacity of the system to do what it needs to do, but it’s very hard to see that physically. And we also don’t do a very good job as a field in terms of communicating performance information, outcomes, results, process measures and so on. We don’t really do a very good job of that.

So it’s hard to convince people of the nature of our problem and the extents of our problem, because we tend to be out of sight, out of mind, we don’t communicate well, we tend to in the field have a sense that we don’t have political and public support for the work that we do. And, fortunately, the research and the polling work that I’ve seen suggests exactly the opposite, that we do things that are valued by the community, and I think that is becoming more and more clear over the last few years, that we create public value for the community and we need to connect that value to the need for support, political support, community support, resource support and so on, to make that case that we do need the resources. We can do a lot better if we’ve got the capacity, the number of officers and staff we need to supervise in cases, and what I also like to say is the capability, the skills, the knowledge, the training, the resources for treatment and so on that will enable to effectively supervise those folks that we’ve already got in our caseloads. And if you want to do justice reinvestment, which everybody seems to be on board with, I just was reading that I think the 27th state just signed up for it, Utah, so better than half the country has signed onto this. And we need to figure out a way to communicate that we could be creating another deinstitutionalization type of situation if we begin pushing people out of prisons and jails into probation and parole caseloads without the capacity to provide effective supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: And what would that do, Bill? Before the program we were talking about the danger of what?

BILL BURRELL: Well, if you put more people and potentially higher risk people into probation caseloads the amount and the quality of supervision is going to decline and the inevitable result of that will be more crime in the community committed by people under the supervision of probation and parole officers. And what keeps me up at night is that the blame will then be placed on the probation and parole agencies, “Well, you didn’t supervise these people effectively.” Well, part of the problem is we have a caseload of 150 and no one, I don’t care who you are, can supervise that size caseload effectively.

LEONARD SIPES: Our guest –

BILL BURRELL: So this…. Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me reintroduce you, Bill. We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guest today is Bill Burrell. He’s been at our microphones multiple times before. He’s an independent corrections management consultant and author of a pretty interesting book. – oh, I’m sorry at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L at, william.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at Bill, you’ve been dealing with parole and probation agencies throughout the country in terms of your consultant role. You spent years with the New Jersey I think Department of Parole and Probation, is that correct?

BILL BURRELL: The Jersey court system, yeah, probation.

LEONARD SIPES: The Jersey court system, probation. So you have decades of experience in this, you’re out and about, you talk to people from throughout the country, you’re very well integrated with our friends at the American Probation and Parole Association, you go to their conferences, so you’re hearing this from more than a couple people.

BILL BURRELL: Yes, yes. And then this is kind of the theme I hear from almost everybody. There’s a frustration because they’ve read about and been trained on evidence-based practices, which is a pretty powerful vehicle for improving the results of what we do, but then they look at the, their organization, their department, and they look at their caseloads and they look at their lack of training resources and so on and they say, “We can’t do it. We don’t have the ability to move up to this new level of performance that we believe in, we think it’s a good idea, we’d like to do.” But it’s the ability to implement EBP, which is a much abused term these days, I think people throw it around very loosely, but really we’re talking about a set of practices that if they are implemented will reduce the risk of recidivism by the population that we supervise, reliably anywhere between 10% to 15%, 20% reductions in recidivism, which is significant. So people are looking at that and saying, “Gee, we’d like to be able to that, we would like to do our job better, we just don’t see how we can do it.”

And some of that relates to another issue that really hasn’t hit the radar screen of too many people yet. We’ve talked a lot about mass incarceration in this country. Some people are now starting to talk about mass supervision, those five million people that are under probation and parole supervision, how many of them really need to be on probation? Are there low-risk offenders there? Are there minor drug offenders? Are there people – there’re lots of people in my experience that’ll get placed on probation just to enable the court to collect fines and restitution fees and so on. So how much of that five million people is the chaff, so to speak, of the caseload that could be handled in some other fashion?

LEONARD SIPES: But I think that’s the point that most of the folks, again, that I just mentioned, from Pew, from Urban, and, again, are good friends and people who were completely supportive of, from Department of Justice and from other organizations will simply say you take those lower level individuals and you do, quote, unquote, “something else with them”. Their supervised by kiosks, they’re supervised administratively, that we have little contact with people at the lower end of the spectrum so we have the resources to devote towards people who do pose a clear and present danger or a risk to public safety. And you do that through objective risk and needs instruments and properly validated for local conditions and there you go, voila, the problem is solved.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. In fact, Vince Schiraldi, who was the Commissioner of Probation in New York City up until recently, and Mike Jacobson, who you may have encountered, who was also the Commissioner of Probation for a while, they just wrote a piece called “Could Less Be More When it Comes to Probation Supervision?”, and talking about reducing the amount of people, low-risk people on supervision, and those that are there, reducing the amount of resources that they devote to them. And New York was one of the, I think the first, or the most prominent department to do kiosk supervision. And they had at one point almost two thirds of their population was reporting on kiosks and the re-arrest rate was like 1.5%. It was no different than the general citywide re-arrest rate. So we have lots of folks that did stupid things, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, whatever the scenario you want to present, are really not a risk. These are people that we should have the minimum amount to do with, collect whatever financial obligations we want from them, or whatever else we need to do, and then get them out of the system as quickly as possible, because we’re learning that we can actually make things worse by supervising those people, having them hang out with high-risk offenders in the waiting room in the probation department. Well, guess what. It’s usually the bad guys who make the good guys bad, not the other way around.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, we’re also told that trying to help individuals at the lower end of the continuum also poses a problem, because if you have a person who is a lower risk offender, the judge orders drug treatment for that individual, well, that’s just money that’s taken up that could be reallocated towards a higher risk individual. And if he or she doesn’t complete that treatment or they’re going half the time or they’re creating a problem within the group, bam, they’re revoked and out in a prison.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. And we have lots of places where judges and prosecutors almost reflexively give probation, and they put on lots of conditions, special conditions of supervision, most of which they have no intention of enforcing, but it makes them feel good, makes them feel like we’re being tough on crime. Well, you got to realize that every one of those people you place on probation has a set of conditions that a probation has to enforce, and, ultimately, they can be brought back into court for failure to do that, to live up to those conditions, and potentially go to jail.

