Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-The Urban Institute

Families and Reentry-Jocelyn Fontaine-Transcript

DC Public Safety Radio

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See radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/11/families-and-offender-reentry-the-urban-institute/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, back at our microphone is Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute, www.urban.org, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, welcome back to D.C. Public Safety.

Jocelyn: Thanks for having me.

Leonard: Okay. There are three projects that you have been involved in and I’m going to read very quickly about them. Safer Return with a research program in Chicago that you published findings this past July. Part of it was engaging families and that was one of the core goals of the program. You’ve also done research on Responsible Fatherhood Reentry Projects and Promising and Innovative Practices for Children of Incarcerated Parents. You’re one of few researchers who have really looked at families and reentry.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that there is a growing interest in the families and, in particular, the children that are left behind as a result of the incarceration of men and women. Recognizing that many folks who are behind prison walls leave families and children behind who must suffer the burden of their family member’s, which includes both emotional and financial challenges for them.

There has been an interest among a large set of government providers, or government agencies rather, as well as foundations in really looking at the importance of families in the reentry process and their own unique needs. Doing a range of research and evaluation projects to understand how can better meet the needs of families who are left behind as a result of incarceration, as well as what we can do to bring family members and children into the reentry process to better help men and women get back on their feet when they come back to the community.

Leonard: It’s interesting, I’ve interviewed probably 100 individuals caught up in the criminal justice system by these microphones and on television shows over the course of 20 years. When they talk about their parents when their parents were incarcerated, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the background because for many of them they had strained relationship with their parents, they needed their parents in their lives and that was a common theme throughout. It didn’t matter what happened. It didn’t matter about the agreements or the disagreements or the frustrations of growing up in families that are struggling. They all needed contact with their mothers and fathers.

Jocelyn: I appreciate you saying that because that’s what we find in our research as well. We’ve done dozens of interviews and focus groups with formerly incarcerated persons or individuals who are in the community, asking them about their family relationships, pretty extensive focus group conversations with them. We’ve also done them from the perspective of family members as well asking about what it’s like to have someone who’s behind bars and what it’s like to support them when they come home.

We hear from both sides that, yes, there are these feelings of shame and stigma. Often there are strained relationships felt by both sides, family members as well as the incarcerated person due to a number of issues, but recognizing that they need each other in order to, you know, feel whole emotionally as well as from the folks who are coming from prison and jail. They need their family members in order to get back on their feet. We find through numerous research studies that individuals are most likely to live with their family members on the first night at their home from prison or jail and that makes sense. Where else are they going to go? They really need them.

It really makes a lot of sense for service providers as well as parole agents or parole departments that are in this space to recognize the importance of families to do as much as they can to support families. It is a low-cost vehicle or it’s free in a lot of sense to provide them support because those individuals are there and the more supported family members feel, the more support that they can extend to family members that were incarcerated. When I say support I don’t just mean monetarily. I mean emotionally as well.

Family members who can have outlets to talk about what it’s like to be a family member of an incarcerated person and what it’s like in supporting them, those kinds of things can go a long way to furthering the reentry process again from individuals who are coming back from prison and jail as well as for the family members themselves who are part of this process.

Leonard: Out of all the research, what’s the most important finding regarding families and reentry? Was that just it, the fact that they need each other?

Jocelyn: The fact that they need each other but I would also say an important finding is just that family members are also strained, and they need services and support too. A work that we’ve done in Chicago in high-density reentry neighborhoods, meaning neighborhoods that are dealing with a lot of poverty, a lot of crime, a lot of disadvantage. The family members who were there who have an incarcerated person in their life who they’re supporting need a lot of stuff too.

We find really high rates of poverty among them, really low educational attainments. Not a lot of them have graduated high school or gone beyond that. A lot of them have really fractured limited employment histories as well and those are the individuals who now need to support someone who’s coming out of prison with a lot of challenges. It really knocks me in the gut, actually, all the time when I look at that data just to see how disadvantaged family members are with the knowledge that they also now need to support individuals who also have disadvantages.

