Budget and Corrections “A National Challenge” UMUC-DC Public Safety

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The show today is about the future of corrections, and one of things that’s really driving correctional systems throughout the United States is the budget. Thirty-five of the fifty states have severe budget cuts and they are doing what they can to deal with them. You have another 15 states that are really trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to cut spending wherever possible, and it’s certainly having an impact on corrections and every correctional agency throughout the country. It’s having an impact on every law enforcement agency, every parole and probation agency throughout the country. Our guests today are Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration at University of Maryland University College. Joining Bill, it’ll be Ben Stevenson. Ben is a Correctional Specialist at Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Montgomery County, Maryland. The usual commercial, ladies and gentlemen, the show is up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts at media.CSOSA.gov. We really appreciate all the comments and suggestions in terms of the show. A lot of people are commenting directly on the comments section of the radio and television station’s blog and transcripts. If you want to get in touch with me directly, do so via e-mail at leonard.sipes@CSOSA.gov or you can follow me via Twitter at twitter.com/lensipes. Our microphones are back to Bill Sondervan and Ben Stevenson. Ben and Bill, first of all let me describe – both work for University of Maryland University College, as I do in terms of full disclosure. I’m an Associate Professor teaching Criminology and Crime in the Media. Bill Sondervan has been around for forever in terms of law enforcement and corrections. He used to be the correctional administrator for the Maryland Division of Corrections. Ben has been around forever in terms of running local jails. The University of Maryland University College has 95,000 students throughout the world and throughout the country. Their e-mail address is www.umuc.edu and I’ll be repeating that throughout the course of the program. Look for criminal justice programs when you to that website, and to Bill and to Ben, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Bill Sondervan: Thanks, Len, good to be here.

Ben Stevenson: Thanks, Len, great to be here.

Len Sipes: Okay, guys, and we’ll start off with you, Bill Sondervan. I’m looking right now at an article that I pulled off this morning, stateline.org for those of you who are looking for clippings regarding the criminal justice system. The Pew Center in the state offers stateline.org on a daily basis and offers a specific category for crime and justice issues. This is from the Sacramento Bee – the title is, “California Prisons’ Medical Czar Cites Budget, Management Woes, and I’ll read just the first sentence, “Responding to a Bee investigation of severe problems in clinical staffing of state prisons, health care receiver J. Clark Kelso said at a news conference on Monday that budget shortfalls and management lapses underlie staffing pressures at some prisons. It’s not just this particular article that I’m concerned about – every single day, when you take a look at the various news clipping services throughout the United States that come into my office, you can see that the principal issue, the driving force behind criminological change behind corrections, is the impact of the budget cuts out of the 35 states, and quite frankly, the other 15 states aren’t doing that well. So it’s budget that seems to be driving criminal justice policy. Bill Sondervan, do you want to take it from there.