LEONARD SIPES: But help me, because I’m struggling with this, because if we did that then are the folks who at the national level are right? What they’re saying is, is that take that good percentage of your caseload – you just said that two thirds of the probation caseload in New York City was being supervised by kiosk and they had the same re-arrest rate as the general population. Then the question now becomes, is why aren’t we taking that I don’t know what percentage, two third, one third, one half, whatever that is of the lower risk offenders and doing something else with them besides regular and parole, then why aren’t we doing that? That’s what the people at the national level would say. It’s that it’s not a capacity issue; it’s the lack of a willingness on our part to do, quote, unquote, “something else with lower level offenders”.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s the I think the new breaking issue right now is focusing on the sentencing decision and the plea bargaining decision and introducing risk assessment into that. And there were just a series of things in the paper; Attorney General Holder came out apparently against using risk assessment in sentencing, which is kind of going against the tide of where the field seems to be going in terms of evidence-based decision-making. But the sentencing decision usually focuses on the seriousness of the crime and the extent of the offender’s prior involvement, prior record, and that’s pretty much it. And that really doesn’t get to the question of risk. To some extent prior record is a driver of risk, but there’re a lot of other factors that are involved. So we have people sentencing offenders for lots of reasons that have little or nothing to do with their risk of reoffending. Now, there may be other objectives of sentencing you want to accomplish, deterrents and punishment and so on, and we have to accomplish, accommodate those. But until we can figure out a way to help judges and defense attorneys and public defenders and DAs get a sense of the level of risk and sentence accordingly, we’re not going to get a reduction in the number of low-risk offenders that are going into probation.

LEONARD SIPES: But they could say the onus is on us. They could say that, “Okay, fine. We imposed all these restrictions. You do with them what you think is permissible.” Again, going back to the example of New York City probation where two thirds are in kiosks. They’re simply going to say, “Hey. We did what we think is proper, now you make the decision in terms of how you handle them.” And all we have to do is shift massive amounts of people into these lower level categories and suddenly we have the resources for the higher level people. What they’re going to say is that’s our job not theirs.

BILL BURRELL: Well, yes, there’s a good deal of truth to that, but one of the problems we see is judges will impose a probation sentence, sometimes three, four, five years, with lots of conditions, and send it over to probation, and probation is obligated to enforce those conditions, and sometimes that’s not possible by putting them on a kiosk kind of reporting. So some of this has to do with the use of probation in terms of the length of time, the number of conditions, even beyond the question of whether they should be on probation at all, because each one of those cases consumes probation resources.


BILL BURRELL: I had a discussion with one of our judges in New Jersey years ago and his favorite sentence was to put somebody on probation until the restitution is collected. So all he wanted was the money. He wanted to get the money to the victim of the crime.


BILL BURRELL: He really didn’t want the person being supervised by a probation officer.


BILL BURRELL: But I, and I suggested to him there was another mechanism in our criminal code that enabled us in probation to collect that money for him and hold that person accountable without me having to devote a professional probation officer to that case. He said, “Gee, I had no idea.” Well, so shame on me too, you know, that we weren’t really educating folks about the implications of those probation sentences and then also that there were other mechanisms within the criminal code to accomplish the objective that he was looking to accomplish.

LEONARD SIPES: So in the final four minutes, basically what you’re saying, Bill, is that we, within the criminal justice system throughout the country, need to have a very powerful examination as to how we conduct business, how we do what we do, and if we’re unwilling to do something else with lower level individuals then at least give us the resources, the caseloads, the treatment resources, the training, the money to do it well.

BILL BURRELL: Yes. But I would first argue that we need to look at the front end of the system, the whole criminal processing up to the point of sentencing, diversion of low-risk offenders, presentencing into treatment programs if they need them, really begin to sort through that pile of offenders coming into the system and figure out who’s really dangerous, who are we really scared of, who really needs to be punished by going to prison, who are those people with serious problems that need to be supervised by probation officers to get them into treatment and so on. And that group that I call the chaff, the low-risk, minor offenders that we’re just mad at, we’re not scared of, we’re just mad at them, let’s not push them father into the system. Let’s find other ways of dealing with them in the community so that the caseload of a probation department is really moderate and high-risk people. The low-risk people for the most part never get there.

And that means a much more systematic, disciplined sorting process in the presentencing arena so that we’ve taken them out as much as we can so that what we’re left with is the people who really do need supervision. And then when you begin to think about the justice reinvestment side of things, because you go back a couple years, the Pew Public Safety Performance Project published a report, it talked about the amount of money, how the corrections dollar is allocated, and 12% of the corrections dollar was going to probation and parole, even though we have 70% of the population. Most expensive parole supervision was 7,000 dollars a year. And the average prison

BILL BURRELL: Prison cost –


BILL BURRELL: Was six or seven times that. I said, “I don’t –”


BILL BURRELL: “I don’t even want all of that difference. Just give me, just double what I’m getting and I could do amazing things.”

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line between it, the bottom line is that our people within parole and probation throughout the country want to do a good job, they’re dedicated to what they’re doing, they’re very important to our public safety, they’re very important to limiting the expenditures of tax paid dollars, they’re dedicated to justice reinvestment, they’re dedicated to evidence-based practices, they simply want a decent shot of doing that job well. That’s the bottom line, correct?

BILL BURRELL: Absolutely. You don’t stay in the field of probation and parole for very long if you’re not interested in helping people. And what we’ve found out from the research on burnout, for example, is that it’s not working with the offenders that burns out probation and parole officers; it’s impossible policies and procedures and organizational structures, which includes very large caseloads, that effectively prohibit them from doing the job that they came in to do.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, it’s a fascinating conversation. As always, I invite you back to the microphones any time, because you provide a sense of clarity from the field that sometimes we don’t hear from the national organizations. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today has been Bill Burrell, independent corrections management consultant and author. You can reach at William, W-I-L-L-I-A-M.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.



Offenders and the Affordable Care Act-The Urban Institute

Offenders and the Affordable Care Act-The Urban Institute

DC Public Safety Radio

Radio show at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s topic, Offenders and the Affordable Care Act, something of real importance to those of us in the criminal justice system and throughout the country. It’s a real pleasure to have Kamala Mallik-Kane; she is a research associate, Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute,, Kamala Mallik-Kane, welcome to DC Public Safety.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Hi, Len. I’m glad to be here.

LEONARD SIPES: Hi. This is exciting, because we have a new study that Urban is going to come out with next week talking about the Affordable Care Act and offenders, how many enroll, and what happens. Tell me about that.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Sure. This is a study that is funded by the National Institute of Corrections, and we are very excited to be doing this work, because it gives us an important preview of what might be happening under the ACA as states are expanding their access to Medicaid. In our study we look at two states that were early adopters of Medicaid expansion. We’re looking at what these states did before 2014, so that we can have some insights about what may happen as Medicaid expansion moves forward post-ACA.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, those of us in the criminal justice system, this is the Holy Grail, and I’ve seen that term “Holy Grail” used in a wide variety of articles. We have said for decades, those of us throughout the criminal justice system throughout the United States, that people in the criminal justice system, offenders, people on supervision, are not getting mental health treatment, they’re not getting substance abuse treatment. I’ve seen surveys that put it at 10% or less within some state correctional systems. People on the outside, again, are not getting substance abuse treatment; they’re not getting mental health treatment. We all see the potential of the Affordable Care Act as being something that’s going to revolutionize the way that we deliver services. Is there a snowball’s chance in Hades of that actually happening?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: I’m optimistic. I think there’s a good chance of that happening. I think it’ll take a while, but I think that this is definitely a step in the right direction. We know that so many people in the criminal justice system suffer from substance abuse problems, mental illness, and various chronic physical conditions, and we know that before the ACA, in most places, that they would be released from prison without health insurance. So what would happen is somebody comes into prison or jail, they get a certain level of treatment while they’re in prison or jail, they get stabilized and they manage these conditions, then they get released without health insurance. And so within a couple of months they are no longer receiving treatment for these conditions and they can spiral out of control.

