The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment-William Burrell

The Challenges of Justice Reinvestment-William Burrell

DC Public Safety Radio

http://media.csosa.gov

Radio show at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/08/challenges-justice-reinvestment-william-burrell/

LEONARD SIPES: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones, ladies and gentlemen, Bill Burrell. Bill is an independent corrections management consultant and author of a book that I find very interesting. He can be reached at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L, at comcast.net. The topic of today’s program is the challenge of justice reinvestment; what’s happening in parole and probation throughout the United States in terms of new ways of doing things, new ways of coping with the criminal justice system. Bill, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

BILL BURRELL: Thank you, Len. It’s great to be with you.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, before we started the program we were talking about the corollary of mental health back in the 60s and 70s. We did have a massive undertaking throughout the country, where we sort of recognized that these large mental hospitals in virtually every state in the Unites States, and it probably was not a good idea to keep mentally incapacitated people in these large hospitals, these large structures. They probably could be a better treated, better dealt with out in the community. Yet we never did develop the community infrastructure to handle all those people coming out of all of those state mental hospitals and the disparaging fact is that it now seems that the criminal justice system is the principal provider of mental health treatment. Comment on that. Am I right or wrong?

BILL BURRELL: Yes. You’re right on the money there, Len. The idea was a good one. You think about those hospitals. You think about the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They were pretty horrible places. And once these new psychotropic drugs were developed back in the 50s and 60s they were able to stabilize the symptoms and consider the release of these to the community, which made a whole lot of sense, it’s a lot cheaper, much more humane, and more effective. But, as you mentioned, the community infrastructure, the group homes, residential facilities to house these folks in the community were never built. So we ended up with a good idea that went pretty horribly wrong. And now some 20, 30 years later we’re looking at the jails and prisons being populated largely by some of the socially released with mental problems.

LEONARD SIPES: But what we’re talking about here is that we had a great idea and we implemented it and they went into the community. Without community infrastructure to take care of the mentally ill they end up with us in the criminal justice system. And there’s a lot of people out there who would say that somehow, someway there became a big difference between what was conceptualized and what actually happened.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s exactly the problem. We had a great idea, but it was implemented poorly, and that seems to be a very common story in the criminal justice system and maybe in government in general, that a good idea is developed, researchers come up with it, they test it, they evaluate it, and they put it out there, and then once it’s turned over to folks in agencies, for a variety of reasons, some of which relates to the fact that folks are really not trained in large scale organizational change and implementation, the execution of a good idea is flawed and the results that we expected don’t happen, because we really didn’t do the program as it was designed. And that was the lesson I guess we have to learn from the institutionalization of the mentally ill. It was one of the stools on the, one of the legs on the stool, so to speak, was the capacity in the community to have, supervise, and oversee the people released, and that never was completed, and we lost those folks in the community, in the boarding houses and the single room occupancy hotels in cities and they just disappeared.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, our program is called today the Challenges of Justice Reinvestment: The Impact on Parole and Probation because we see the possibility of a connection between that experience, the idea in terms of the institutionalization, dealing with mentally ill, the fact that there was not a sufficient infrastructure created to deal with all these people coming out. So we’re saying today that there’s the possibility that with justice reinvestment or reorganizing the way that we conduct business within the criminal justice system in terms of evidence based practices, in terms, again, of justice reinvestment, that there’s the possibility that the same thing may happen with parole and probation agencies that are not given sufficient staffing, money, resources, to deal with an increasing parole and probation population. Is that the connection?

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. That’s kind of the nub of the problem. Again, we have a situation with our prisons in the United States, they’re massively overcrowded, they’re not good places to house people with addiction problems, lack of education, and a whole variety of other problems. So the justice reinvestment model is saying we need to reduce those prison populations, get people out or don’t send them in, in the first place who are lower risk, nonviolent, less serious offenders, and handle them in a different way, thereby reducing prison populations, and if you can reduce those by enough you can actually close institutions and save money. And the second part of that logic is that a portion of that money would be reallocated or reinvested in community corrections to build the capacity to handle these folks. Now, and that’s a great idea, and where it has happened it has worked pretty well, if we look at the state of Texas and their experience. But part of the challenge is that the probation and parole system in this country is so overwhelmed. We have 70% of the correctional, adult correctional population is under the supervision of probation and parole, which surprises some people though, because they think we’ve locked everybody up over the last 30 years. Well, we have, but we’ve also put a lot more people under community control on probation and parole.