Bill Sondervan: Yeah, Len. I’ll put it in a little bit of perspective to that. When we have severe budget cuts in the states like we have right now, the correctional budget becomes a big target. For example, when I was Corrections Commissioner here in Maryland, I had a budget of $620 million, which I think has gone up to $680 million, and we’re running 27 prisons with almost 8000 employees, so at the state level where you’re looking where to cut, it’s a big target and it’s a big budget. The truth of the matter is, although mine was a $620 million budget, I really needed about $680 million to run the place properly. So when you get hit with budget cuts, you’ll find that politicians do things that are kind of foolish in the sense of saving money or cutting back. In corrections, there have been a lot of issues over the years. We’ve gone through a couple decades where we’ve been locking up people and throwing away the key. This has come about because of crime and drug problems and politicians reacting to that, and what we have across the country now are prison systems that are full of inmates. We’re housing them, but we’re not really doing a very good job on preparing them to go back into the communities, so there’s a whole lot of things that we need to work on while we have them. The average inmate comes in and they’re very sick, they’re very unhealthy, they’re reading on about the 6th grade reading level, they have drug and alcohol problems, and those kinds of things. While we’ve got them in prison, we should be focusing on preparing them to go back home, to be good citizens, to have jobs, and not be recidivists, but when you hit a budget crunch like this you basically, as a correctional administrator, you hunker down and you cut programs and you don’t do the things that you ought to do that helps to solve the problem, so what you’re doing is you’re really just kind of reinforcing this endless cycle where it just goes around and around. Inmates go out, they come back in again because you haven’t done anything to prepare them, so I think most of the corrections community now have come to the conclusion that we really need to do things for inmates while we got them, we really need to assess them when they come in, determine what their needs are, provide adequate medical and programming services to them, and have re-entry and transition programs whereby you do things that are going to help inmates go back to the community and be good citizens. Whether you’re liberal or conservative or whatever your party is, the truth of the matter is 96 or 97 percent of these inmates are going to go home, and if they go home and they’re still addicted to drugs and they don’t know how to read and write and they have diseases and other medical problems, they’re probably going to go back and they’re going to reoffend in a community, and that’s where you really want to get away from that. We really have to focus on programming, on education, we have to do things, we have to enhance technology, we’re going to have to do a lot of recruiting, and we’re going to have to develop staff and we’re going to have to develop leaders. We’re struggling with all of these kinds of issues, and they’re areas where we really need to make headway in, but when you’re faced with a budget crunch like this, it’s really terrible. One of the things that you just talked about, if I could talk about it for a minute here, was California, the article in the Sacramento Bee. I’m a member of the Correctional Education Association and I’m on the Correctional Standards Commission. The Correctional Standards Commission sets the standards for schools and prisons, and this is really, really critical. Because of the budget cuts, the California Department of Corrections is going to cut out all the teachers in all the schools, and to me, it’s one of the most foolish things they could possibly do. If you look at empirical research and if you look at what works, one of the things that really, really works well is correctional education. Dr. Steve Stewart, who is the Executive Director of CEA was just out in California testifying, trying to get them to reverse that decision. But just as a quick example in correctional education, we did a three-state empirical longitudinal study on the effects of correctional education on inmates, and one of those states was in Maryland, and what that research showed is that inmates who successfully go through a correctional education program, they recidivate at about a 19 percent lower rate, and that’s really, really tremendous.

Len Sipes: When we say recidivate at a lower rate, what we’re talking about needless to say, are fewer crimes being committed, fewer tax-paid dollars going into prosecuting the individual, going ahead and possibly re-incarcerating the individual – what we’re talking about is a huge savings for the taxpayer if you’re able to provide that inmate with services so that fewer people come back to the prison system, correct?

Bill Sondervan: Yes, correct, and also reducing crime in a community. We don’t want inmates to go back and reoffend. We don’t want them committing crimes against people or property.

Len Sipes: To Ben Stevenson, this is going to be a broad question now – Ben, you’ve worked within a county correctional system, probably one of the best known county correctional systems in the country, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the larger issue seems to be that all of us within the criminal justice system agree in terms of what it is that we want to do, but literally there are states out there that are releasing thousands upon thousands of offenders. I have no idea where California is at the moment, but the figure for California has been about 40,000 offenders, so the states are basically saying, look, if it requires us putting offenders back in the community, we’re going to do that because we’ve got to come to grips with our budget situation. That makes it an almost impossible situation for either people at the county level or the state level to administer corrections, correct?

Ben Stevenson: Correct. One of the challenges that has been for us is the revolving door being a local jail. We have a large number of offenders that come through and our pretrial services division has been able to reduce our daily population count in our jails by being able to provide supervision, administer public safety, and provide services – psychological services, substance abuse treatment, and we also use GPS technology, which we’re able to draw out a lot of low-risk offenders or offenders that could be adequately supervised in a community, thus reducing the amount of inmates that we have in our detention center. I believe the most recent figure that I heard is it costs the taxpayers about a $150 a day to house an inmate in our correctional facility, and a lot of these cases will end up going to trial, and the cases may get dropped or not [PH] prossed, and so we’re looking at a large number of people that we’re able to successfully supervise and use electronic monitoring to help increase public safety and serve, as providing health and human services to these individuals.