LEONARD SIPES: When I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety for 14 years the staff there explained to me that mental health treatment was designed to do nothing more than stabilize their experience while in prison or while in jail, it had little to do with stabilizing that experience in the community. So that’s what you’re talking about in terms of in many cases getting access to mental health treatment in prisons or in jails. It’s not designed for them to transfer to the community and for some sort of services to follow. It’s purely to help them maintain their sanity in the correctional facility.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. My understanding is that many prison and jail systems provide people with a small supply of what they like to call walking meds, and sometimes may set people up with a prescription to get a refill at a community-based pharmacy, but we all know if you don’t show up at a pharmacy with insurance this going to cost you an outrageous amount of money.


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: And so having insurance is a key step for people to be able to get those medications in an affordable way.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, there is I think a dollar amount stipulation, that they have to earn less than a certain amount every year to be eligible for the Affordable Healthcare Act.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. With the ACA that is 138% of the poverty level and to qualify for the subsidies for the ACA exchanges I think you can be up to 400% of poverty. And programs in the States vary with respect to what their income thresholds are, because Medicaid is a combined federal state program, and so the states have some discretion too in setting those limits.

LEONARD SIPES: I’ve seen figures like 16,000 dollars, 18,000 dollars, less than that, and I would imagine it does vary from state to state, because, as you said, it’s a combined federal-state program.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. That sounds about right to me. And certainly in the pre-ACA time period that we studied the thresholds for the two states that we looked at, Oregon and Connecticut, were quite different.

LEONARD SIPES: Again, and it’ll be the last time I’ll beat this point to death, is that we see, those of us in the criminal justice system are so excited about Urban, the fact that you’re coming out with this report next week. I’d really urge everybody to go to the website at the Urban Institute,,, because this whole idea is, again, we in the system understand that they need treatment, we in the system understand that oftentimes the experience throughout the United States is that they’re not getting treatment. We believe that if they got treatment they would do a lot better, recidivate less, cost taxpayers fewer dollars, cost victims of crime – there would be fewer victims of crime. We see this as a huge win for people in the criminal justice system and our ability to control cost.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. I think there’s a lot of research out there showing things like substance abuse treatment with aftercare being effective at engaging people in treatment after release and keeping their reoffending rates lower and similar things with mental health treatment. I think that what we tend to see in the justice system are pretty small-scale programs that are effective but serve a pretty small slice of the total population coming out. But we know there’s such a lot of unmet need. And that’s what makes the potential under the ACA very exciting is that insurance can be extended to a huge swath of individuals who are returning. As long as they meet the program eligibility requirements this is something that doesn’t affect 1% or 2% of people coming out but the majority.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. So we know that the, I would say the majority of people caught up in the criminal justice system have substance abuse history, certainly. I’ve seen self-reporting studies that say 55% self-report mental health issues in the past. I’ve seen studies that say; suggest that 16%, up to 16% of people have diagnosable histories of mental health problems. But physical health problems, if you throw all that in, I think we’re talking about certainly the majority and probably more than that of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: At Urban we did a study called Returning Home several years back that interviewed people as they were leaving prison and then followed up with them in the community at several times over the course of a year. And when we did interview them in prison we found that when you looked across the spectrum of the types of issues that someone could have it was eight in ten men had at least one chronic physical or mental or substance abuse condition, it was like nine in ten women. So it’s really a huge swath of the population. Of course the severity of these conditions can vary, but in some of the, in some other data that I’ve seen I’ve seen numbers I think around something like 60% having conditions that require active treatment or management.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. So they leave prison, they’re typically uninsured, and their health deteriorates, right?


LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And so the bottom line in all of this is, we in the criminal justice system care, but I’m not quite sure the average person out there sees this as that big of an issue, but it really is to them, is it not, in terms of holding down costs of correctional care, holding down re-victimizations?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Sure. I think that the most obvious connection that you can make for an average layperson who’s looking at this is to think about substance abuse and relapse. When someone is clean they are not stealing or victimizing people or doing other harmful things just for the purpose of being able to obtain more drugs. When somebody has relapsed they slide into those behaviors again. I’m not saying that everybody who’s addicted does these things, but it’s a common enough pattern that substance abuse is one of these key drivers of this revolving door phenomenon that we see in the justice system.

LEONARD SIPES: So we all agree that this could have a huge impact. I said I would not bring that topic back up again. What can be done on the part of the criminal justice system? I mean what we have to then, and I’ve seen in some articles where jails and prisons are actually creating staff to help the men enroll, that they’re being very proactive in terms of getting as many people enrolled as possible, but this involves a lot of effort on the part of the criminal justice system in terms of discharge and release planning, treatment referrals, care coordination, so this, the criminal justice system should take an active role in terms of enrolling as many people as possible.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Yeah. I agree with that. And I think that states and localities are doing a number of these various things. They’re engaged in some level of release planning. They make treatment referrals for individuals. I think some of this is triaged so that you’re putting more resources into the people that have greater needs. But Medicaid enrollment is something that is being implemented into release planning curricula or programming in criminal justice systems around the country.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. The report that’s coming out next week – is this, do we have specific findings in terms of how many enroll and what happens? Or what is the purpose of the study? It is it describing what it is that you’re doing or will it have impact findings?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Sure. So our study has two broad goals. One of them is to understand more about the enrollment process, how do you get inmates connected to Medicaid, what are some of the challenges that systems and individuals face, and what are the rates of enrollment when people have the opportunity to apply for Medicaid. So that’s the first part of our study. The second part of our study is a little further down the road. We’re looking at impacts post-release with regard to when people get enrolled in Medicaid, do they utilize Medicaid health services, and are there impacts post-release, one to two years later on employment and recidivism.

LEONARD SIPES: You and I were talking before we hit the record button is that I remember a national researcher, I’m sorry, a national reporter reporting for a national publication was trying to do an article that he was calling ObamaCare and Offenders or ObamaCare and Inmates, and he said he found a general reluctance on the part of those of us in the criminal justice system to talk about this, because we don’t know what the impact will be, we don’t have a clear understanding as to whether or not this will have a huge impact. What he was heard on an off the record basis from so many people was that just because you have health insurance doesn’t mean you act on it, doesn’t mean that you go out and get the mental healthcare that you need, doesn’t mean that you go out and get the substance abuse care you need. You may use it to fund your physical infirmaries, but not necessarily mental health or substance abuse. So we really don’t know what the impact is and we won’t know until your research is completed, correct?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: That’s right. I think that’s a very valid point, just because you have insurance doesn’t mean that overnight you change the way that you seek services or get care or take care of yourself. But having insurance I think is a necessary first step to being able to use preventative health services, to be able to use mental health treatment services and substance abuse treatment that’s out in the community.