LEONARD SIPES: I think in the seven million, the correctional population between prisons and jails, it’s two million in community supervision, it’s five million. Am I in the ballpark?

BILL BURRELL: That’s right. And what’s interesting is if you look at the historical numbers, you go back to the early 1980s when the Bureau of Justice Statistics starting reporting on probation on parole populations, we have had 70% of the population ever since that time. So it’s been consistent over decades. When you look at the impact of the war on drugs in the 80s probation actually absorbed a greater amount of the results of that war on drugs than did the prison system. So we are, in my experience, when I was with probation in New Jersey, our individual caseloads went from 110 per officer in 1981 to 189 per officer in 1988, which was directly the result of changes in our laws and enforcement practices around drugs. So we have to remember that the base that we’re looking to focus on for these justice reinvestment efforts is pretty resource poor, pretty lacking the capacity to really do the work for the population they have right now, not to mention any increased number of people coming in. And one of the challenges is when you look at diverting people out of prison these could be higher risk people with more needs and problems and demands on a system. It is currently unable to really effectively address the population that it has.

LEONARD SIPES: Now, we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in Washington DC we do have caseloads of 50 or less per parole and probation agent, what we call community supervision officers. But my experience in talking to people from throughout the country, as a result of the radio and television shows that we’ve done and when I go out and do training, it’s no usual they tell for there to be a ratio of 150 or more for every parole and probation agent out there. Now, I do know there are some jurisdictions where it is fairly close to 50 to 1, but my guess, and this is nothing more than a guess, is that the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to that’s not their experience, the overwhelming majority of the people that I talk to are operating 125, 150 cases per parole and probation agent or more. So when you have caseloads of that size it’s awfully hard to do cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s awfully hard to really get into the lives of these individuals, encourage them to do better, encourage them to look at a different way of doing things, encouraging them to get drug treatment, mental health treatment, vocational programs, encourage them to find jobs and help them find jobs to do the home visits. All of these things are very labor-intensive and very difficult to do when you have caseloads of 150 to 1.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. Well, you said it very well and my experience echoes yours. When I go to the American Probation and Parole Association conferences twice a year and other conferences and through my consulting and work with APPA I talk to a lot of folks around the country. And the ideal caseload or the optimal caseload of 50 to 1 is a very rare occurrence, unfortunately. And we do see lots of departments, particularly where you have states with county-based probation departments, these caseloads tend to be much higher than recommended, in some cases, as you said, 150 or more. And it’s hard to even keep track of the activities of those folks, no less spend the quality time you need to with them to get to know them, get to know their problems, connect them with resources, follow up, and so on. It’s just it can’t be done with those large caseloads.

LEONARD SIPES: All right, I’m hearing the same thing. When I do the radio shows I would imagine the most popular response to the radio shows is, “Len, I listen to you talk about justice reinvestment, I listen to you talk about evidence-based practices, I’m 100% behind you. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we want to do. We want to have a good relationship with the people under supervision. We want to encourage them to do better. We want to get them involved in programs. We want to work with their families. We want to work with the faith based community. We want to do all of these things. We simply don’t have the resources to do them.” So if that’s true, why is there such a disconnect between the lofty sense of what I hear from my very good friends at the Department of Justice or Pew or Urban or Vera or lots of other organizations, American Probation and Parole Association, Council of State Governments, all of us are solidly behind justice reinvestment, all of us are solidly behind evidence-based practices, so why is there such a disconnect between what all of us want and what the reality is?

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s probably the 64,000 dollar question. I think some of it has to do with a disconnect between community corrections and policymakers, legislators, governors, officers and so on. We’re kind of a stepchild of the justice system, despite the fact that we own 70% of the workload. You don’t, you can’t go to a probation department and see caseload crowding like you can go to a prison or jail and look at the tiers and see people crowded, double, triple bunked and things like that. We tend to be seen as a, what I would say, a magical expanding resource, that more cases you give us we just expand and we take them in. Well, we put them on the books, but we really are not capable of keeping up with the workload demands. So as you add more bodies to this system the amount of time spent with each one goes down, the quality of that time generally goes down. So you’re diminishing the capacity of the system to do what it needs to do, but it’s very hard to see that physically. And we also don’t do a very good job as a field in terms of communicating performance information, outcomes, results, process measures and so on. We don’t really do a very good job of that.