Len Sipes: Well, the bottom line for both of you, but either one of you can take this question, is that what do you do if you’re a state correctional administrator and the governor comes along and says, I’m sorry, I must cut your budget by 12 percent or 15 percent, and that’s happening throughout the United States. So the wide variety of things come into play now – either you can cut the number of inmates you supervise, either you can cut the number of offenders on community supervision who come back into the prison system by, I guess, giving the offenders a bit more leeway, offenders that you ordinarily would send back to prison you wouldn’t send back to prison, or you would cut programs serving the offender population, or you would close prisons. The point is, is that it must be one of the most difficult things on Earth right now to be a state or county correctional administrator.

Bill Sondervan: Well, Len, you’re exactly right. I was a commissioner, you know, between being a deputy and commissioner, ran the state prison system for 10 years, and these kind of budget issues are the most difficult things to manage. These are the things that kept me up at night because after a while, you just can’t pull any more rabbits out of the hat. There’s just no way to do it. When you take a look at a budget, like mine was $620 million, when you look at the salaries and the fringe and the medical costs and the fuel and the food, all those things that you can’t touch, and you look at what’s expendable in the budget, there’s not very much left over. So what you really kind of wind up doing, is you’re canceling programs, you’re locking down the prison, you’re canceling work assignments, you’re canceling visits, you’re canceling out of prison visits for different purposes, and that sort of thing. You’re just really kind of hunkering down and holding on. We did a real scrub a while back. I was asked to give back, I believe it was $36 million, and we pulled together about 20 of our smartest people – wardens and personnel people and budget people – and looked at where it was, and my answer back was, the only way you’re going to get that kind of money without doing real damage and without really hurting the operation of the prison is to do this – you’re going to have to close prisons, you’re going to have to lay off staff, and you’re going to have to let some inmates go home early. That’s where the money is. That’s the only way you can get that kind of money, but when you propose those kind of solutions to politicians, there’s risk involved in it and politicians don’t want to take those risks. So normally what you’re told is, well that’s nice, but we’re not going to do that. Find another way. So what you do is you resort to the only things that you can, as you cut down on staff, you cut down on overtime, you cut down on programs, you cut down in visits, you cut down on education – all those things that are really necessary to help turn around the lives of inmates and make your prisons run smoothly, and that’s just the reality of it.

Len Sipes: Well, but we have made a transition, Bill and Ben. I think we have, because you just laid out what happened in the state of Maryland, and making these hard choices now, suddenly governors are basically saying, okay, fine, I’m going to close a prison. I’m going to close five prisons. I’m going to let 5,000 people go. I’m going to let 1,000 people go. In California’s case, the number they were talking about, and I don’t know where they are at the moment with this, whether it was a card to play or whether they are serious about it, they’re talking about 40,000 offenders in the state prison system, basically letting them go. Now, this is a brand new world. Correctional administrators have had to struggle with the last five or six years in terms of their budgets, but now we are transforming the corrections system. Now it’s moving into an arena where people are saying, okay, fine, I’m now willing to cut jails, I’m now willing to cut personnel, I am now will to cut offenders. Ben?

Ben Stevenson: Well, when you cut these programs, the offenders are going to return back. As Bill was mentioning earlier, 97 percent of most offenders are going to be released at some point in time. If you don’t provide them with the necessary education, the necessary substance abuse or mental health treatment, the odds of them recidivizing are greatly increased and are going to impact the budget even more in the long term.