LEONARD SIPES: And this study that you all are doing is in Oregon in terms of the prison stage and a jail study in Connecticut.


LEONARD SIPES: And how – was it difficult to get them involved in this?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Well, in Oregon what we did was we looked historically at an effort that the Department of Corrections had implemented. In Oregon before the ACA Oregon had a very interesting Medicaid program for what’s called childless adults. Have you heard that phrase or should I talk through that?

LEONARD SIPES: That’s fine.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Okay. Just that historically Medicaid had been a program for children and parents and people with disabilities and people with some specific eligibility criteria in addition to being low income. And before the ACA Oregon had expanded its Medicaid program to be more broadly a low income adults program, but because of limited funds in the state what they did was to have a lottery process so that it would be fair who they could provide this to. And so they had been doing this lottery process from about 2008, and we looked at what was going on in the prisons in 2010 and 2011 with respect to signing up for this lottery process, and then if people were selected at random to apply for Medicaid, how many of them did apply given that opportunity.

LEONARD SIPES: We’re more than halfway through the program. What we’re talking about today, ladies and gentlemen, is offenders and the Affordable Care Act. At our microphones is Kamala Mallik-Kane; she is a research associate with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute,,, coming out with a new study report next week talking about what they plan on looking at in terms of how many enroll in the Affordable Care Act and what happens afterwards, correct?


LEONARD SIPES: And that’s exciting, because we in the system are really, really looking forward to these findings. Okay. Some of the challenges of getting and keeping inmates enrolled in Medicaid, now, again, you’re talking jail, you’re talking prison, you’re not talking about necessarily community supervision, but some of the releases could be on community supervision at the same time, right?


LEONARD SIPES: Okay. Tell me about that.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: About community supervision in particular or –?

LEONARD SIPES: Well, federal, the federal and state Medicaid rules. You’re not allowed to use Medicaid while incarcerated, a few states let you stay covered but suspend your benefits, so some of this gets technical in terms of the challenges of getting and keeping inmates enrolled in Medicaid.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: That’s right. The timing really matters, timing it appropriately with release so that – the Medicaid rules don’t permit people to be, to receive Medicaid benefits while they’re incarcerated. And this is an old provision in the Medicaid program and one that’s really intended to guard against Medicaid billings that are inappropriate.


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: But what happens when –

LEONARD SIPES: So they get double billing because they’re already getting healthcare within the prison setting.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. And I think as a way of sort of ensuring that there’s not a community provider that’s billing for somebody –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: That’s not out in the community.


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: But I think the difficulty for people who are frequently in and out of the justice system is that the information technology systems that are out there aren’t particularly good at keeping track of when people are in and out of jail. And so this is an issue that a lot of states are grappling with. I believe that there’s funding through the ACA for Medicaid systems to upgrade their information technology systems for a whole lot of reasons. But places that are attuned to this issue of correctional populations and their need for Medicaid and the challenges of timing things correctly so that the Medicaid system is aware of when people are being released from prison so that they can have benefits when they’re in the community is –

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. But this is specifically – we’re not talking about necessarily medical care within a correctional facility. We’re talking about giving them access to Medicaid so they can get treatment in the community.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. Because in general inmates receive healthcare from the correctional system when they’re in, and so Medicaid is not – the purpose of the Medicaid is to have continuity of care from the prison or jail setting to the community so that –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: They can continue that care when they’re in the community.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, that’s an important distinction. But what if they don’t get like say mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment while in prison, because the studies I’ve seen put that figure pretty low, at around 10% or lower, for most state systems. So what if you’re getting a, what if you’re getting mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment in prison, would Medicaid still provide funding for those particular programs while in prison?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: For mental or for substance abuse treatment in prison?


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: No. I don’t believe Medicaid funds that.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. All right, so we’re talking about getting them enrolled and when they get out to the community and seeing what happens, and your study is looking specifically at one jail and one prison.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: We’re looking at prisons in Oregon and we’re looking at some jail facilities in Connecticut.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. The level of interest, so we find folks in the criminal justice system are really interested in this, what about the offenders themselves?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. In Oregon what we saw was that given the opportunity – so, again, let me just go back to what I was saying about –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: The way you had to apply before the ACA in Oregon was you had to two stage process. The first stage was that you put your name what they called a reservation list, and so about half of the inmates who were leaving Oregon prisons at the time of our study put their names on that reservation list. Then the state did a random drawing and then based on who they invited at that point then people got mailed a Medicaid application and then they had 45 days to fill out the application, turn in their documentation, and then get it reviewed by the Medicaid agency. What we found that was very interesting in Oregon was that about 4 in 10 of the inmates that got invited turned in their application and this was identical to the level of participation in the general population in Oregon.

LEONARD SIPES: So 4 in 10, and that was indicative of the population across the board that was eligible, not necessarily for people caught up in the criminal justice system.


LEONARD SIPES: And, okay, findings on Medicaid impacts. So you’re working on this data and you’re collecting this data. Are you aware of anybody else out there in terms of your literature review who has looked at this issue previously?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: We’ve seen smaller studies from a couple of years back –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Looking at specific subpopulations. So I know that there are studies of people who are seriously mentally ill and their rates of Medicaid enrolment and how that impacts arrest, for example.

LEONARD SIPES: Do we have any findings?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: I believe that they found a lower rate of rearrest among the people that were enrolled, but I don’t remember too, too clearly to talk about it more than that.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. But in essence, as long as they meet guidelines, as long as they meet the state Medicaid guidelines they’re eligible, as long as they’re under a certain – I know the percentage of gross poverty, whatever – it’s even confusing to me. If they make, what I’ve seen commonly thrown out in newspaper throughout the country, if they make less than 16, 18,000 dollars, it depends upon it at state level, they’re eligible. And so there’s no question about eligibility. You’ve just got to be under that threshold.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. And when we looked at the applicants in Oregon we found that when people got their applications into the Medicaid agency that about 8 in 10 of them qualified, and that was higher than in the general population, because there was more poverty –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Among the people who were leaving prison.

LEONARD SIPES: So 8 in 10 are eligible. And so that gives us hope that those of us in the criminal justice system can find sources of funding for substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. This gives people a ticket to be able to –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Access those services in the community.