I think that there’s a lot of space for service providers to recognize that we are very much putting additional, and I don’t want to say burdens because family members do it willingly, but we’re putting a lot on family members to support individuals coming back from incarceration, who themselves need a lot of stuff as well. They need education. They need employment. Some of them are dealing with substance abuse histories. Some of them are dealing with their own criminal justice histories and are now needing to support a returning citizen.

Leonard: We’re now having a national conversation through the president of the United States who is now visiting various locations throughout the country talking about the reentry process. The reentry process has its good points and its bad points. Research has not been overly encouraging in terms of the rate of reduction, in terms of recidivism. There have been, in some cases, some fairly decent rates of recidivism reduction, but most don’t.

We in the criminal justice system come together and say, “What is that factor? What is that issue that we can use to our best advantage that we haven’t been using?” I think a lot of us come to the conclusion that the overall family needs to come to the assistance of that individual. If they don’t, it considerably increases the chances for the person not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Everyone needs support, right? If we think about ourselves after just going through an incarceration experience, on our first night home, who would we rely on? We’d rely on our family members and our friends. There are some share of folks who don’t have those social support networks and so that’s when we see programs, reentry programs, reentry service providers providing that social support network for folks.

For others who are fortunate who have mothers, who have sisters, who have intimate partners, it is very often women who are providing that support. Those families need support as well and need to have as much at their disposal by the way of understanding what resource exist. How can they support or facilitate more successful reentry. Just a better understanding of what it’s like, how they can support individuals, what resources are in the community I think is really to strengthening that support that family members already provide.

Leonard: There’s a certain point where we recognize that we within the criminal justice system are probably going to be the frontline troops in terms of interacting between that person coming out of the prison system and their families. Here within Washington, D.C., within my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, we have caseloads of 50 to 1 and we have some of the lowest caseloads in the United States. I talk to my contemporaries throughout the country and anybody who’s listened to this program before knows that I harp on this. They have 150 to 1 caseloads, 250 to 1, 300 individuals to 1.

There we have a paradox because we’re asking parole and probation to be an intermediary at times and a facilitator to somehow, someway come to an understanding with family members that they need to support the individual coming out of the prison system and, in many cases, you have strained family relationships.

I’ve had, before these microphones, women caught up in the criminal justice system who routinely tell me that they were sexually abused by a family member or by a person within the family. You find that the families will say, “He’s stolen from me way too many times. He’s not welcome in my home.”

You find the individual coming back and living with his sister, but her husband is not exactly thrilled about the individual coming back. There’s a lot of human dynamics that are going on and somehow, someway, somebody has got to get in between the two parties and say, “What can we do to promote this person’s successful reentry? What can we do on our side? What can we do on your side?” Correct?

Jocelyn: Right. I think that people coming back from prison are getting services somewhere, right? Let’s just call that group of people, outside of whether they’re under community supervision, circus providers. They’re getting, hopefully, employment services; hopefully, some housing service. Some of them are getting substance abuse and treatment services. That core group of service providers who are interacting with the reentry population, all of them need to be cognizant about the importance of families.

When I use the word families, perhaps a little bit different than how you were referring to them, I mean that broadly defined. It’s probably more accurate to just talk about folk’s social support network, recognizing that for some individuals, yeah, it is not appropriate in the case of sexual abuse or domestic violence cases that an individual will return to their intimate partner. Sometimes sons don’t want their sons to come back to their homes because of strained relationships.

Leonard: They can’t let them back in because of restrictions in public housing.

Jocelyn: Public housing, of course, but there is somebody, I like to believe, in everybody’s life that is part of their social support network that they see as family and that can be included in the reentry process. That could be friends that they’ve met in the institutions or in the community. It could be mentors. It could be the faith community.