Len Sipes: Well, that’s the point. The point is that, either one of you can take this question, is that we have entered a brand new day. It’s going beyond the last five, six, ten years of managing your budget and giving back part of your budget to the overall state budget. It is now,we’ve crossed that bridge it seems, and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, Bill, but we seem to have crossed a very definitive bridge that we are now willing to close prisons, we are now willing to let offenders go.

Bill Sondervan: Well, Len, again, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, when you look at it, the budget is what’s really driving the issue. When you don’t have enough money to pay for all the people you’ve got incarcerated, you’ve got to do something, and the only real answer is to make it smaller. I remember when I was corrections commissioner, we always had budget problems. Corrections is always the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the budget. In one of our prisons, we had the gymnasium and the rec center full of inmates. We had double bunks in the gym, so there was no place for the inmates to workout. They were bunked in there. We had inmates in Quonset huts, and we had things all over the place. We had double bunks in dormitories, we had prisons full to double capacity, and it just all creates a very violent and unhealthy environment. The truth of the matter is, if there’s not enough money to pay for it and you can’t do it right, then you’re going to have to be smaller and you’re going to have to let inmates go home. One of the things I proposed, which didn’t fly, I did some research on it, was I looked at Arkansas. In Arkansas, they set an operating capacity for their prison system, and when it got to a certain operating capacity level and when it exceeded that, the corrections commissioner was allowed to let inmates go home early so that they wouldn’t go over that limit. It was basically formula driven, and so what they would do, is they would take the inmates with the least violent offences, and as they got close to their release date, they would let them go home a month early, two months early, three months early and so on in order to just get enough of them out that the system could work properly. But that, itself, doesn’t work very well, either.

Len Sipes: Well, I want to follow up with that and look at what happened in Arkansas and look at your proposal, which sounds like it makes a heck of a lot of sense, and then talk about where we go to from here in terms of the future, but I do want to reintroduce our guests. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Sondervan, the Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration at University of Maryland University College, 95,000 students throughout the United States. Ben Stevenson, a Correctional Specialist with the Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Ben also teaches, it’s a rather incestuous show here, also teaches for University of Maryland University College, as I do. The website address for University of Maryland University College is www.umuc.edu, www.umuc.edu. Just look up criminal justice programs when you get to that landing page. Bill Sondervan has been on our air. I think, Bill, this is your fourth show, and it’ll be a continuing role of University of Maryland University College, as we do with other national organizations, of doing a series of radio shows on a series of topics. Where do we do to, Bill Sondervan, in terms of the future of corrections? You mentioned Arkansas and a formula. Is there anybody out there that basically says, this is where we need to go from the standpoint of state and local corrections?

Bill Sondervan: Well, I think everybody is struggling with it, Len. I think we’ve reached that line, and I think there’s a realization across the country that we have to start doing some things differently. We just can’t keep doing more of the same. There’s risk to the community, there’s risk to politicians who make decisions to make things smaller, but I think we have to start looking at things like more community supervision, taking advantage of technology, putting the least violent offenders back in the community on ankle bracelets, we need to look at things like taking drug offenders and instead of incarcerating them, getting them help in the community through drug treatment and counseling, and those kinds of things. I think we’re going to have to go back and start taking a look at parole and the length of parole, and all of those kinds of things. We’re going to have to start chipping away at it and doing something differently. We just can’t keep loading up the prisons and underfunding them, underfunding them and expecting for things to work, because they just don’t.

Len Sipes: We are talking, in essence, the inevitable consequence of all of this is smaller prison populations and more people under community supervision, and I would imagine both of you would agree that if we’re going to have more people on community supervision, then the community supervision agencies need to be better staffed, better equipped, better trained, more GPS, more substance abuse programs, more job programs, more mental health programs. That seems where the correctional system in the country is going.

