Advanced Practices in Parole and Probation

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Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host Leonard Sipes.  Today’s show is on advanced practices in parole and probation.  Our guest is Professor Faye Taxman of the George Mason University.  Faye created a document titled Advancing Practice.  Advancing Practice is a newsletter created by a center at George Mason University focusing on what works; and in this case, offender reentry.  Faye’s a nationally known expert on evidence-based practices in the criminal justice system.  Faye, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Faye Taxman:  Hi Len.  How are you?  Thanks for having me today.

Len Sipes:  Faye, it’s wonderful to have you.  I’ve known you for decades.  I’ve known your work in terms of offender reentry.  You’ve been a staunch advocate and a person really, really focused on evidence-based practices.  So I’m honored to have you today.

Faye Taxman:  Thank you, Len.  I’m honored to be here and share some information about what works, what doesn’t work, and what we need to do to implement better quality programs and services.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  What I want to do is start off with a recent quote by Joan Petersilia.  She’s a criminologist as you well know, Stanford Law, who stated at a recent National Institute of Justice Conference that we’ve got to stop overselling community corrections and under delivering.  Yet the evidence, as you’ve stated in your newsletter, as to residential treatments, substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy and other modalities seems to be encouraging.  So where are we in terms of evidence-based practices?  What can we say to mayors and governors and people who run counties or people who run criminal justice organizations?  What can we say to them regarding where we are in terms of our knowledge of advanced parole and probation practices?

Faye Taxman:  Well Len, this is a critical area.  Right now we have seen a period of time for the last 30 years where we have depended upon incarceration-based practices, locking people up in prisons and jails as a way of managing the offender population.  And we’ve learned that that’s very expensive.  And not only that, it actually helps to create people to be more criminals, and more criminal genic.  So people are turning to community corrections.  So while the science tells us the sort of what we should do, the real heart of the problem is that the average community corrections agency today is catching up to put in place what’s out there in science.  So like Dr. Petersilia said in her address of NIJ, we need to be realistic because for 30 years we have not invested in these community corrections agencies very much so they could deliver effective programs and services to reduce offending behavior.  They have the capacity and we have the tools out there, but we need to put them in place.

Len Sipes:  Well that’s the first question, if we had the tools, if we had the capacity.  One example is that the average parole and probation agency in this country operates with huge caseloads — 150 to one is conservative in some cases.  I know of some jurisdictions that are doing 200 and more for every parole and probation agent.  That’s almost impossible to be effective when you’re supervising 200 offenders to one parole and probation agent.  So obviously we need to bring caseloads down.  But if we did all of this, if we reduced the case loads, if we implemented evidence-based practices, what would happen in terms of recidivism?  And what would happen in terms of the fiscal burden as to the states?

Faye Taxman:  So if we implemented … and there’s a short cadre of things that we need to implement and we can talk about those in a second.  To answer your question, if we implemented, we could realistically reduce recidivism rates around 30% for a moderate to high risk offenders.  Those are the people that we’re mostly concerned about.  And we could do that in terms of the likelihood of the person ever going to prison and jail.  So we have a great potential out there if we can put in place the proper tools for the average probation agency.  So like you said it’s not rocket science to think that a person can manage 150-200 people effectively.  We need to figure out ways to reduce case load size.  And there are tools available.  For example, there’s the risk needs instruments that are highly promoted as part of the evidence-based practices model.  Now what we know from that risk needs is that we really need to manage people differently.  So if you have someone that has a shorter criminal career and they’re pretty stable in the community.  They have jobs.  They have a decent place to live.  They have a high school education.  These are people that we should supervise less or even better, we should think of alternative sentences for that population, like fines.  Fining people or good community service projects where they have to pay back the community for the harm that they did from the crimes that they did.  Those people are less likely to ever really reenter the criminal justice system.  But they need appropriate punishment to be able to make amends for their behavior in society. If we did that, we could get rid of 30% of the population on the average parole, probation officer’s case load.