LEONARD SIPES: So what is the sense between yourself or your peers at Urban in terms of what the impact could be down the road? I mean you’re talking to people, again, specifically in Connecticut and Oregon, but you’re probably talking to other people throughout the country. You were quoted in a rather extensive article, ObamaCare for Ex-Inmates: Is Health Insurance an Antidote to Crime?, and I think that was from the Christian Science Monitor, a very powerful article talking about how people around the country feel about the Affordable Care Act and what its potential could be. So what are your perceptions from talking to people?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: I think there’s a sense of a lot of potential and a lot of work ahead of us. I think, yeah, I like to think of having the insurance card as being sort of a ticket that you need to enter, but you need to do a whole lot of other things in order to make the change happen. I think some of the challenges are getting people to use healthcare differently, and I think that involves education.


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: One of the things in our Connecticut study was as they were doing enrollment there was an eligibility worker who talked with individuals about what kinds of services they could go out and get in the community. But another thing that we saw as we observed these recruitment sessions in Connecticut was that there was some confusion about the program, there was confusion about whether people had Medicaid or not. We had people in our sessions that we felt we had screened and thought them to be needing Medicaid who said, “No, no, I already have it. I don’t need to stay here and I don’t need to apply for this.” So I think people knowing what their status is and knowing how their perception affects what they do out in the community, that’s an important thing for us to figure out.

LEONARD SIPES: So there’s an educational process on the part of the system. This is not going to be an easy process for those of us in the criminal justice system. It’s going to take a lot of work to explain what the rules are, to figure out if they are eligible, to sign them up, to, and, again, try to encourage them to participate if they have funding. So it’s a multi-step process between correctional facilities and community correction facilities and parole and probation agencies, so this is going to involve a lot of work.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: And I would add that also community based health organizations have to be a partner in these conversations, because I think some of the disconnect that we may see are that there are treatment providers that have been serving the criminal justice population that have not been previously Medicaid providers and they may need to do things about the way they run their organizations in order to be qualified Medicaid providers so that the insurance can actually be used to pay for services in those facilities.

LEONARD SIPES: I didn’t even think about that. So not only must the criminal justice system gear up in terms of implementing this, the providers need to gear up to implement it.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right. There was a story in the New York Times recently about an old Medicaid rule about just which types of residential substance abuse treatment facilities they could reimburse or not. And so I think there needs to be that exchange between the provider network that’s out there and the Medicaid structure to figure out whether these are going to be reimbursable services.

LEONARD SIPES: Why is that a question though? I thought it would be pretty much straightforward.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: I would’ve thought that too. But I think that these kinds of details, you have a population that’s been receiving typically non-Medicaid services –


KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: That are now coming into the Medicaid world, and so I think these details haven’t yet been worked out.

LEONARD SIPES: And we need to remind the audience that only half the states are involved in the Affordable Care Act provision, so half the people in the country listening to this are going to say, “Well, yes, this applies to me.” but half it doesn’t apply to the offenders within their states.


LEONARD SIPES: And so what’s the final analysis? In the final minutes of the program, I mean we in the criminal justice system do have to gear up, correct? We probably have to add staff; we probably have to add training. A significant burden falls on us to be sure that people who are eligible enroll. But that’s going to require a lot of effort and probably staffing and training on our part.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Right, and a certain amount of coordination with the Medicaid agency. A lot of what we observed in our Connecticut Study and a lot of what was possible in the Connecticut Study was the result of a year’s long collaboration between the Department of Corrections and their Department of Social Services to establish procedures and workarounds that would let the correctional population enroll.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. And that’s the other part of it is that we need to need to reach out to all the providers out there, because some who may be eligible to be providers may not want to take upon an offender based population. So we need to do a lot of work on our part to convince people who are the providers to get involved in this and to be sure that they are attuned to our needs and the needs of the people coming out.

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Yeah, absolutely.

LEONARD SIPES: And what else? What is the general sense to the public that they need to understand? You’re talking to aides to mayors, aides to governors through this program. What do they need to understand?

KAMALA MALLIK-KANE: Sure. I think that this is a great opportunity, because I think for years we have all known that substance abuse and mental illness are problems that have been feeding this revolving door cycle that we’ve had in our justice system, and you’ve had people coming in with problems, the problems don’t get resolved, and then they get released without any resources to deal with them. So I think that this is a great opportunity to begin addressing those problems that can slow down this revolving door of recidivism.

LEONARD SIPES: I couldn’t agree with you more. Our guest today has been Kamala Mallik-Kane; she is a research associate, Justice Policy Center, the Urban Institute,, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.


Fundamental Change in the Justice System-Adam Gelb-Pew

Fundamental Change in the Justice System-Adam Gelb-Pew

DC Public Safety Radio


Radio program at

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we got a treat for you today. Adam Gelb, the Director of the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. We’re going to be talking about fundamental change within the criminal justice system. I want to read briefly from Adam’s bio. Adam Gelb directs Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, which helps states advance policies and practices in adult and juvenile sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control correctional costs. As project lead, Adam oversees Pew’s assistance to states to seek a greater public safety return on their corrections spending. He also supervises a vigorous research portfolio that highlights strategies for reducing recidivism while cutting costs. Adam frequently speaks to the media about national trends and state innovations, that’s why we have Adam by our microphones.

And before we start the program, I think that Adam and Pew are probably the principle spokespeople for fundamental change within the criminal justice system in this country right now. There are a lot of groups out there that are doing wonderful things, Council of State Governments, Urban Institute, the US Department of Justice. Lots of organizations are really promoting a fundamental change within the criminal justice system. But it’s Adam and Pew that seems to get the press and Adam and Pew that seem to get the notice, thus making Adam probably in my opinion the principle spokesperson for fundamental change within the criminal justice system. Adam Gelb, welcome to DC Public Safety.

ADAM GELB: Thank you very much, Len. It’s great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Do you disagree with me when I say that? Pew is on the forefront, Pew because it is Pew. It’s not government so you don’t have to be overly careful. Pew is out there leading fundamental change within the criminal justice system. Do you agree or disagree?

ADAM GELB: You are very kind and generous. We are not doing any of the things that we’re doing without the partnerships with the organizations that you mentioned.


ADAM GELB: And it’s terrific to be part of what really now is a movement –


ADAM GELB: To fundamentally change the criminal justice system and I think we’re seeing that happen.

LEONARD SIPES: Len, we are almost upon the 20th anniversary of the Crime Bill signing, right, back in 1994?

ADAM GELB: Uh huh.

LEONARD SIPES: There was an historic landmark piece of legislation passed of more police – you remember the 100,000 police –?


LEONARD SIPES: And Midnight basketball prevention?

ADAM GELB: But also 7.9 billion dollars that the federal government put out for states to increase their prison populations. And here we are 20 years later, a lot of prisons have built, right, we got to a point in 2008 where 1 out every 100 adults in this country was behind bars –


ADAM GELB: And 1 out of every 31 was on some form of correctional, under some form of correctional control. No doubt increased incarceration helped reduce the crime rate over this period and nobody –

LEONARD SIPES: And there’s been an almost continuous 20 year reduction in crime.