Bill Sondervan: You’re absolutely right, Len. One of the things in corrections, too, is we’re way behind in technology, and if we could have some money upfront to implement some technological solutions, we could run the prisons cheaper and safer and better, but it seems like there’s never any money to do that. One of the things we really want to talk about, as well, is gangs and terrorists and that sort of thing. Because there’s not a lot of money to do this, we haven’t done it, but a lot of people think when you lock up inmates and they go to prison, they quit being bad guys and they quit doing bad things, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. They continue to be bad guys and they do bad things through the telephone, through visits, they bribe staff, and they do all sorts of things. We have to find ways through technology to be able to, for example with our gangs, to be able to identify and validate gang members and to be able to track them and to track information on them, and be able to share that information with local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities, because right now, we’re all operating in stove pipes and we’re operating in vacuums, and there’s a lot of bad things going on that we’re just not really aware of. If we don’t do that, we’re going to lose in the long run. Again, that comes back from no money in the budget to do these kinds of things.

Len Sipes: Ben, one of the things that Bill suggested is this sense of making sure that we don’t have stove pipes, that the entire criminal justice system is working in lockstep with each other, and you pretty much do that there at the Montgomery County Department of Corrections, correct?

Ben Stevenson: Yes, Len. We supervise about 120 different offenders that are placed on GPS in the community, and as Bill mentions, we do need to go towards technology and it can be cost effective. Also, we need to stray away from the fact that technology is not the solving factor here, but also appropriate and responsible supervision that goes with it, and having a mechanism that can respond to public safety threats, do appropriate supervision or assessments prior to being released into the community. I think that that’s somewhere that the state, I believe, is actually exploring now. I believe that the governor has a task force looking at GPS and how we can use it effectively, but I do believe it can reduce our prison population. We can have a response, and I’ve seen it in other states throughout the country, to where they have a system in place that has been able to adequately reduce the prison population. But in addition, as we look as to where corrections is going with its budget cuts, we also need to look at what programs we do have – are they evidence based, are they targeted, are they intervening a particular population for that jurisdiction? So I think we need to be very selective, and also what programs do exist, are they effective, are they reducing our prison population, and are there empirical studies that prove that?

Len Sipes: What both of you are talking about, in essence, is taking the available dollars and working much smarter with them, I suppose. Again, it’s a very difficult set of circumstances for any correctional administrator in the United States, but I guess what corrections needs to do is to do exactly what Ben said – to assess individuals, to be sure you know who you have, to make really quality decisions in terms of who stays and who goes, and if they go, and if they’re being supervised in the community, do we have the tools to safely supervise them in the community without risking public safety? All of that, you put all of that together, and that’s,you start managing corrections as NASA would manage a moon shot. This requires an extremely high level of sophistication to be able to slice and dice that pie to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar, and at the same time protect public safety. That, I think, is taking corrections to a new level where it’s never been before.

Bill Sondervan: I’d like to add to what Ben said, too, on empirical evidence. The limited dollars that we have for programs in corrections, we have to use them wisely and competently. The way that we do that is to take a look at empirical studies and see what works and what doesn’t work, and if something doesn’t work, we shouldn’t be wasting our time with it. The three things that I know that work really, really well are correctional education, prison industries, and prison industries in some studies have shown a recidivism rate up to 50 percent, and full-blown therapeutic communities. For example, studies have shown that drug education doesn’t do any good at all, so don’t waste your money on that. Spend your dollars on the things that you know that work the best.

Len Sipes: So to prepare these offenders as well as humanly possible while they’re in the prison system, to select those to participate who, I guess, based upon empirical analysis, have the biggest chance of having the biggest bang for the taxpayer dollar. In other words, they’re not going to recidivate if given a certain amount of services while in the prison system, and when they come out of the prison system, again, to continue those services and continue to watch them closely like Ben said regarding GPS. That’s all a level of precision that I’m not quite sure that most states are employing now, are they?