So it’s hard to convince people of the nature of our problem and the extents of our problem, because we tend to be out of sight, out of mind, we don’t communicate well, we tend to in the field have a sense that we don’t have political and public support for the work that we do. And, fortunately, the research and the polling work that I’ve seen suggests exactly the opposite, that we do things that are valued by the community, and I think that is becoming more and more clear over the last few years, that we create public value for the community and we need to connect that value to the need for support, political support, community support, resource support and so on, to make that case that we do need the resources. We can do a lot better if we’ve got the capacity, the number of officers and staff we need to supervise in cases, and what I also like to say is the capability, the skills, the knowledge, the training, the resources for treatment and so on that will enable to effectively supervise those folks that we’ve already got in our caseloads. And if you want to do justice reinvestment, which everybody seems to be on board with, I just was reading that I think the 27th state just signed up for it, Utah, so better than half the country has signed onto this. And we need to figure out a way to communicate that we could be creating another deinstitutionalization type of situation if we begin pushing people out of prisons and jails into probation and parole caseloads without the capacity to provide effective supervision.

LEONARD SIPES: And what would that do, Bill? Before the program we were talking about the danger of what?

BILL BURRELL: Well, if you put more people and potentially higher risk people into probation caseloads the amount and the quality of supervision is going to decline and the inevitable result of that will be more crime in the community committed by people under the supervision of probation and parole officers. And what keeps me up at night is that the blame will then be placed on the probation and parole agencies, “Well, you didn’t supervise these people effectively.” Well, part of the problem is we have a caseload of 150 and no one, I don’t care who you are, can supervise that size caseload effectively.

LEONARD SIPES: Our guest –

BILL BURRELL: So this…. Go ahead.

LEONARD SIPES: Let me reintroduce you, Bill. We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guest today is Bill Burrell. He’s been at our microphones multiple times before. He’s an independent corrections management consultant and author of a pretty interesting book. – oh, I’m sorry at william.burrell, B-U-R-R-E-L-L at comcast.net, william.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at comcast.net. Bill, you’ve been dealing with parole and probation agencies throughout the country in terms of your consultant role. You spent years with the New Jersey I think Department of Parole and Probation, is that correct?

BILL BURRELL: The Jersey court system, yeah, probation.

LEONARD SIPES: The Jersey court system, probation. So you have decades of experience in this, you’re out and about, you talk to people from throughout the country, you’re very well integrated with our friends at the American Probation and Parole Association, you go to their conferences, so you’re hearing this from more than a couple people.

BILL BURRELL: Yes, yes. And then this is kind of the theme I hear from almost everybody. There’s a frustration because they’ve read about and been trained on evidence-based practices, which is a pretty powerful vehicle for improving the results of what we do, but then they look at the, their organization, their department, and they look at their caseloads and they look at their lack of training resources and so on and they say, “We can’t do it. We don’t have the ability to move up to this new level of performance that we believe in, we think it’s a good idea, we’d like to do.” But it’s the ability to implement EBP, which is a much abused term these days, I think people throw it around very loosely, but really we’re talking about a set of practices that if they are implemented will reduce the risk of recidivism by the population that we supervise, reliably anywhere between 10% to 15%, 20% reductions in recidivism, which is significant. So people are looking at that and saying, “Gee, we’d like to be able to that, we would like to do our job better, we just don’t see how we can do it.”

And some of that relates to another issue that really hasn’t hit the radar screen of too many people yet. We’ve talked a lot about mass incarceration in this country. Some people are now starting to talk about mass supervision, those five million people that are under probation and parole supervision, how many of them really need to be on probation? Are there low-risk offenders there? Are there minor drug offenders? Are there people – there’re lots of people in my experience that’ll get placed on probation just to enable the court to collect fines and restitution fees and so on. So how much of that five million people is the chaff, so to speak, of the caseload that could be handled in some other fashion?