Len Sipes:  I want to go back to that 30% reduction.  One of the things I want to do before you continue is to give out the website and the fact that you’ve recently wrote a book, Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices, and also to give out the website,  If we’re talking about Faye, 30% reductions, a lot of people just don’t quite understand.  Well you’re talking about 30% fewer criminal victimizations.  We are talking about 30% fewer people coming back to the correctional system.  We are talking about saving literally if we did this on a national basis with 700,000 people leaving our prisons every year, if you’re talking about 30% of that 700,000, you are talking about literally saving the states hundreds of millions of dollars.  So with all of that on the table, with all that knowledge, with the potential that we could save 30%, why aren’t we doing it?

Faye Taxman:  Well I wouldn’t say we aren’t doing it.  Like I said, we’re catching up.  So we’ve had a period of time where we only invested mostly in prisons and jails in this country.  And probation and parole just sort of pitter, pattered along.  I don’t mean that in a way … they didn’t have the resources.  So places like California now, California is giving local probation agencies more resources to manage the population.  They’re helping those organizations adopt evidence-based practices.  They’re putting in place risk and need tools.  They’re looking at what types of services that will reduce recidivism.  Should they be offering in their system?  They’re looking at issues related to: how do you manage the offender population when people aren’t doing well?  What do we need to do?  Should we be sending them back to prison?  The available research says, sending them back to prison doesn’t do much good.  If we put people in residential treatment programs in the community, provided them with opportunities to learn employment skills … although the research around that is less promising … but we would be able to basically reduce the re-incarceration rate.  So I think the answer is Len, that where we are today is we are catching up.  The public wants us to catch up overnight, but these are large organizations that we really have to be able to figure out.  How do you deal with this existing case load?  How do you deal with offenders that are out there?  And how do we build our service delivery system?  A couple years ago we did a national survey of probation and parole, prisons, jails in the United States.  And we know that the offender population has a high demand for drug abuse.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  They’re four times more prevalent to have drug addiction than the general population.  But any given day our survey four years ago basically told us that less than ten percent of the offender population could get into a treatment program, ten percent.

Len Sipes:  Well I guess that’s my point.  Faye, my point is somewhere along the line it’s show me the money, is it not?  There’s a certain point when we’re talking to mayors, when we’re talking to aides to mayors, when we’re talking to aides to Congressional people on Capitol Hill, you have to look at that dichotomy that 80% of the people in the criminal justice system have a history of substance abuse.  And yet when you’re incarcerated, only ten percent are getting treatment.  That’s a gap.  That’s not a short gap, that’s a huge gap.  So how do we convince people?  How do we convince people that you know what we can reduce recidivism dramatically.  We can save you a ton of money.  We can do a lot of different things differently within the criminal justice system.  How do we convince people of that?

Faye Taxman:  Well that’s why I think some of the national initiatives called justice reinvestment, where people are looking, states are looking at taking funds from prisons and jails and putting them in community corrections.  Although those initiatives haven’t focused right now on expanding services, but that’s where they need to go.  They really need to focus on what services do we need in the community.  And the things we know that we need that we don’t have is sufficient substance abuse treatment services.  We don’t have enough mental health services to help people who are having difficulty stabilizing.  We don’t have enough housing for people who have been incarcerated for years and it’s more difficult to find a place to live.  So there’s some basic elements.  But these justice reinvestment efforts have basically acknowledged that we have to transfer the funds back to the community.

Len Sipes:  And explain that.  Explain what justice reinvestment is.

Faye Taxman:  So in a simple way justice reinvestment is saying if we want to decrease the number of people in prison, then we need to basically provide the same amount of money that we would provide for if they needed a certain type of service in the community.  So if we reduce a prison in a state by 1000 people, we could take half of those funds that the prison would have needed to operate and put in those communities where those offenders are reached.

Len Sipes:  All right, we take those savings and we put them back into the parole and probation system of the community correction system?

Faye Taxman:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Faye Taxman:  A portion of those savings.

Len Sipes:  All right.

Faye Taxman:  But we need to focus on that issue, back to where people go to.  You can’t distribute them all over the state; you need to put them back in the community.

Len Sipes:  Where most of the people are coming from.