Ben Stevenson: Len, one thing that I’ve noticed we need to do more of is collaborate with our communities and the partnerships, whether it’s creating new partnerships or using ones that already exist. When budgets are tight, we can’t rely just on the government to be the savior to all our issues here. We also may need to look at faith-based initiatives and programs, volunteerism, a little more than we have in the past. We also need to have organizations that are using principles that show evidence-based practices. And to go backwards on the GPS thing, is why not have offenders pay for their GPS? A lot of the programs try to promote self-advocacy, and I don’t see any reason if an offender is already paying for sometimes restitution, parole and probation fees, we can also make them responsible for the fees incurred through GPS.

Len Sipes: I guess the point I’m making is this – when I entered the criminal justice system, the correctional system was there solely to provide Constitutional incapacitation. Constitutional incapacitation. So in other words, you treated them in terms of what the different court rulings said that you had to give them, such as community, quality medical care, but it was that – it was running a safe institution, providing Constitutional incapacitation, and when that person’s time was up, you were done. We’ve gone from that, in just a couple of years, to rehabilitation, to reentry, to a classification of being extraordinarily good of picking the kind of offender who is going to participate in programs because he or she is going to give you the biggest bang for your dollar. All I’m suggesting is that the level of sophistication that it takes to run a correctional system seems to have gone up beyond comprehension just in the last 10 years.

Bill Sondervan: I’d like to add to what you just said, Leonard. I think you’re exactly right, and it’s much more difficult, I think, with a huge prison system where you have 27 prisons all over the state as opposed to a county prison. What we used to do with our inmates when I first became a deputy commissioner, we would put the inmates, no matter where they were, we would give them $20 and put them on a bus and send them home, and that was their transition. That’s the way they went back home, and that just doesn’t work. I think that everybody in the corrections community has come to grips with the fact that we’ve got to do more than that. Before inmates get out, we have to get them to a prison that’s close to home, there are certain programs that we have to give them, and we have to have some kind of a handoff to the community.

Now, a lot of research is being done on it right now, and we’re learning more and more about what works, but for example, if you hand the inmate off to the community and that inmate has a case manager and they have transitional housing and they have someone that will help them get a job, someone who will help them reunite with the community, somebody will make sure that they’re getting medical treatment that they need and follow up, I think the transition will be a lot more effective. I think a lot fewer inmates will be coming back. What’s going on right now is a lot of research and we’re doing empirical studies, and I think what we need to do as a community is to take the results of that research and take it back to our governors and our county executives and our legislatures and say, if you invest in some of these programs that we empirically know work, then we’ll reduce recidivism and save a whole lot of money in the long run. That’s kind of where we’re headed and that’s the kind of things that we’re doing, and I think that’s in the right direction.

Len Sipes: Ben, I’m going to give you the final word. We’ve got about 30 seconds left. Agree or disagree?

Ben Stevenson: I agree. We need to change how we’ve been doing things. There needs to be a total shift in thinking as we move into the future, and know that there is not going to be that many funds available. I agree with what Bill is saying.

Len Sipes: I just do want to leave the listeners of this program with the idea that correctional administrators and jail administrators throughout the country are collaborating with each other trying to come up with joint ideas, and Bill mentioned a couple of the national organizations that he belongs to, so there is really a frenzy of collaboration going on right now. The correctional administrator is coming to grips with this as a group, and I find that to be very encouraging. Our guests today, Dr. Bill Sondervan, Executive Director of Criminal Justice Administration for University of Maryland University College, 95,000 students spread throughout the United States and spread throughout the world. www.umuc.edu, www.umuc.edu. When you get to the landing page, simply look for criminal justice programs. Our other guest today has been Ben Stevenson. Ben is a Correctional Specialist for Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He works pre-trial services and he supervises a domestic violence caseload. Ladies and gentlemen, as I said at the beginning of the program, we are up to 230,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. The show is brought to you by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency in downtown Washington, DC. If you need to reach me, leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or follow me via Twitter, twitter.com/lensipes and everybody have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: budget cuts, corrections, prisons, jails, budget, prisons

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