The point that I’m trying to make is that service providers broaden how they think about family and social support to be not just biological family members but others who are in the individual’s social support network and think about the ways in which the services that they are providing can incorporate that broader social support network to make sure that they understand the larger context with which people are returning back into, if that makes sense.

Leonard: Our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, what they’ve told me is that they do … because we do plans before they come out of the prison system, and we interview the families, and make sure that they’re welcome, and what the support network is going to be. There are issues such as violence or sexual violence that we have to deal with if the parents themselves or the people who that person’s going to live with is caught up in the criminal justice system.

These are all factors that we’ve gone to go through in terms of that interplay. What they’re telling me is that it takes an enormous amount of time. They say two things: the more, the greater, the larger the social network, the larger supportive network, as you’ve just said could be uncle, could be a neighbor, could be the faith community, the larger that supportive network, the better he or she is going to do when they come out of the prison system.

Is there a way to rally that social support network. Would you please take the person inside your home? Would please provide him with the necessary monetary support in the first couple of months until we can find the individual an employment, recognizing full well that our employment statistics are about 50%? That finding, I find, is not unusual for people under supervision throughout the United States. There’s an enormous amount of discrimination against people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. How do we, as parole and probation agencies, find the time to do those interactions, to do that home plan to gather the resources, to gather that larger social network together to support that individual when it’s that labor intensive, when it’s that time intensive?

Jocelyn: As a person who doesn’t do a ton of research on the organizational capacity or structure of parole and probation departments, it’s difficult for me to identify how they find the time other than to really underscore the importance of it that it is a more effective way of doing reentry planning. As we’ve discussed, families are there. They’re important. Yes, it may be labor intensive, but I would still argue that that’s one of the more important things that parole and probation officers can do.

The more that they do this work, this foundational work, I believe, in supporting families, then the less that they have to do supervision and monitoring, I would argue. Not that that means that they should totally take their eyes off of the ball, but the point is that this is an effective way of supporting formerly incarcerated persons. The logic is if they can do more of this, then that will get them better outcomes in the long run.

The other thing that’s important to mention, we found this in our Safer Return demonstration, is that when parole agents know that there are family members there and there’s case managers who are also using family members as part of the reentry process, then that is another kind of eye that they have on formerly incarcerated persons on their caseloads.

If they feel like someone is perhaps slipping, going down, maybe not doing criminal activity but starting to exhibit behavior that they think that they’re going down the wrong path, then that’s another check-in that they have. They can check-in with mom or the intimate partner and say, “How is this person doing? How is [Glenn 00:16:30] doing? What additional can I do to support him? What can I do to support you?

Leonard: I do want to talk about that and I also want to talk about t research in Chicago, but we’re more than halfway through the program. Ladies and gentlemen, we have Jocelyn Fontaine, senior research associate for the Urban Institute, www.urban.org, talking about families and re-entry. Jocelyn, that’s exactly what we found because mothers will call and say, “He’s hanging out on the corner again. You need to talk to him. You need to intervene.” Fathers will say, “Look, he’s tried to find jobs. I’ve tried helping him find jobs,” and it validates the job-finding experience. Now we have to ask for proof of that.

We have family members who are actively engaged every single day because they don’t want to see this individual go back to prison. You do have cousins, you do have uncles, you do have neighbors, you do have different people who are trying to exhibit and support this individual, and they do contact us when he’s not doing well.

Jocelyn: Yeah because they’re interested in supporting them. They want good outcomes as well. They want them to stay out of trouble and to stay out of prison. If family members feel like parole agents or probation agents support them and feel like they want them as part of their processes, then family members would be more likely to interact and engage with them, and provide that kind of “additional surveillance” or just more information.

Leonard: I just think a lot of us in parole and probation need more training, need a greater sense of being sensitized to these issues, and the potential for a family. Again, I agree with your definition of family. It’s much broader than mom, and dad, and brother, and sister, but that if we can broaden that support and that work, we’re going to have less work to do, and we’re going to have greater numbers of check-ins because family member check-in with us all the time, and they bring problems to our attention. We’ve got to nip this in the bud right now.