LEONARD SIPES: But I think that’s the point that most of the folks, again, that I just mentioned, from Pew, from Urban, and, again, are good friends and people who were completely supportive of, from Department of Justice and from other organizations will simply say you take those lower level individuals and you do, quote, unquote, “something else with them”. Their supervised by kiosks, they’re supervised administratively, that we have little contact with people at the lower end of the spectrum so we have the resources to devote towards people who do pose a clear and present danger or a risk to public safety. And you do that through objective risk and needs instruments and properly validated for local conditions and there you go, voila, the problem is solved.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. In fact, Vince Schiraldi, who was the Commissioner of Probation in New York City up until recently, and Mike Jacobson, who you may have encountered, who was also the Commissioner of Probation for a while, they just wrote a piece called “Could Less Be More When it Comes to Probation Supervision?”, and talking about reducing the amount of people, low-risk people on supervision, and those that are there, reducing the amount of resources that they devote to them. And New York was one of the, I think the first, or the most prominent department to do kiosk supervision. And they had at one point almost two thirds of their population was reporting on kiosks and the re-arrest rate was like 1.5%. It was no different than the general citywide re-arrest rate. So we have lots of folks that did stupid things, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, whatever the scenario you want to present, are really not a risk. These are people that we should have the minimum amount to do with, collect whatever financial obligations we want from them, or whatever else we need to do, and then get them out of the system as quickly as possible, because we’re learning that we can actually make things worse by supervising those people, having them hang out with high-risk offenders in the waiting room in the probation department. Well, guess what. It’s usually the bad guys who make the good guys bad, not the other way around.

LEONARD SIPES: Well, we’re also told that trying to help individuals at the lower end of the continuum also poses a problem, because if you have a person who is a lower risk offender, the judge orders drug treatment for that individual, well, that’s just money that’s taken up that could be reallocated towards a higher risk individual. And if he or she doesn’t complete that treatment or they’re going half the time or they’re creating a problem within the group, bam, they’re revoked and out in a prison.

BILL BURRELL: Yeah. And we have lots of places where judges and prosecutors almost reflexively give probation, and they put on lots of conditions, special conditions of supervision, most of which they have no intention of enforcing, but it makes them feel good, makes them feel like we’re being tough on crime. Well, you got to realize that every one of those people you place on probation has a set of conditions that a probation has to enforce, and, ultimately, they can be brought back into court for failure to do that, to live up to those conditions, and potentially go to jail.

LEONARD SIPES: But help me, because I’m struggling with this, because if we did that then are the folks who at the national level are right? What they’re saying is, is that take that good percentage of your caseload – you just said that two thirds of the probation caseload in New York City was being supervised by kiosk and they had the same re-arrest rate as the general population. Then the question now becomes, is why aren’t we taking that I don’t know what percentage, two third, one third, one half, whatever that is of the lower risk offenders and doing something else with them besides regular and parole, then why aren’t we doing that? That’s what the people at the national level would say. It’s that it’s not a capacity issue; it’s the lack of a willingness on our part to do, quote, unquote, “something else with lower level offenders”.

BILL BURRELL: Well, that’s the I think the new breaking issue right now is focusing on the sentencing decision and the plea bargaining decision and introducing risk assessment into that. And there were just a series of things in the paper; Attorney General Holder came out apparently against using risk assessment in sentencing, which is kind of going against the tide of where the field seems to be going in terms of evidence-based decision-making. But the sentencing decision usually focuses on the seriousness of the crime and the extent of the offender’s prior involvement, prior record, and that’s pretty much it. And that really doesn’t get to the question of risk. To some extent prior record is a driver of risk, but there’re a lot of other factors that are involved. So we have people sentencing offenders for lots of reasons that have little or nothing to do with their risk of reoffending. Now, there may be other objectives of sentencing you want to accomplish, deterrents and punishment and so on, and we have to accomplish, accommodate those. But until we can figure out a way to help judges and defense attorneys and public defenders and DAs get a sense of the level of risk and sentence accordingly, we’re not going to get a reduction in the number of low-risk offenders that are going into probation.

LEONARD SIPES: But they could say the onus is on us. They could say that, “Okay, fine. We imposed all these restrictions. You do with them what you think is permissible.” Again, going back to the example of New York City probation where two thirds are in kiosks. They’re simply going to say, “Hey. We did what we think is proper, now you make the decision in terms of how you handle them.” And all we have to do is shift massive amounts of people into these lower level categories and suddenly we have the resources for the higher level people. What they’re going to say is that’s our job not theirs.

BILL BURRELL: Well, yes, there’s a good deal of truth to that, but one of the problems we see is judges will impose a probation sentence, sometimes three, four, five years, with lots of conditions, and send it over to probation, and probation is obligated to enforce those conditions, and sometimes that’s not possible by putting them on a kiosk kind of reporting. So some of this has to do with the use of probation in terms of the length of time, the number of conditions, even beyond the question of whether they should be on probation at all, because each one of those cases consumes probation resources.