ADAM GELB: That’s right. And nobody really challenges the notion that increased incarceration helped achieve some of that crime reduction. But the best research on the question shows that about 30%, maybe a third of the crime drop, can be attributable to increased incarceration, the rest has come from other things, and also significant consensus now that we’re past the tipping point, where more and more incarceration is not the best way to reduce crime.

LEONARD SIPES: There’s bipartisan support now across the board in terms of both sides of the aisle, so the issue was not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democratic issue. There is really significant support from both sides. Every governor in this country has had a conversation with their state corrections administrator in terms of you got to control correctional cost. Criminological associations, organizations have basically said, we think that there’s a better fairer, more just, more productive, smarter way of conducting the criminal justice system, of doing business within the criminal justice system. And that in essence is the heart and soul of what Pew has tried to do, in bring a smarter, better databased approach to fundamental change.

ADAM GELB: That’s absolutely right. There is now consensus, broad political consensus on issues that used to be among the most divisive in American politics.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s right.

ADAM GELB: And just quickly think about this. Back in 1994 when the Crime Bill was being debated – I just want to us an example here of how things have changed – there was a young congressman named John Kasich from Ohio, who was one of the chief negotiators on the Crime Bill at the time, and there was a big debate in terms of the prison section of that bill about what the money would be used for, and the debate came down to two words. The two words were “and programs”. And the question was. Was all this money, the 7.9 billion dollars, going to be for facilities, bricks and mortar, or for facilities and programs? And the final bill ended up being all about bricks and mortar. Then Representative John Kasich and the Republican leadership had their way on that issue and the money turned out to be all for brick-and-mortar. Now flash-forward 20 years, John Kasich is the now the governor of Ohio, and, along with the Council of State Governments and the Justice Department and help from our project and the Justice reinvestment Initiative, that state has undertaken a very comprehensive set of reforms to try to make sure that prisons are for career and violent criminals and that lower level, nonviolent offenders are steered into more effective alternatives. Ohio has a long way to go, but the state has made some significant changes under the leadership of Governor Kasich, and he’s very proud of making that move. And so to see the contrast, were we were 20 years ago during the Crime Bill debate and where we are today is rather dramatic.

LEONARD SIPES: How many states are we talking about the Pew and allied organizations have worked with?

ADAM GELB: I’d say about 30 states.

LEONARD SIPES: It’s about 30 states. So it’s most of the states in the United States.

ADAM GELB: That’s how that –

LEONARD SIPES: Needless to say. Yes.

ADAM GELB: That’s how that works.

LEONARD SIPES: That’s how that works. And so but think about that, that’s significant. I mean when you started this whole thing it was really a lot of uncertainty. Now you have 30 states behind your belt. And these states are doing a data analysis, looking at every aspect of the criminal justice system, trying to figure out if there’s a way of doing it smarter through data, keeping the people who are at obvious risk to public safety, but doing quote, unquote “something else with everybody else”.

ADAM GELB: I think you’re putting finger on one of the keys to why we’re seeing as many states make as dramatic changes as they are, and that is because the justice reinvestment approach is based on data and research. There is not an imperative here through this initiative to get rid of mandatory minimums or to divert all first and second time drug offenders, which you may or may not have an opinion on, but that’s not the approach. The approach is on a state by state basis roll up your sleeves, dig into the data, see what it shows about what the specific drivers are of the prison population in that state. And as you can imagine over 30 states there’ve been all kinds of different particular policies, statutes that are driving the prison population. In one state, which happens to be state where you go to state prison for any offence that carries 90 days or more, one of the leading drivers of state prison beds was driving with a suspended license. And so when you take an approach that is based on data and research, and not on emotion and ideology, you can find some common ground and consensus.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. One of the things we want to talk about  today are people coming out of the prison system unsupervised. Now, there’s been an increase per your research and per research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from the US Department of Justice, there is data that basically says that more people are coming out of the prison system unsupervised. My sense is, is that some people would say, “Well, so what?” What is the answer to “so what”?

ADAM GELB: Well, I’ll just say, overall the trend is in the right direction, right, as we’ve just been talking about, lots of states doing data analysis and identifying smarter ways to do sentencing corrections policy. This trend you just mentioned is a little bit of a counterweight to that, it’s a little bit of a wind blowing in the opposite direction, and that is that a large and increasing number of offenders are serving out their prison sentences to the very last day and then being released to the streets without supervision. Back in 1990 it was about 1 in 7, about 14% of offenders were coming out that way, maxing out without supervision, and we found, unfortunately, that up through 2012 that had now increased to about 1 in 5.


ADAM GELB: Actually 22% of offenders now being released without supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: Why the increase?

ADAM GELB: Yeah. So product of a number obviously of different states, of different policies in specific, but really at the end of the day a prevailing attitude or philosophy that the best way to reduce crime would be to lock up as many people and hold them for as long as possible. And so it’s decisions by legislatures, in terms of restricting discretion of parole boards and other releasing authorities on the back end, and then decisions by parole boards, that rather than put our names behind the release of a particular inmate, it’s safer for everybody to hold that inmate till the very end of his or her sentence. And so a combination of factors led to it. What we’re seeing now, and this is very encouraging, is several states realizing this does not make sense for public safety. It does not make sense to hold somebody to the very last day of their sentence and then release them to the streets with no supervision. This is somebody who, right, who would’ve been institutionalized in some cases for a number of years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


ADAM GELB: And then expect to succeed –


ADAM GELB: When they get back home without any instruction, supervision –

LEONARD SIPES: One day they’re in prison, one day they’re on the street and –

ADAM GELB: Support –


ADAM GELB: Accountability or anything of the kind. And that if you’re serious about public safety the better thing to do is to make sure that there’s a period of supervision that’s carved out of that prison term. And we have about eight states in just the last couple years that have passed mandatory reentry supervision policies that essentially require inmates to be released before their sentence is expired to ensure there’s a period of transition and supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, parole, historically parole has done a lot better than those people who are mandatorily released. They’ve done a lot better. There’s been up to a 20% difference. In most years it’s a 15% to 20% difference between those paroled. The discretionary release based upon a person doing well within the prison system, obeying the rules, engaging in program and coming up versus those people who are, that none of that happens, the person just maxes out, whether they’re supervised or unsupervised. Now, parole and supervision seems to have a positive effect based upon that data and that data alone.

ADAM GELB: Yeah. That’s right. And this is a tricky issue, because people who max out may be maxing out because they are misbehaving –


ADAM GELB: Behind the walls –


ADAM GELB: And they’re not completing programs or they’re assaulting guards, and in those cases, right, I think everybody sort of agrees, you want those people to spend more time behind bars –


ADAM GELB: Still. And this is the case in particular even for inmates who are in solitary confinement. We see corrections professionals and policymakers saying even those people you don’t want them to be released to the streets without supervision. What sense does that make either? And so most of the states are carving out a period of supervision to make sure that it’s there; a couple of states have said we want to tack on this supervision period at the end, of course that’s difficult because of the funding. And really I think, Len, at this point policymakers are starting to realize and the public certainly realizes, and our polling shows this, that it doesn’t really matter whether somebody gets out in June or July. People at this point understand we’re not going to build our way to public safety and that the most important thing is that the system does a better job reducing crime, right? We have 87%, 90% of voters will respond favorably when asked the question, “Does it matter to you more whether somebody spends a longer time behind bars or that whenever it is that they do get out that they’re supervised adequately so they don’t commit another crime.

