Evidence Based Practices in Community Corrections-DC Public Safety

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This radio program is available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2009/07/evidence-based-practices-in-community-corrections-dc-public-safety/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From our studios in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The show today is about evidence-based parole and probation, evidence-based re-entry from prison, and as always, we’d like to thank you for listening to the show. We are amazed as to all the contacts you’re giving us, the emails, twitter messages, and the comments in terms of D.C. Public Safety through the comments section. You can always contact me at Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S – @csosa.gov, or twitter me at twitter/lensipes. Our guest today is Neil Goodloe. Neil is a trainer and consultant for Northpointe Institute for Public Management. But the important thing is that Neil is with the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was Chief Probation Officer at the end of his career in Charlottesville, Virginia area, and I’m going to give you a couple of contact points for Neil before we begin the program. His website is www.northpointe – N-O-R-T-H-P-O-I-N-T-E – I-N-C.com, and you can reach Neil via email at N-G-O-O-D-L-O-E – @npipm.com, I’ll be repeating those throughout the show. Neil Goodloe, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Neil Goodloe: Good morning, Len, and thank you for having me on the show.

Len Sipes: I hear, Neil, ladies and gentlemen, at a conference, and although I was dealing with media, multiple media at the time, I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to everything that Neil was saying, but when I was in the room, Neil spoke passionately about this whole concept of evidence-based parole and probation, evidence-based re-entry, and those of us in the criminal justice system, we talk about evidence-based issues a lot, and as to whether or not there really is a strong evidence-based for community corrections, for parole and probation, for offender re-entry. Neil spoke passionately, he was on the mark, he was on the point, he told lots of stories about his time with the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Chief Probation Officer in Charlottesville, Virginia, the chances that he had to take, and the opportunities that he created for this whole concept of evidence-based community corrections, so Neil Goodloe, who’s now a trainer and consultant with Northpointe Institute, again, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety. Neil, give me a sense as to what evidence-based really means.

Neil Goodloe: Well, really it means practices that are based, at least in part, on research and science and the accumulated wealth of information over the past two, some would argue even three decades, into what actually works in a correctional setting to improve, not only short-term processes, but long-term outcomes.

Len Sipes: But that a lot of us in the system struggle with the concept of evidence-based, I’m completely sold. I think evidence-based procedures are absolutely wonderful, and I think you were able to score some major coups down there in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. But we struggle with evidence-based, there’s a consensus of people I’ve talked to who say, “You know, Leonard, when it comes to drug treatment, there seems to be almost an exact science of the kind of drug treatment, of the kind of analysis, of the kind of individualization that you take, the modality, how long the individual should be there, what sort of follow-up there should be, there’s a lot of precision in terms of drug treatment, but when it comes to the other parts of what it is we do, whether it’s supervising offenders, how big the case load should be, how many contacts should you have with the individual, what kind of individual should get the most supervision, those are all concepts that are still up in the air.” There’s no solid evidence – I’m sorry, they believe that there’s a limited amount of solid evidence to tell us, to guide us, to indicate to us what we should be doing regarding parole and probation.

Neil Goodloe: Well, I would beg to differ. I think that if you read the literature as it has accumulated by way of a process called meta-analysis, which is roughly translated to the study of studies, there has been a considerable accumulation of evidence over the last couple of decades that there are specific things that work. Those specific things are interwoven in a practice, and I think one of the difficulties that people have in applying evidence-based practices in real time in real correctional situations is that they try to implement different pieces of this puzzle without seeing the entire structure of an evidence-based practice all woven together with a common thread.

Len Sipes: And that’s the point, though. That’s the point. All of us believe in this stuff. I’m talking to you, you’re talking to me, the people that I talk to, we all believe that this is exactly the way that we should go, but you know, there is the Washington State Public Policy Institute, and thank god for them, that provides a list of research, it’s a state agency, that provides a list of research of 554 comparison group evaluations of adult corrections, juvenile corrections, and prevention programs, and they in a very recent document, although they’ve said the same thing before, do give, what programs, do give a sense, not a sense, but give a precise list as to what programs work and what programs do not work. So we have that, but beyond Washington State Institute for public policy, all that accumulation of evidence doesn’t seem to reside in one particular place.