LEONARD SIPES: Sure.

BILL BURRELL: I had a discussion with one of our judges in New Jersey years ago and his favorite sentence was to put somebody on probation until the restitution is collected. So all he wanted was the money. He wanted to get the money to the victim of the crime.

LEONARD SIPES: Right.

BILL BURRELL: He really didn’t want the person being supervised by a probation officer.

LEONARD SIPES: Right.

BILL BURRELL: But I, and I suggested to him there was another mechanism in our criminal code that enabled us in probation to collect that money for him and hold that person accountable without me having to devote a professional probation officer to that case. He said, “Gee, I had no idea.” Well, so shame on me too, you know, that we weren’t really educating folks about the implications of those probation sentences and then also that there were other mechanisms within the criminal code to accomplish the objective that he was looking to accomplish.

LEONARD SIPES: So in the final four minutes, basically what you’re saying, Bill, is that we, within the criminal justice system throughout the country, need to have a very powerful examination as to how we conduct business, how we do what we do, and if we’re unwilling to do something else with lower level individuals then at least give us the resources, the caseloads, the treatment resources, the training, the money to do it well.

BILL BURRELL: Yes. But I would first argue that we need to look at the front end of the system, the whole criminal processing up to the point of sentencing, diversion of low-risk offenders, presentencing into treatment programs if they need them, really begin to sort through that pile of offenders coming into the system and figure out who’s really dangerous, who are we really scared of, who really needs to be punished by going to prison, who are those people with serious problems that need to be supervised by probation officers to get them into treatment and so on. And that group that I call the chaff, the low-risk, minor offenders that we’re just mad at, we’re not scared of, we’re just mad at them, let’s not push them father into the system. Let’s find other ways of dealing with them in the community so that the caseload of a probation department is really moderate and high-risk people. The low-risk people for the most part never get there.

And that means a much more systematic, disciplined sorting process in the presentencing arena so that we’ve taken them out as much as we can so that what we’re left with is the people who really do need supervision. And then when you begin to think about the justice reinvestment side of things, because you go back a couple years, the Pew Public Safety Performance Project published a report, it talked about the amount of money, how the corrections dollar is allocated, and 12% of the corrections dollar was going to probation and parole, even though we have 70% of the population. Most expensive parole supervision was 7,000 dollars a year. And the average prison

BILL BURRELL: Prison cost –

LEONARD SIPES: Yeah.

BILL BURRELL: Was six or seven times that. I said, “I don’t –”

LEONARD SIPES: Yes.

BILL BURRELL: “I don’t even want all of that difference. Just give me, just double what I’m getting and I could do amazing things.”

LEONARD SIPES: The bottom line between it, the bottom line is that our people within parole and probation throughout the country want to do a good job, they’re dedicated to what they’re doing, they’re very important to our public safety, they’re very important to limiting the expenditures of tax paid dollars, they’re dedicated to justice reinvestment, they’re dedicated to evidence-based practices, they simply want a decent shot of doing that job well. That’s the bottom line, correct?

BILL BURRELL: Absolutely. You don’t stay in the field of probation and parole for very long if you’re not interested in helping people. And what we’ve found out from the research on burnout, for example, is that it’s not working with the offenders that burns out probation and parole officers; it’s impossible policies and procedures and organizational structures, which includes very large caseloads, that effectively prohibit them from doing the job that they came in to do.

LEONARD SIPES: Bill, it’s a fascinating conversation. As always, I invite you back to the microphones any time, because you provide a sense of clarity from the field that sometimes we don’t hear from the national organizations. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today has been Bill Burrell, independent corrections management consultant and author. You can reach at William, W-I-L-L-I-A-M.B-U-R-R-E-L-L at comcast.net. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

 

Share

Reinventing the Criminal Justice System-Justice Reinvestment-Urban Institute-DC Public Safety