Jocelyn: Right.

Leonard: I saw him doing spice or synthetic drugs the other day. That’s not going to work. He’s not going to live in my house. You need to talk to this individual. You need to talk to my son, and you need to convince him to stop doing this, and you need to start testing him for K2 and spice. We do have those interactions all the time, which is I think one of the reasons why our success rate has increased from 63% to 69% who have successfully completed supervision over the course of the last couple of years because we’ve done more family intervention.

Once again, I’m going to get calls and emails from people in parole and probation throughout the country and go, “Leonard, I’m sick and tired listening to your 50 to 1 caseloads. I have 150 to 1. I don’t have the time as your folks do to sit down and do this interactive mentoring with this larger family group. I’m really struggling here.” That’s always the issue. The research community comes along and says, “This is probably the way to go. This is probably a fairly decent idea. Boy, we wish we had the resources that you folks in D.C. have to do these sort of things.” I’ve got to acknowledge that frustration.

Jocelyn: If I could, just to insert some of the lessons that we’ve learned from the Safer Return demonstration.

Leonard: Oh heavens, yes because that’s what I want to talk about.

Jocelyn: Yeah. Safer Return included a lot of things that was based on a lot of work that had done working with practitioners and the research community to identify what are the best and promising practices to support prisoner reentry, or prisoners coming back from prison, or individuals coming back from prison, and included job training, mentorship, and a host of other things.

What I wanted to highlight, in the context of the conversation that we’re having right now, is one of the core components of it was a strong partnership with parole agents and the program. The program case managers were using family inclusive case management practices. They had been trained in how to use a broad definition of family to incorporate them in the case management process for the individual participant, but they were also supposed to extend their case management to include parole agents so that parole and the case managers for the program were doing this what they called co-case management, which just means they were teaming up together to have …

Leonard: Yes. These were social service providers, not parole and probation agents. The social service providers were teaming up with parole and probation agents.

Jocelyn: Yes.

Leonard: Okay.

Jocelyn: One of the great findings of Safer Return is that it did reduce re-incarcerations due to parole violations relative to a comparison group and it also was successful in getting more people jobs. More jobs, higher wages, and they got those jobs quicker relative to a comparison group. We really feel, based on this finding, that it really demonstrates the importance of parole and practitioner partnerships and, in this case, it was Safer Return case managers. In other cases, it’s just other folks who are providing the other social services for reentry. We strongly encourage, based on this finding, that parole agents make these connections with the service providers who are doing reentry stuff.

It could be a housing provider; it could be an employment provider; it could be an education provider to get this more comprehensive perspective of individuals, to have another check on the person to say, “How are they doing,” and both of them using their position, the parole agent has … what do they have? They have the stick and the program folks with the carrot, like this is what you get, as two complimentary perspective sand a way to get individuals to move forward and to be more successful.

Leonard: It dovetails very nicely with the research on cognitive behavioral therapy where you engage the individual coming out of the prison system in such a way that the person opens up. It’s really a two-way conversation between two people rather than the coppish in the past, parole and probation agent, who is there to revoke you when you’ve reached that point. That individual tries to get into the heart, get into the mind of that individual. That’s the only way you’re going to find out about the fact that yes, I’m living with my sister but her husband is not appreciative of my being there.

You’re not going to get to that point unless you were able to have a conversation, a meaningful conversation, unless you can break down the barriers because most people caught up in the criminal justice system don’t look at us as people who they really want to talk to. They look at us as the possibility of people who can send them back to prison. Doing cognitive behavioral therapy, getting involved in the life of that individual, finding out what their issues are, and once you find out what the issues are, then you can talk to the husband and say, “How can we work together on this?”