Neil Goodloe: Well, and I think that was particularly my problem, Len. I embraced these concepts back originally around 2004, 2005. There was, at the time, no real road map as to how to implement the what works literature, and so myself and my colleagues in Virginia, there were actually four, well five pilot sites for the implementation of an evidence-based practice in Virginia Community Corrections, and we struggled early on with just the idea of, how do we operationalize these lessons that have been learned through meta-analysis, and how do we apply these to our particular circumstance where we are, knowing that each one of us were facing a different set of challenges, so one of the things we had to come to grips with from the very beginning is you start where you are, not where you want to be, or not where somebody else is, you start where you are, and you start with what you have, which at this point is a fairly stressed system that is struggling to find resources to address needs, and the resources that we do have are often devoted to risk control efforts, which are important, but fewer resources are devoted to risk reduction, which I would argue keeps us safer 5 years from now.

Len Sipes: I think the research, I think most criminologists would state that the research is somewhat clear, that there has to be a combination of supervising offenders, and at the same time, assisting offenders, and you know, from time to time, I’ll do shows, and people will disagree. They’ll say that, “Leonard, your job as a law enforcement agency is to make sure that offenders are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and my counter is that, in terms of mental health, who would deny an individual coming out of the prison system who is obviously mentally ill, who would deny that person mental health assistance, and what are the odds of that person re-offending, costing the state millions of dollars in the long run in terms of a crime, in terms of an investigation, in terms of a prosecution, in terms of a re-incarceration, that if he doesn’t get the mental health treatment, it seems inevitable that he’s going to move down that path. So that’s the example that I use, that mental health treatment is part of it, but it’s also other things, such as educational programs, such as assisting people in terms of their finding jobs. I mean, the list goes on.

Neil Goodloe: Well, it does, and ultimately, behind all of the reasoning for an evidence-based practice is a truth that had escaped me for years as a probation officer. I had attempted to change people from the outside in for years, and obviously, that can become a very frustrating experience for a practitioner when you see the same people who you “fixed” come back for second and third and fourth helpings of correctional resources. So at some point, it became abundantly clear to me that there is this careful balancing act between risk control and risk reduction, and that embedded in that strategy are elements of risk control, which we will never be able to divorce ourselves from, they’re part of the job of the probation officer, they’re part of the job of folks in institutions to run safe and orderly prisons, these are very important, but they’re incomplete. And they’re incomplete because they do not address the primary factor that weighs into whether somebody actually changes their behavior, and that is that change is an intrinsic issue. It happens inside someone, lasting change anyway, and change is achieved when an individual internally decides that their thinking and their behavior is not getting them what they want.

Len Sipes: Go back to the days that you started this concept, when you became the chief probation officer for the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area, I think it’s four or five counties surrounding Charlottesville. Go back to those days, you’ve seen the constant flow of people coming in and out of the office, every parole and probation agent in the country sees that constant flow of people coming in and out of the office, and at what point did you sit down and say, you know, there’s got to be a better way of doing this.

Neil Goodloe: I think it’s probably when I started seeing children of former probationers coming in, and then at some point seeing grandchildren of former probationers coming in, realizing that not only was there not a significant change process taking place in the lives of the people I worked with 20 years ago, but that there was a ripple effect, and the dysfunctional elements in their lives had been passed down from generation to generation, and I just got really tired of seeing the same people time and time again, and then seeing their offspring.

Len Sipes: That’s a powerful point, by the way, a frightening point and a powerful point, but please, go ahead.

Neil Goodloe: So the idea originally occurred to a couple of folks in Virginia independently, it was very interesting how it evolved. I went off to Sam Houston State University right after I was appointed the chief for new executive training. And that was one of the first times I had really been exposed to evidence-based philosophies of management, and it just started planting a seed in my mind, and then a very good friend of mine and colleague from Charlottesville named Pat Smith who ran our local probation office invited me to a meeting, and at that meeting, we were addressed by several members of the national institute of corrections who presented us with essentially an hour’s worth of the evidence, which was extremely compelling, and I left that meeting with sufficient doubt in my mind as to the efficacy of what I had been doing personally in my practice for really 20 years.