LEONARD SIPES: But the bottom line is you want them supervised. So the research, your polling, criminologically speaking they’re better supervised. It’s better then – instead of one day in solitary, the next day on M Street. How do we expect that person to successfully reintegrate in society without any help, without any assistance, without any place to go to?

ADAM GELB: That’s right. And we presented some research in this report, our max out report that you mentioned, from both Kentucky and New Jersey that shows that outperform max-outs, they’re less likely to return to prison for new crimes. Unfortunately the cost savings isn’t as great as it might be because some of them are returned to prison for technical violations.


ADAM GELB: Breaking the rules of their supervision. But their rates of crime commission are lower. And in the New Jersey, in particular, we were able to control for risk. So the issues we mentioned a minute ago, which is that somebody who’s maxing out might be higher risk, say, than a parolee, well, this research actually controlled for that and compared similar risk offenders who maxed out to similar risk offenders who were put under supervision, and those offenders who were under supervision by New Jersey parole returned to prison 36% less frequently for new crimes than the max-outs do.

LEONARD SIPES: Okay. But California, the California Realignment is such an odd duck compared to what’s happening in the other 49 states, I realize that. And realignment in California, ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t know, is the idea of sentencing individuals to local jails for crimes that ordinarily would’ve gone to state prisons and also releasing massive numbers of offenders. Every time I look the number seems to change, but somewhere in the ballpark of 30 to 40,000 people coming out of the prison system and being supervised locally instead of the state parole. So the bottom line there is that they did release a bunch of people with a no-cut contract, that unless you committed a new crime, they were unsupervised, and they wanted that to happen. They sort of felt that if they were supervised more people would end upcoming back, better than not being supervised at all and better than only coming back if they had committed a new crime. So there’s an example where people are releasing people unsupervised and they think it’s a good thing.

ADAM GELB: Right. Our report calls for universal post-prison supervision. The point you make and what was recognized in California some time ago is that there are some people who, for some combination of reasons, come out the back door of the prison gate and they’re fairly low-risk. And you on your show have highlighted many times the research that says you don’t want to over-supervise low-risk people, right?


ADAM GELB: You’re going to make them worse. You’re going to put conditions on them that are just too difficult for them to meet. You’re going to have them in programs with other offenders who they shouldn’t be consorting with and building relationships with people they shouldn’t be hanging out with and so on. So while there’s a call for universal post-prison supervision, like with everything, there needs to be some flexibility and a safety valve here to make sure that the state would have flexibility to determine that some inmates in fact should not be really actively supervised but could be on an administrative case load or some other way to make sure they don’t reoffend.

LEONARD SIPES: Our guest is Adam Gelb. Halfway through the program, and these programs with Adam fly by very quickly. Adam Gelb, Director of the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, talking about fundamental change within the criminal justice system, in this particular program talking about unsupervised offenders. Now, they’re coming out unsupervised in states because of, and I still have been struggling with this reason, we know that they do better upon supervision, but even that’s been a controversial issue within criminological circles. There are a lot of people who say that there’s very little difference between supervision and no supervision in parole and probation. And what they’re saying is it’s the programs that make the difference, not the supervision. So are we talking about coming out of prison not just unsupervised but without assistance? Is that the principle concern?

ADAM GELB: Yeah. There was nothing in our broad national research that identified, right, the components of effective supervision, but, as you’re well aware, lots of research has and there are many different aspects of, right, what makes an effective supervision scheme. We don’t want to do a lecture on this now, but I would highlight a couple things. It goes back to the beginning of our conversation. And what we see out in the states working with corrections and parole officials, working with state legislators and other policymakers are the following. There have been tremendous advances in how we do risk assessment. It wasn’t anywhere near the kind of science 20, 30 years ago that it is today, right?


ADAM GELB: So we know so much better about how to identify and sort offenders by risk level, high, medium, or low, and also what, right, what the criminogenic risk factors are, and then how to target the interventions to individuals offenders’ criminal risk factors. We also –

LEONARD SIPES: Being smarter about making the decisions of what we do with people on community supervision.

ADAM GELB: Absolutely.


ADAM GELB: And then we know what programs are more likely to work with the offender population and in particular a cognitive behavioral therapy, right?


ADAM GELB: This is a move away from sitting around in a group and talking about your problems, which has some value. But the research is really pretty clear that a cognitive behavioral approach and really breaking down what are the triggers that in people’s lives provoke them to use drugs or do other things they shouldn’t be doing and try to come up with strategies, just very practical strategies for avoiding the people, the places, and the things –


ADAM GELB: That get them into trouble.

LEONARD SIPES: Drug treatment –

ADAM GELB: You know more about –

LEONARD SIPES: Mental health, job assistance –

ADAM GELB: And how to specifically do those things effectively, because, right, we don’t want to talk about – all those things aren’t effective. You can’t just say we’re going to do job assistance and that is going to work, or drug treatment, right?


ADAM GELB: There’s a lot more knowledge about how to make those broad buckets of programs effective. And then finally, and this is something that, Len, you have pioneered in your career, is the electronic monitoring piece did not exist back in the day, but whether it’s GPS or rapid result drug tests or ATM like kiosks that low level offenders can report to rather than taking up the time of a supervision officer, these are technologies that are not only efficient, but they’re giving policymakers and judges and prosecutors I think more confidence that there’s a credible alternative to prison for appropriate offenders.

LEONARD SIPES: And if you put it all together these programs do have a way of reducing recidivism, do have a way of reducing the return to the prison system, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody. There’s fewer crimes, less money that states have to spend on their corrections budgets, and they can take some of that money and redirect it in other directions, whether it was restorative justice with the idea of saying, “Hey, fine. You’ve saved me 15 million dollars. We’re going to invest 7 million of that 15 million in terms of programs for people under supervision.” or building bridges and taking care of older people or building schools or that sort of thing. So it seems to be a win-win situation for everybody. So, again, I go back to the question. If it’s a win-win situation for everybody, if we now have these tools, we now have this understanding, we’re in 30 states and 30 states are using data to make good decisions, how come the rate of unsupervised offenders is going up?

ADAM GELB: There, as you know, there are so many facets of the criminal justice system, there’re sentencing laws, there’re release laws and policies, there’re practices throughout the system, and this is one piece that has lagged behind the others. I think our report has shed some light on it and we’ll hopefully accelerate attention to it and try to make sure that more and more states are looking at their own situations. There’s tremendous variance, by the way, here in the state max-out rates, right? We talked about the overall national rate being 22%. But Florida has the highest max-out rate with 64% –


ADAM GELB: Of inmates, right?