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/01/reinventing-the-criminal-justice-system-justice-reinvestment-urban-institute-dc-public-safety/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, is Reinventing the Criminal Justice System, Justice Reinvestment; I think one of the more important topics that we’re going to be discussing and one of the more complicated topics we are going to be discussing this year. Dr. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center for The Urban Institute is our guest today. – www.urban.org. We’ll be making reference to that website throughout the program because, ladies and gentlemen, this is, again, an extraordinarily difficult concept to understand, complicated but unbelievably important to the future of the criminal justice system. I’ll try to summarize it and then turn the entire program over to Nancy. Number one, states and locales all throughout the country are complaining of budget cuts, and it really has impacted the criminal justice system. And I’ll read a passage, a quick passage from a publication, “What can county and city managers do reduce these costs without compromising public safety, they can engage in Justice Reinvestment. Justice Reinvestment can help prioritize local justice spending for those who pose the greatest risk to public safety while also informing which individuals would be better off in the community, where services and treatment are more readily available.” And then bottom line, I’m thinking, about Justice Reinvestment are the savings. If there are savings, a portion of those savings go back to the states and local jurisdictions to even provide more programs. Nancy, am I somewhere in the ballpark of even beginning to describe what Justice Reinvestment is all about?

Nancy La Vigne: Yes, you are, and you did it quite succinctly, I will say. It’s a multi-step process and so it does take some time to explain but perhaps we should start with a little bit of history. You did refer to the fact that the impetus behind a lot of states and localities getting on the Justice Reinvestment bandwagon is because of the budget shortfalls, and that’s definitely accurate, but there were other issues as well. First of all, as I think we all know, a lot of those budget shortfalls are being fed by rising criminal justice costs. They may not be the entire – as a matter of fact they’re a rather small, 8% to 10% of the total state budget in any given state but still we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars so with states and localities thinking, “What can we do? How can we save money? How can we deal with these budget shortfalls,” it’s a natural inclination to look at the criminal justice system because those costs continue to rise because the populations have been rising historically. Now you may be aware of recent studies that show that state prison populations are on the decline but actually, as my colleague Jesse Jannetta recently blogged about, that’s driven almost entirely by California.

Len Sipes: By the state of California, that’s right, and those overall declines are not all that dramatic.

Nancy La Vigne: They’re marginal, but states realize that this is an issue and they’ve been grappling with it for a while, and many have tried different efforts to control the growth of the prison population that have been maybe mildly successful but not sustained over time, and arguably it’s because they haven’t engaged in this Justice Reinvestment process which requires a couple of things to be place. First, you need to have all the people in the system, all the key stakeholders at the table and on board. If you only work one end of the system, it’s just going to bulge out somewhere else kind of like squeezing a water balloon so you need everyone at the table. At the state level, it’s critical that you have representation from both sides of the aisle, and you’ve got the support of the Governor and the House leadership, the Senate leadership, minority, majority, as well as the Head of the Department of Corrections, and parole and probation and so forth, and judges, prosecutors, everyone who drives the system. If you don’t have them all on board, it’s not going to work because either changes will be made and they’ll be fought and they won’t get through or they won’t be sustained over time because you don’t have this joint buy-in.

Len Sipes: You’re as good as your weakest link.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly. Exactly. Some of those weak links are quiet powerful, as you may know.

Len Sipes: Yes! Yes!

Nancy La Vigne: So there’s that. It’s having the right people at the table. And then it’s guiding the decision-making process with hard empirical data, and that data is often supplied by the state or the locality but typically in the Justice Reinvestment model, it’s analyzed by a technical assistance partner, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs —

Len Sipes: Thank you.

Nancy La Vigne: — in partnership with the Pew Center on the states for the state-level initiative, they together have funded this initiative and supported four technical assistance providers, two that work with states, two that work with localities. I can share who those are if you wish.

Len Sipes: 17 states are doing this?

Nancy La Vigne: 17 states right now are engaged in this process. Some states early on have already engaged in the process and declared victory and moved on. A lot of people point to Texas as an example of that. They were the earliest adopter I can think of, and they were looking towards the future and had planned to spend billions of dollars on new prison construction —

Len Sipes: And did not.

Nancy La Vigne: — and did not. They chose not to.

Len Sipes: And the crime rates have basically gone down in Texas.

Nancy La Vigne: And they took some of the money they would have spent on prisons and funded treatment beds.

Len Sipes: And that is the heart and soul of Justice Reinvestment, is it not? – Using data, doing things differently. If there’s cost-savings, those cost-savings are shared with the states and localities, and they buy more treatment options for people in the criminal option system.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s the way it’s been playing out, not only treatment options or programming. Sometimes it’s to shore up supervision. In some states they’ve identified that the wrong people are being supervised and some people are not being supervised at all so, you know, folks who are maxing out and are exiting after often serving time for pretty serious crimes without any supervision, and of course with supervision comes support. It’s not just about surveillance; it’s about support and providing the necessary programs and services, so shifting who gets supervised, how long they get supervised. You know, some low-level offenders perhaps shouldn’t be supervised at all or certainly shouldn’t be supervised for the length of time that they are. That can save money. But also with those savings, putting it into implementation of graduated sanctions to prevent revocations and other best practices that are supported by evidence.