Len Sipes: So the whole idea is that you, and I see the National Institute of Corrections part of the U.S. Department of Justice provides you with an overview of evidence-based practices, so needless to say that you went back to your superiors, and you went back to the funding sources, and everybody quickly agreed, the staff quickly fell in line, and you were able to, within a couple months, start this process of introducing evidence-based procedures, correct?

Neil Goodloe: Well, that sounds a whole lot easier than it actually was. It sounds a little bit like a fairy tale. If it were that easy, everybody would have already fully implemented evidence-based practices by now, but it’s not, it is a process, I am convinced more than ever that it is a process that is attitudinal. It involves people. And I think that’s one of the things about the research itself that is lacking, is that human dimension. It’s very easy in an ivory tower environment for an academic to say, do this, because this works, but it’s another thing entirely to actually implement better assessment and better interpretation of that assessment and better engagement with an offender and better case planning that comes out of that engagement, and better interventions that are the product of that plan, it’s a lot harder to do that in real time with real people who are already up to their necks in work and have really, many of them who have been in corrections for a long time have been battling the workflow for years as, you know, it’s not surprising that they would be a little worn out and tired given the magnitude of the increases in correctional population –

Len Sipes: It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. I’ve done pieces of it throughout my career, and it was exhausting every time. I’m going to reintroduce Neil Goodloe, everybody. He is a trainer and consultant for Northpointe Institute for Public Management, he was with the Commonwealth of Virginia, the chief probation officer for Charlottesville, Virginia and the surrounding area counties. I want to give the website, he currently works again for Northpointe Institute, the web address for Northpointe Institute is www.northpointe – with an ‘e’ – inc.com, or you can reach him directly at ngoodloe@npipm – or n? –

Neil Goodloe: M.

Len Sipes: M! npipm.com. Neil, let’s pick it back up, we have another 15 minutes left. So you go back to staff, and staff understandably says, “Look, we’re up to our eyebrows in offenders as it is. We’re running, we’re working late, we’re working weekends. Please, you’re asking us to take on a whole brand new batch of duties.”

Neil Goodloe: Yes.

Len Sipes: And, so I’m not quite sure that they’re going to go skipping and dancing into the night, of people who consider themselves to be awesomely overworked, to take on another huge amount of work.

Neil Goodloe: I wouldn’t describe them to be universally enthusiastic, although I will say that there were considerable numbers of my staff that understood that an emphasis solely or largely on risk control was not making us safer in the long term.

Len Sipes: And I think they would come to that, they would come to that consensus, and if they cared at all about not just having a job, if it went beyond that to the larger public safety issues, I would imagine that eventually they would support it, but at the beginning, I mean this sounds frightening, you’re now going to do what? You’re now going to help them find employment, you’re now going to help them with their mental health issues, you’re now going to help them find a place to stay, you’re now going to help get them involved in drug treatment, you’re now going to help them in terms of their family issues, and you’re going to bring a new attitude towards it that, yeah, you’ve still got to supervise the dickens out of them, but at the same time, you’re going to try to help them get the services they need. Now is that the gist of it?

Neil Goodloe: Well, that and more, and I think the real dividing line between business as usual and evidence-based approach is that we, well two very basic things, we assess, and when we assess, we understand who is at high risk to recidivate, and we’ve done that before, and there’s some tools to do that, but we really didn’t understand well enough the causal factors that were fueling that risk. So part of it is getting smarter about what to attack, which needs are most linked to future criminal activity, and if we were to reduce the strength of those crime producing or criminogenic needs over time, that we could actually reduce recidivism in the community. And some of it is –

Len Sipes: Right, and keep the community safer.

Neil Goodloe: Yeah, so some of it is simply understanding the, not just needs and isolation, but needs as how they relate to other needs, and how there are some needs that are very longstanding and very well entrenched, there are other needs that are very transient and very, and more easily overcome –

Len Sipes: Why is the offender doing what they’re doing. That’s the bottom line, correct?

Neil Goodloe: Essentially, yes. But if it were that easy, we’d be done already. The real trick is in getting folks to actually engage the offender in a conversation about those needs and to help create some type of motivational leverage to drive this person, to help them come off their precontemplative view of change and to actually get them to embrace the concept that they need to change.