Faye Taxman:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  If we are saying, “Look I can take your intake, your yearly prison intake,” and just for kicks and jollies let’s just say 1,000, but far more than that … it’s like 7,000, 12,000, some states 25-30,000 … but let’s just take 1,000.  And I’m saying to you, “I can reduce that 1,000 by 300.  And I can reduce your expenditures by over the course of time $32 million.  So what we’re asking for is you take half of that, that $15 million and put it back in these programs that can help offenders stay out of prison.”

Faye Taxman:  Right.  You put them back in the community treatment programs.  So you build the infrastructure of those programs.  And ultimately what we want is to have enough support in those communities that people don’t need to be involved in the justice system.  They start realizing they can go to their community treatment centers.  That’s one of the techniques we’re going to have to really focus on.  We need to develop within these communities’ strongholds of care so that when people have difficulties, life difficulties; they have a place to go that does not involve the justice system.  Now there is no reason that someone who has a drug problem should be in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  Or a mental health problem.

Faye Taxman:  Yeah, or a mental health problem.  There’s no reason if someone didn’t finish high school that they shouldn’t be able to go to their community college and get adult education.

Len Sipes:  Faye, what do you think is the most important component of all this?  Okay, so you’re talking to somebody, a mayor, an aide to the mayor of Milwaukee right now is listening to this program.  What would you tell him or her is the two or three most important first steps?  And then we’ll go into the break halfway through the program.

Faye Taxman:  So the first important steps in terms of building their communities or in terms of correcting probation?

Len Sipes:  In terms of improving their parole and probation, their community supervision apparatus.  Keeping people from going back to the prison system, keeping people from committing additional crimes.

Faye Taxman:  Right.  So the three things … I’d go for three … the three that I would do is first of all, I would drug test people on a routine basis.  Because what we know is if you drug test people, only the people who are … mostly the people who are addicts … can’t clean up by themselves.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  So if you put … and it’s a low cost technology … so you basically use that as a means to help identify who is your drug-dependent population.  For those people who are drug dependent, you want to basically escort them right into treatment services –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  and the treatment needs to be cognitive behavioral therapy.

Len Sipes:  What does that mean?  Cognitive behavioral therapy means what?

Faye Taxman:  Cognitive-based therapy is a type of treatment that focuses in on people’s behaviors and their thinking patterns.  So you’re basically trying to help people relearn how to become … retrain their brain so that they can function without drugs.  I should also mention that if we have people who have opioid dependent problems, like heroin abusers, we have a cadre of medications that we should be using for that population.  They go from methadone to buprenorphine to Vivitrol, which is a long-acting drug.  And we should really be integrating good health care into the care of people who have drug dependency.  Because that’s going to accelerate their productivity and their lack of involvement in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  Before you get to your third point, I’m going to reintroduce you because we’re more than halfway through the program.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Faye Taxman, Professor Taxman of the George Mason University.  They have advanced practices newsletter of a center that they have created to take a look at advanced practices.  Faye, is it just advanced practices in terms of reentry, offender reentry, or advanced practices in the criminal justice system across the board?

Faye Taxman:  So we developed this newsletter, The Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, focused on improving better uptake of evidence-based practices to deal with learning about new practices that are effective, looking at how best to implement effective practices and particularly the evidence-based practices.  And then, a key issue is sustainability.  Our last edition was on reentry.  We focused on different aspects of reentry.  This summer in about a month, we will have a new edition focused on implementation.  How do you do it?  How do you make it work better?  All those critical issues.  That particular issue, Len … just let me … Steve Belenko from Temple University and myself just finished a book on implementation published by Springer and we have a lot of key tips there on how to improve that process.

Len Sipes:  And that’s Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices, the website,  Faye, I cut you off in terms of your third overriding communications objective as we in the public relations profession like to say, in terms of the three top things that you would advise the aide to the mayor of Milwaukee to tell the mayor of Milwaukee.  And the third would be what?

