Offender Reentry: A Police Perspective

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(Audio begins)

Steve Madsen: When people come back out of prison they’re coming right back into the same neighborhood, the same group of people they hung out with.

David Spenner: They’re just going to go back to doing the same things that they did before they were locked up. We need to break that cycle.

Terri Lee Danner: The typical offender in this program is an offender who is violent.

David Spenner: Whatever we can do to invest in those people is going to make a difference.

Terri Lee Danner: You cut down on crime. You give the most dangerous people coming back to your communities a real chance to succeed and it costs you very little.

David Spenner: We used to be sending two out of every three people back to prison for violent crime and it’s down to one out of three. That’s what I call success.

Offender Reentry: A Police Perspective

David Spenner: The city of Racine is located between the cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. It’s a community of about 82,000, 16 square miles. It’s a very diversified community. We have some significant crime issues. The typical participant in the community reentry program is someone who has committed violent crime, probably used a gun, probably shot that gun in the commission of the crime, and is involved in some form of drug deal.

Terri Lee Danner: The offenders don’t choose to join the program; we choose them based on their criminal behavior. We work with them while they are in prison. When they come out, we explain the program to them; we explain they are going to be held accountable. If they commit a crime with a gun, they are going to be convicted in federal prison, not state prison. So, we’ve got accountability and we also offer them services.

David Spenner: I think the keys to a successful reentry program is pre-planning before the participants come back into the community and a core team that is really steering the whole effort. Everybody at that table has to have an equal voice and it’s made up of a cross section of all kinds of agencies. The faith-based community is there; the workforce development center is there; corrections is there; the police are there. The core committee is critical to the success of this program.

Speaker: I would like to say good evening,.

Terri Lee Danner: The community meetings are held once a month for all of the offenders that we’ve chosen for the program coming out of state and federal prison. Community members attend; members from the faith community; the law enforcement community; and we tell them about the program.

David Spenner: The prosecutors, the police, corrections stand up and say “We hope that you make good use of the resources that are being afforded to you, but we are not going to allow you to re-offend.” I explain to them that because I use the same city that they are using, the safety of the city becomes very personal to me. Then I’m going to go up and shake their hand and I started doing that for a couple of reasons. One is I wanted them to understand they are on even keel with everybody else here in this meeting. But then I wanted the officers to also understand that we’re going to respect these people too; not go lightly on them; not treat them with kid gloves; but just hold them to the same standard that you hold everybody else to.

Steve Madsen: Accountability brings to this program respect from the law enforcement community.

Terri Lee Danner: Accountability has to be there for the credibility of the police department and my department and for the safety of the community. Home visits; urine screens; getting a log of collateral contacts; getting them employed; seeing that they are paying their financial obligations; all that has to happen to be accountable.

David Spenner: The community and the social services agencies are going to be sharing information with us so that you are held accountable all of the time. If they are in their house, the families are part of this effort. The neighbors are holding this person accountable because they are watching what this person is doing. Employers are going to be able to share information as to whether the person is going to work or not. You are completely wrapped around in an environment in this neighborhood to make sure that you do not re-offend.

David Spenner: We use the COP houses as an anchor point in those neighborhoods that are extremely fragile. So we’ve built upon the fact that there is some trust between police officers who work out of those houses and the neighbors surrounding that house.

Steve Madsen: All of the people coming out of prison that are in the community reentry program have agents that work out of the COP houses.

Kathleen Krause: I value the collaboration with probation/parole agents because we get to exchange information on a daily basis. I can see things on the streets sometimes that’s important that they might want to know about so that they can adjust their rules for that particular person in the program.

Terri Lee Danner: The police officers and the probation/parole agents from the COP houses do home visits together. That’s very important. Credibility for us is accountability.

Steve Madsen: When a police officer can accompany them to that home visit, we can settle any problems that arise out of that surprise visit.

Officer driving car: Does he have any kids?

Passenger in car: He has two.

Steve Madsen: When the officers are with these agents, they are showing the community that we are a partnership working to help participants in this program.

Woman at door: Hello. How are you doing?

Terri Lee Danner: The community reentry program needs to keep people active in non-criminal activities; work is the biggest of those. The workforce development center is key to that and in addition, they’ve partnered with us. They are now providing specialized training to people in our program who can then go out and start in jobs at $14 an hour.

Dwayne Windham: We’re developing life skills that some of them probably never had and build a rapport with family members and members in the community.

David Spenner: The reason an agency needs to implement a reentry program is because we cannot afford not to. In times of declining dollars and shorter resources, we need to make what we have stretch further. It cost you a little bit in terms of time and staff initially, but as the program begins to develop and other people become involved in it, that investment really begins to diminish. I think one of the biggest difficulties is to just make sure that your agency stays focused on this program; and that’s really finding key people in your agency that can keep this program going for you. People really need to get behind the officers that are going to be in the front lines of this program and allow them to make a difference. A recommendation I would make to the law enforcement executives wanting to bring this program to their community is that if you are going to start it, you’ve got to commit to it. You’ve got to stick with it. All of us are going to face budget cuts and this can not be one of the programs that just drops off the table when times get tight.

Steve Madsen: Our participants do re-offend. We’re not perfect. But that number statistically is only 22 percent compared to the national average of 66 percent.

Terri Lee Danner: We succeed either way. We believe the person changes their behavior and they stop committing crimes and the community benefits and so do they and their family. Or they continue on the ways that they were, but because we are monitoring them so closely and there are so many of us involved with them, they are taken back into custody and returned to prison.

Steve Madsen: And we are proud of the fact that so far we have not had any of our participants charged with a gun crime.

David Spenner: I think one of the other benefits we have is that the community really sees us in a different light. Rather than an occupying force or something that’s to be threatened of, they really see us as a partnership to try to keep their families stable; to try to improve their particular neighborhoods.

Terri Lee Danner: You cut down on crime. You give the most dangerous people coming back to your communities a real chance to succeed and it costs you very little. What it does cost you is time of your staff to get it going, but that’s our job and it works.

David Spenner: The way I measure success in this program is how many people are we putting back in jail; are they staying clean and what we’ve found here in Racine is that we use to send two out of three people back to prison for violent crime and it’s down to one out of three. That’s what I call success.

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