Len Sipes: Well, you know, it’s funny, because this gets to the heart and soul of the conversation. There’s a lot of people who deal with offenders who essentially state that they do want to change, but they find themselves in circumstances where they don’t know how to change. Now that creates a big excuse for bad behavior, or for illegal behavior, and I will get emails regarding that. But in essence, if the person has this anger problem that they’ve had because they were abused or abandoned by the parents or one parent in the household, and if he grows up angry, and if he grows up with that chip on their shoulder, that’s a lifelong sort of thing that is not easily overcome.

Neil Goodloe: And it’s not only not easily overcome, it also bleeds out into virtually every other segment of their life.

Len Sipes: Right.

Neil Goodloe: So it tends to exacerbate any other dysfunctional elements this person might have.

Len Sipes: Right. So helping that person come to grips with why he’s got a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana becomes important, and once that recognition takes place, getting him in proper mental health or counseling services to help him deal with it. Am I on track, or am I off track?

Neil Goodloe: No, I think you’re right on the money. In fact, if you look at the Washington State Meta-analysis, you see the words “cognitive behavioral” time and time again under the category of things that work and things that provide a fairly sizeable bang for the buck. What the science is telling us and what actual practice is confirming is that the most effective forms of treatment for many of these dysfunctional elements involve their thinking, because thinking is no more than an action that hasn’t taken place yet, so if we can address the thinking that underlies behavior and actually teach skills to address dysfunctional thinking as it happens, there are reductions in recidivism that occur that are pretty eye-popping.

Len Sipes: So instead of simply lashing out immediately over a provocation, the person thinks about how he’s going to respond to that provocation, where in the past, it would have been a violent response almost instantaneously, maybe something that he doesn’t even quite understand himself, now it’s a process of thinking through his behavior, and that can be done.

Neil Goodloe: Yes. Essentially, social learning in action, and it involves practice. It involves practice in a face setting, it involves repeated practice until new skills become fairly well entrenched and can be used in a very stressful situation as you just described.

Len Sipes: But when we’re doing all of this, it’s not just anger management, which is what we call here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, it’s just not drug treatment, it’s just not mental health treatment, it’s just not employment, or it’s just not housing, it’s all of that put together in terms of an integrated whole, that’s when it gets really complicated.

Neil Goodloe: And it really does, especially when we understand that we achieved the greatest reductions in recidivism by accentuating the use of our, most of our resources, and most of our time, and most of our attention and energy on that highest risk population.

Len Sipes: And the research does seem, as long as we’re talking about evidence-based, the research does seem to suggest, not with a lot of precision, but suggest that we get the biggest bang for our buck by focusing on the high risk population, and in some cases, doing very little/nothing with the low risk population, am I correct in that?

Neil Goodloe: Well, in fact, there is a sizeable body of research that would suggest that overdosing low risk offenders with supervision is actually harmful and raises their risk for violent potentially[?? 24:23]

Len Sipes: Okay, but does that apply to providing services as well? Because if a judge orders drug treatment for a person with a marginal history of substance abuse, those guidelines of the court are enforceable, and if that person doesn’t go to the drug treatment, then he could be violated and returned to prison.

Neil Goodloe: Yes.

Len Sipes: So the question becomes, does that apply to lower risk, do social, looking at the social needs of an offender, of a low risk offender, is that part of this thought, or is it just being careful in terms of not to over-supervise a low risk offender? I hope I’m making sense.

Neil Goodloe: Sure. Low risk offenders actually do have needs, and they may have fairly sizeable needs, but those needs are not directly related to any risk of recidivism. My concern about tossing low risk and high risk folks into the same treatment settings, though, is that social learning is going on in the training setting, and if you have two individuals, say Ward Cleaver on the low end and Charles Manson on the high end, the good news is, by virtue of that interaction, Charlie gets a little bit more pro-social. But in the process, Ward picks up a whole lot of anti-social, very toxic beliefs and attitudes and values from Charlie. So there are significant indications that we can lower recidivism generally in the communities by finding ways to keep low risk and high risk folks away from each other.

Len Sipes: Okay, Neil, we’ve got four minutes left. Summarize, if you would, what is, give me a quick list of what the evidence does say in terms of re-entry, of offender re-entry, in terms of parole and probation supervision. Give me the five most important lessons from the research.