Len Sipes: One other person – I won’t name this person – this is what he told me, not knowing it, but he said it with all the conviction in the world, that every governor in every state in the United States has had a discussion with his or her Correctional Administrator basically saying that costs have to be reduced. That was his proposition.

Nancy La Vigne: So do you know what I find really frustrating about that?

Len Sipes: Please.

Nancy La Vigne: The assumption that the head of the DOC has control over that population. I mean yes, they are housed within his or her domain or control but that suggests that they’re the ones that drive the growth in the population, and what we’ve learned from the experiences in the states is that’s not really the case.

Len Sipes: True.

Nancy La Vigne: Revocations, often technical revocations, are driving that growth.

Len Sipes: That’s why everybody’s got to be on board.

Nancy La Vigne: Sentencing decisions, sentencing low-level drug offenders, low-level property offenders to increasingly lengthy terms behind bars – that’s not under the control of the head of the DoC. That’s a decision that prosecutors and judges make.

Len Sipes: But after 42 years in the criminal justice system, we are stodgy. We are bureaucrats. We are round-peg in a round-hole kind of people. We’re not used to people coming along and saying, “We’re going to basically readjust/reinvent/change the way that you conduct business.” The criminal justice system, when I joined when I was 18 as a cadet for the Maryland State Police, is basically 90% of the criminal justice system I see as I’m looking at the end of my career.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, and I agree with that. You are stodgy. However – however – when you look at this process, how it plays out in action, it’s a wonder to witness. The Urban Institute is in a role as the oversight coordination and assessment entity for this project so we get to kind of go to all the states and localities and observe how this works, so the Counsel of State Governments, for example, they’ve been leading the charge on the state side. They literally embed people in a state and develop the relationships and share the data and engage in intensive policy conversations and work a tremendous amount of time behind the scenes, getting people on board, educating people, identifying folks that may be reticent to get on board, and finding ways to persuade them that it’s not just in their best interests but in the best interests of the system. They are that neutral outside entity that can speak with authority based on extensive experience working in many states, and presenting the data that can just kind of dispel a lot of the anecdotes that you hear that nay-sayers often argue based on stories rather than fact. They can demonstrate how it is a system-wide problem not just owned by one player, and that can really nudge some stodgy people into action.

Len Sipes: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s give some examples because I’m afraid some of our listeners possibly could be confused with the process. We are talking about in essence focusing our resources on those people who pose the greatest risk to public safety and doing “something else” with those people who do not necessarily pose a great risk to public safety.

Nancy La Vigne: Well, that is one of the many interventions that states have chosen to implement. Really, the interventions should be guided by the identified drivers of population growth so in some states it may be one driver and in some it might be another, and across the 17 states, the most common drivers are revocations, both probation and parole revocations, and a high, high percentage of them being technical.

Len Sipes: In your report, you cited one state with 50% as having histories of parole and probation revocations coming in through their prison system. I spent 14 years with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. At one point for us it was 70%.

Nancy La Vigne: 70%.

Len Sipes: 70%, yes it was.

Nancy La Vigne: Well, I would call that low-hanging fruit. There’s a lot that could be done there. So certainly with the revocation issue, the response to that is to look at what sanctions are in place, do people need to be returned to prison for technical violations, can you create graduated sanctions, can you create incentives for not engaging in technical violations, can you return people for shorter periods of time or return them to local jails rather than to state facilities. All of that saves a ton of money.

Len Sipes: And Project Hope basically said those short, meaningful interventions of a day or two days or three days were effective enough to dramatically reduce recidivism, dramatically reduce technical violations. It was wonderful across the board. So Project Hope is the epitome of an example as to the effectiveness of that approach.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s exactly right, and several of the states who are grappling with high revocation rates did choose to implementation Hope models or Hope-like models. That’s exactly right. But then there’s other drivers, and I mentioned before, sentencing practices and the incarceration of low-level offenders. In Louisiana, for example, non-violent, non-sex offenses represented over 60% of prison admissions so, you know, what can we do with that population? Some may need to go, some may could be diverted, and also what’s stunning to me is that there’s also been a trend in many states of increased lengths of stay for these low-level, non-violent, property and drug offenders So that’s another place where you could look to see making changes. Sentencing reform is tremendously challenging.