Faye Taxman:  And the third would be incentivize your workforce, the probation and parole officers, because they’re dealing with a difficult population.  They’re good staff.  They really want to help public safety in their communities.  But for the last 30 years they’ve been daunted by these unbelievable case loads.  And so now we need to incentivize people to really learn and practice some of the evidence-based practices.  What we’ve learned on that end, Len, and it’s that basically that we can train probation and parole officers to use what in the therapy literature is called motivational interviewing, motivational enhancement technique, to break through some of the criminal dynamic subcultures that offender populations practice.  So we have a workforce, probation and parole officers that we’re not using effectively.  And these are good people who work hard every day at their job.  And they need support by their mayors, by their governors, by the directors of their agency to be able to really be effective in terms of turning around people’s lives.  And we have scientific evidence.  We did a randomized control trial in Maryland that was published in 2008 that showed that if officers used these particular practices, we could reduce the odds of recidivism by 40%.  There’s some recent literature coming out of federal probation where they also are using a model that they’re calling [PH] Stars that shows significant reductions in recidivism by officers that practice this.  We have evidence in Scotland and Canada.  So around the world there is growing evidence that if you want parole and probation officers to be effective, they shouldn’t subscribe to merely an enforcement compliance process.  They need to manage the offender behavior.

Len Sipes:  And we’ve interviewed – We’ve interviewed a lot of people from all over the country.  And we’re about to start interviewing people from around the world who have been able to document fairly substantial reductions in recidivism.  But I’ll go back to the … I’ll be the devil’s advocate here … and I’ll go back to the main point.  The great majority of people that I talk to throughout the country are basically saying, “Leonard, we don’t have the money.  We’re in cutback mode.  We’ve been in cutback mode for well over a decade.  The money is not there to reduce case loads.  The money is not there to put drug treatment and mental health treatment on the table.  We may substantially, substantially reduce our case loads by putting maybe 50% … or some jurisdictions that are putting 60% and higher into caseloads where they’re being supervised administratively or other methods like kiosks in New York City for probationers, so they can focus on high risk offenders.”  But states and counties are saying we don’t have the money.  Am I wrong?

Faye Taxman:  No.  It depends on what you mean by, “We don’t have the money.”  I think most places start out with, “We can’t do this.”  But if we look at the flip side, there are steps you can take to move in that direction.  So one step you take is I identified retooling the workforce as a major issue.  Well there are resources available that organizations can use.  And one of my pet peeves is almost every corrections agency every year mandates that their staff have training.  So if you could designate that annual training for the next two years to focus on evidence-based practices so that you’re tooling the line officers to be able to do this, you’re just reallocating your existing money to do better good.  And there are tools that are available.  We have a tool for example with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance called SOARING, which is an online system to really help officers learn how to do evidence-based practices.  That tool is currently … we’re about ready to implement it in five jurisdictions across the U.S.  But it’s an online tool.  And it’s something that organizations can use to really begin that retooling.  The National Institute of Corrections has many online tools that are available at no cost.  So it’s about priorities of these organizations.  And that’s a big step in implementation.  One key element in implementation is the leadership has to embrace that it’s important to move in this direction.  And that means that leaders, even when money is tight, have to begin to say, “We need to make small shifts in a direction to reinforce to our workforce that the work they do is important and there’s techniques they’re going to have to use to make it even more important.  So a leader that is caught in this fiscal crisis can begin to look at how do I train my staff more efficiently?  What do I need to do?  And there’s dragon’s out there.  And there’s like I said there’s products out there that aren’t that costly that can really make a huge difference.  That’s one issue.  The vacuum in mental health and substance abuse treatment services, that’s going to take a little time for us to fill that unmet need.  But there is a system there.  So probation and parole, mayors, probation and parole officials, mayors, governors should be talking to the head of their substance abuse system to say, “You need to reallocate your services.”  Because that’s a workforce officer that has an evidence-based field and that they really need retooling also to better deliver services.  For example, a lot of services in this country are what are called substance abuse education services.  We know from the scientific literature that we could do a lot better if those were converted to be more cognitive or behavioral therapy.  If you have an existing workforce, you can train them to do that.