Jocelyn: Yeah. Talking with the organizations, the individuals who are providing other services for them is another way to just get greater perspective on folks because they may not be willing, they’re probably not willing to tell their parole agent when they’re struggling. They may be telling their case manager and we certainly wouldn’t argue that that’s what the parole agent should use in order to revoke the person, but it would give them a greater understanding of what some of their challenges are, and provide greater context, we believe, in probation and parole planning, and supervision as well.

Leonard: There are seven million people caught up in the criminal justice system on any given day. Seven million individuals. Five are on community supervision. They’re under the auspices of parole and probation agencies throughout the country. That’s just an enormous amount of people. We’re not talking about juveniles in this and we’re not talking about the jail population, I think, in this. We’re talking about principally five million people under adult parole and probation supervision. Overwhelming numbers of people.

Return to prison rate, according to the Department of Justice, has been two-thirds rearrested, one-half go back to prison. Governors throughout the country are basically saying, “We’ve got to get better rates of return.” People on both sides of the politic [while 00:25:11] are basically saying, “We’ve got to do better in terms of not sending people back to prison, stabilize them, do as much as humanly possible.” The governor is a screaming bloody murderer because they’re saying our correctional budget is the second most costly item within our budget. They’re turning to parole and probation and saying, “Look, you’ve got to do better.”

One of the things that we are suggesting, I think, through this program and the television show, and I’ll put this in the show notes, the link to the television show on what we called, at that point, Family Reunification, was that unless you involve pro-social elements int community, you’re not going to get better rates of return.

Jocelyn: Right. That’s right. To the extent, and this is certainly the case in Illinois, that returns to re-incarceration are largely as a result of violations of the community supervision, that is right, violating their parole. Then if we can make some meaningful changes in the way parole departments engage with families, engage with other social service providers to reduce those technical violations, then we can have meaningful reductions in the re-incarceration rate which translate into significant cost savings.

Leonard: The story out of Baltimore County, I’ll mention the county, when I was with the State of Maryland for 14 years. The guy comes out of the prison system and the wife accepts him back inside the house. They’re trying to make a go of it. We were trying to help them adjust to each other and he is doing pretty good. He’s being a good husband, being a good father, going to work, and he was doing all the things we asked him to do, but he kept [pulling 00:27:05] positive to marijuana.

We’re up to 5 and we’re concerned, and then we’re now worth a 10. Now we’re approaching 20. What we did was to arrange for a family intervention. The parole and probation agent in the State of Maryland was not successful in terms of reading this individual [inaudible 00:27:26]. He was doing so well that he wanted to celebrate. We were saying, “But you can’t celebrate through substance abuse.”

We had the family confront him and it was an emotional event, tearful event, and he stopped. That’s the power of the family versus the limited power of the criminal justice system. Our ability as people, parole and probation folks, to convince people to look at life differently is very limited compared to what their mother can do, what their father can do, and what their cousins can do, and what their neighbors can do.

Jocelyn: Yeah. That’s a tremendous story. Thanks for sharing it. It’s possible because, in that case, you’re willing to involve the family. Otherwise, if they were just constantly testing dirty, then you’d be more likely to violate them because you have no other lens, no other way to bring them around to changing their behavior, really feeling like there’s no other option other than to send them back to prison.

When you know that there’s family members there, know that you can use them to bring the individual around, then feeling like there’s more options other than I just have to violate this person because I see no other options, no other opportunities, and no other way to get them to change their behavior.

Leonard: Had the person gone out and committed a violent crime and somebody said to the media, “Oh, by the way, he had 20 drug violations within 6 months,” then the newspaper headline would be parole and probation fails. That’s the other part of this. Getting families involved early is the key to possibly mitigating some of these technical violations that come along. It’s not just getting them involved but getting them involved at the very beginning of the process.

Jocelyn: Absolutely. I think that’s right.

Leonard: It’s a fast [leading 00:29:26] conversation. Jocelyn Fontaine, Urban Institute, www.urban.org, talking about families and reentry. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We really appreciate your comments, and we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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