ADAM GELB: Almost two out of three inmates in Florida maxing out their prison terms, down to the opposite end of the scale, which is Oregon, which has almost no one –


ADAM GELB: Maxing out. So this is on a state by state basis something that needs to be part of what officials who are serious about public safety and serious about containing the cost of corrections in overall government spending need to look at.

LEONARD SIPES: But to be powerful, to really have the results that we’re looking for in terms of people under supervision, you have to have the programs, you have to have the caseloads, you have to have the tools, you’ve got to have the mechanisms in place to really do both supervision and programming, and a lot of states don’t. Bill Burrell, an independent parole and probation consultant is coming before these microphones in a couple weeks to talk about his concern that states are being underfunded, and this whole revolution that’s occurring within the criminal justice system, in many ways thanks to Pew and thanks to your leadership, may be at risk because states aren’t providing enough funding for programs and for supervision and not providing the tools necessary to do a good job, to supervise people, to reduce crime, to lessen the rate of return back to the prison system. That seems to be his concern and the concern of many others.

ADAM GELB: It’s a very valid concern and everybody involved in this work has the exact same concern. Some states have been very aggressive about reinvesting prison savings into supervision, others less so. But as a general matter, hundreds of millions of dollars have been plowed back into supervision coming out of the sentencing and release law and policy changes. And I think there’s a growing awareness that the parole and probation systems are the backbone of this system and that they need to be adequately funded.

LEONARD SIPES: And that’s a fundamental sea change. When you and I were in the state of Maryland I remember asking the people within Parole and Probation, I said, “What is the role of parole and probation?” and their response was to enforce the dictates of the court and enforce the dictates of the Parole Commission. There was nothing there about reducing recidivism, there was nothing there about gaining a bigger bang for the tax paid dollar. It was simply to follow the rules. And at one point when we were with the state of Maryland, 70% of the intakes in one particular year were parole and probation violations. So there’s no way a state prison system can operate efficiently if 70% of your parole probation, if 70% of the intakes are parole and probation failures. There’s got to be a better way of doing it. That’s why there’s a bit of a dichotomy. There’s a bit of a struggle, there’s a bit of frustration. We had this consensus, we have Pew, we have all these organizations that are pushing for fundamental change, fundamental change is happening, yet parole and probation still seems to be short-funded or shortchanged.

ADAM GELB: I think almost any agency of government is always going to claim that it is underfunded. That said there are lots of new dollar flowing in the direction of these agencies and a rising awareness of their role as part of the crime fighting machinery in the states. We see in state after state, really changing the culture of the conversation around here and it’s sort of based on two things. One is the growing awareness of the research that shows that supervision can work if it’s done well.


ADAM GELB: And there really is a growing awareness among policymakers of that research. And the National –

LEONARD SIPES: It’s a sea change.

ADAM GELB: The National Governor’s Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Center for State Courts, as well as the partners that you’ve mentioned, the Justice Department, Council of State Governments, Justice Center, the Bureau Institute on Justice, there are a lot organizations providing information to policymakers about this and it’s starting to sink in. So on that side there is growing recognition of credible alternatives. The flip-side of that is that more and more people seem to think that prisons are essentially schools for crime, and particularly on the conservative side here a lot of the conservative voices are saying, “This makes no sense and how can we expect large government bureaucracies that put a bunch of criminals together to turn out people who are corrected?” And so there’s growing, at the same time as there’s growing confidence in alternatives, there’s growing skepticism that prison will actually accomplish that recidivism reduction that some folks once thought they would.

LEONARD SIPES: Final four minutes of the program. There has been a sea change in terms of both of our careers, where we are in terms of people coming out of the prison system, what happens to them, how they’re supervised, how they’re assisted. The conversation has changed completely. What does the future hold? Where are we going within the next five years in terms of a fundamental change within the criminal justice system?

ADAM GELB: Great question. And I don’t have a crystal ball here, but I’ll give you –

LEONARD SIPES: But you’re leading the charge so guess.

ADAM GELB: I’ll give you some thoughts. It is a mystery to many people why the prison population has leveled off and started to fall in the context of a sour economy. And it’s nice to see the economy picking back up again at the extent to which you want to think there’s a relationship between the crime rate and the economic situation. That’s a myth that has been challenged, drastically, right? It’s been –


ADAM GELB: It’s been almost a full six years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the Great Recession, and we have seen a sort of plateauing of the crime drop. It’s, it continues down slightly, not at the same rate it had been.

LEONARD SIPES: But from a longitudinal point of view it has plummeted –

ADAM GELB: It is way down.

LEONARD SIPES: And for the last four years there’s been a decrease in admissions to prisons.

ADAM GELB: That’s right. So from that perspective it looks like the population will continue to head down. A lot of these reforms that the states that we’ve been talking about have done really are just starting to kick in. I mean the last, really the last two or three years the states have gotten even more aggressive about some of the reforms that they’re embarking on, changing property crime statutes, changing the penalties for drug offences, diverting more offenders, reducing length of stay, incentivizing offenders to comply with supervision so that they can earn their way off sooner, which is another way of creating resources –


ADAM GELB: For supervision. Not more dollars, but it’s reducing caseloads by getting these low-risk offenders off of those caseloads, etc. So for those reasons I think we’re going to start to see the population go down. There’s something else afoot here, Len, that we don’t have good measures for yet that we need to start tracking, and that is not just the quantity of offenders behind bars, but, if you will, the quality.


ADAM GELB: And what a lot of these reforms are designed to do is not necessarily explicitly reduce the prison population itself, but to make sure that the prison beds are occupied by truly dangerous offenders, by the violent career criminals.

LEONARD SIPES: The people posing the highest risk to public safety.

ADAM GELB: That’s right. And this is what governors and legislative leadership want to talk about, they want to talk about making sure the taxpayer dollars funding these expensive prison cells are being used for serious chronic and violent offenders. And we need to start having some more measures that look at whether that’s true, whether that’s actually happening. And I think it is. When you look at the changes in the sentencing and release laws and policies for nonviolent offenders and changes in policies we’re dealing with, technical violators on supervision, I think we’re starting to see a lot of states change the complexion, the composition of their prison populations, and we will see over time a significant increase in the –

LEONARD SIPES: We both agree that there has been a huge change and a very positive change in terms of the conversation about what we do with the criminal justice system.

ADAM GELB: There really has. It’s a very exciting time in this field.

LEONARD SIPES: And a very exciting time because of the work of Pew and the partners. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been talking to Adam Gelb, Director of the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, talking about fundamental change within the criminal justice system. And, ladies and gentlemen, we really do appreciate your comments, we really do appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody have themselves a very, very pleasant day.