Neil Goodloe: Wow, in four minutes? Okay, here goes! First of all, we need to understand that the criminal justice system is a process. It’s not 7 or 8 different siloed organizations all working independently. In order to maximize risk reduction efforts, we need to be able to break down a lot of the barriers that have existed historically between pre-trial and the judiciary –

Len Sipes: Okay, so everybody has to work together.

Neil Goodloe: Everybody has to work together and start speaking a common language about what we’re trying to do so that we’re not reinventing the wheel at every single step when a person goes from a local jail to a state prison and then onto parole or onto probation, but we’re all part of a plan that is very carefully orchestrated, very carefully staged and sequenced.

Len Sipes: Understood. What’s the next –

Neil Goodloe: One intervention is building on what’s been done before.

Len Sipes: Understood. Next point.

Neil Goodloe: So there’s one. Another thing is, I think we, historically, have over, we have overvalued how good we are at exercising human judgment as a risk indicator.

Len Sipes: What does that mean?

Neil Goodloe: What that means is that we, in an average workday, we make hundreds of decisions that are either instantaneous or near so, and we use our gut to do that. Well, unfortunately, the research is showing pretty clearly that our gut is not a whole lot better than flipping a coin when it comes to actually predicting future criminality.

Len Sipes: Okay, so this is the point –

Neil Goodloe: We need to be able to rely on actuarial assessment instruments, to be able to be comfortable with what they’re telling us, and then to be able to very carefully blend what we’re seeing and our judgment and our experience and take that risk tool and understand what it’s telling us and be able to make decisions that are better informed when we use this on it.

Len Sipes: So we have, all work together, we need to assess the offender –

Neil Goodloe: Okay, next thing we need to do is be able to interpret what that assessment is telling us, be able to connect the dots of causation from the time this person was done until they’re sitting across from you in the office, to be able to understand in some logical, linear way, how their crime producing issues developed, how strong they are, and what we can do together, the officer and the offender, to enter into some kind of behavioral contract to address those issues.

Len Sipes: Okay, so we map out a plan.

Neil Goodloe: We map out a plan, but that plan can’t just be the probation officer’s plan.

Len Sipes: Oh, absolutely!

Neil Goodloe: The plan has to be a plan that is mutually developed. Otherwise, it’s going to end up in the trash can in the lobby as the offender leaves.

Len Sipes: Understood.

Neil Goodloe: Because it’s not going to have any buy-in.

Len Sipes: I have a quick question, and we’re almost out of time, but where are the resources coming from to do all these services?

Neil Goodloe: Well, interestingly enough, there are initiatives out of Washington, the Second Chance Act contains millions of dollars to help us better understand how the re-entry process works, what we can do to maximize the chances of somebody staying out of prison once they’ve been released, and so there are, there is money in the pipeline available by way of grant application to go after some of this money. There are also, I think there’s an understanding in many states around the country now that we need to take the dollars that we do have already and be able to maximize their use so that as stewards of the taxpayers money, we are providing the highest value for each of those dollars that we can.

Len Sipes: Neil, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been D.C. Public Safety, our guest today has been Neil Goodloe. Neil is a trainer and consultant with Northpointe Institute for Public and Management. He was the chief of Probation for the state – I’m sorry, the Commonwealth of Virginia in the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area, the four or five counties surrounding. The website for Northpointe is www.northpointe – with an ‘e’ – inc.com. Neil’s direct email is ngoodloe@npipm.com. Neil, I’m just going to quickly summarize. I think what you’re saying is that we all need to work together, there needs to be a thorough assessment of the offender, we need to map out a plan, we need to know what the evidence has to say, what the recommendations are in terms of best practices, and we need to put it together in terms of a concentric whole. Do I have it, or do I not have it?

Neil Goodloe: All that plus protecting our people and not burning them out in the process, because the people are the most expensive and the most important resource that we bring to bear in this problem, and if we don’t solve that human element, we’ll just end up in a continual turnover cycle that will not get us where we need –

Len Sipes: Completely agree. Ladies and gentlemen, we want to thank you for listening, and you can reach me at Leonard – L-E-O-N-A-R-D – dot-sipes – S-I-P-E-S, or you can follow me at twitter/lensipes, or you can comment on D.C. Public Safety, either the television shows, the radio shows, the transcripts, or the blogs. Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: Evidence-based, what works, corrections, jail, prison, prerelease, employment, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation

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