Len Sipes:  The bottom line in all –

Faye Taxman:  The bottom is leadership and commitment to adopting the [PH] science.

Len Sipes:  And the fact is that anybody who’s interested in this, anybody who’s interested in doing it better, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice put out a new what works website in terms of the evidence that is there.  They are about to start a consulting desk where people can call and gain additional information.  You have –

Faye Taxman:  OJP has crime solutions.  You can go to our website at the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence at George Mason University.  And we have tips.  People can send us questions.  We have a question and answer.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Faye Taxman:  Every week I answer one or two.  I’m happy to answer more questions.

Len Sipes:  The point is is that there’s assistance there for people who want to learn more about this concept.

Faye Taxman:  Right.  And so Joan’s point that we started out this conversation is that we have to stop overselling.  And what I think her point mainly is is that we have a cadre of things that work.  But organizations need to be honest with themselves of where they are.  So they need to assess where they are.  And they need to basically say, “I need to basically improve in these two or three areas and make a commitment to do that.”  Because you can reallocate existing resources if you have the heart and soul to basically do that.  And that’s part of what we’ve learned through implementation.  Leadership is critical, a vision on how your system could be different is critical.

Len Sipes:  But the bottom line is that the guidelines are there.  The assistance is there.  There are people, there are organizations anywhere from the Office of Justice Programs to George Mason to [PH] PU to lots of other organizations.  And there is a state of the art and we just need to do a better job in terms of implementing that state of the art.  Don’t you think that’s the bottom line?

Faye Taxman:  Yeah.  I think the bottom line is the information is there.  There are strategies.  I think part of it is is people being convinced that this new body of information is worthwhile to their organization.  And I think that … but the undercurrent here is … and I think this is what Joan was trying to talk about with overselling … is, is that just basically for example a lot of organizations have implemented a risk needs tool.  But they’ve just taken a tool that someone else has done without really modifying it to their jurisdiction.

Len Sipes:  To their particular needs.

Faye Taxman:  Yeah.  And they’re not using the tool to be able to say, “Oh, these are pockets of offender types that we’re going to have to deal with.”  For example one of my bugaboos is we know we have a tremendous problem with DUI in this country.

Len Sipes:  Yes.  Driving while intoxicated.

Faye Taxman:  Driving while intoxicated.  Particularly people who are chronic.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Faye Taxman:  Now there are … and yeah, we don’t have definitive public policies to deal with this chronic driving while intoxicated offender.  Yet there is technology out there, the interlock technology where you basically limit people’s access to their cars, reduces part of the crime right –

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Faye Taxman:  – that jurisdictions can use.  There are techniques that we can use to help people with alcohol problems including the use of medications.  And so we have the technology but we just have to basically use these risk needs tools to identify who’s this population in my jurisdiction and what am I going to do?

Len Sipes:  We have less than a minute left in the program, Faye.  But that’s one of the things that puzzles me is because you take a look in a straight technological intervention of ignition locks, where you can’t drive the car until you blow into the tube and prove that you’re sober.  And yet these are things that just seem to take a little bit longer than I would like to see them catch on.  We have technologies.  We have best practices.  We pretty much know what to do.  I guess I express a little bit of frustration from time to time in terms of the length of time it takes to get these things going.  We got about 30 seconds.

Faye Taxman:  Well so one thing we know about good ideas and moving them into a practice is it takes an average of 22 years.  It’s a long time.  So my advice to the public is and to folks who want to make improvements is we have to make a concerted effort to cut that time to get uptake.

Len Sipes:  Amen to that.  Faye, you’ve got the final word.  Ladies and gentlemen our guest today has been Professor Faye Taxman of the George Mason University.  She’s written a book called Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices and she works down at the George Mason University for the Center of Advanced Practices.  And the website down there is,  Ladies and gentlemen this is DC Public Safety.  We appreciate all of your comments.  We appreciate even your criticisms.  Just contact me at my email address Leonard, L-E-O-N-A-R-D dot Sipes, S-I-P-E-S at  We’ll have the book and the website and the show notes today.  And I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.


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