Len Sipes: It’s a huge issue.

Nancy La Vigne: It’s very challenging, so most states don’t choose to go the sentencing reform route. They usually look at some kind of back-end way to – although some do pass statutes to change the thresholds by which people should be —

Len Sipes: The research on specialty courts has been very encouraging, diverting people out of the prosecution prison route and going into the specialty courts, and specialty courts have had good returns basically in terms of recidivism and cost-savings.

Nancy La Vigne: Um-hum, uum-hum. It’s true, and then another common driver we observed across states is the issue of delays in parole processing or reductions in the parole grant rate, and these too are relatively simple changes, figuring out what’s slowing things down and how can you speed them up, or how can you change or guide parole boards in a way that they’re incentivized to make decisions to grant parole, perhaps supported by evidence, and the most obvious evidence would be a risk assessment that gives them more comfort in knowing who they should release. In other cases, the parole grants get stalled because people don’t have a home plan. Well, that is an issue of resources often behind bars. If you don’t have a case manager that can help line up a home plan then no one gets released, and then you have this backlog which is really unnecessary.

Len Sipes: And the interesting data in terms of parole is that those paroled have consistently much less of a rate of recidivism than those not paroled, so fewer people coming back to prison, once again, as long as they are released with conditions and those conditions are enforceable.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So what else?

Nancy La Vigne: What else?

Len Sipes: It’s very complicated.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. Well, so what’s complicated about it is how long it takes to explain why it’s called Justice Reinvestment because up till now what we’ve discussed is data-driven, collaborative approaches to reducing the prison population and saving money through identifying the drivers and developing responses to the drivers. Where does this word “reinvestment” come in?

Len Sipes: Yes.

Nancy La Vigne: That comes in at the very, very end with the anticipated savings associated with making all these changes. Now this is very complicated because the savings might not be hard cold cash that you have in your hands and you can put elsewhere, as a matter of fact it’s rarely that. A lot of the savings are projected savings that aren’t realized until several years into the future however the process still encourages states to think about upfront reinvestment. So in looking at prison projections had they done nothing and then the projections associated with the changes that they plan to make, they can anticipate that, you know, five years down the road they’re going to save however many millions of dollars – why not reinvest some of that upfront into programs, supervision, services that help support the entire system and reduce recidivism?

Len Sipes: So the reductions in terms of the cost outlays to the criminal justice system are actually reinvested to make the system even better, so it’s a win-win situation across the board.

Nancy La Vigne: Um-hum.

Len Sipes: All right. Let me reintroduce you, and ladies and gentlemen, we’re a little bit more than halfway through the program. We’re talking about reinventing the criminal justice system – that’s my title – Justice Reinvestment, Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute, www.urban.org – www.urban.org. Again, we reemphasize that this is a joint project of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, the Pew Center on the states and the – I’m sorry, the Centers for State Government, correct?

Nancy La Vigne: The Counsel of State Governments.

Len Sipes: The Counsel of State Governments, I’m sorry, my apologies, but this is a massive undertaking on the part of 17 states, a lot of different jurisdictions, with the understanding that people have been talking about reinventing the criminal justice system, doing “something different” with the criminal justice system for a multiple of reasons but budget, in my opinion, seems to be the principle driver behind all of this. People are more than welcome to disagree with my assessment but I do think it’s budget that’s pushing an awful lot of this, and this is exciting stuff because what it does is bring an awful lot of people in one room, data-driven, taking a look at an awful lot of data and saying, “What can we do to reduce the amount of people flowing through the criminal justice system without having an adverse impact on public safety and saving money and taking those savings and reinvesting those savings in terms of either more prosecutors, more parole and probation agents, more programs, more resources for the criminal justice system so they can do a better job to begin with so it can be data-driven in the future so we can continue this philosophy down the road, right?

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right – data-driven and evidence-based.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Before we continue, I do want to acknowledge all of our partners in this initiative.

Len Sipes: Please. Please. Please.

Nancy La Vigne: We mentioned, of course, the Bureau of Office Assistance and the Pew Center on the States are the funding partners. The Counsel of State Governments and the Vera Institute of Justice have both been working with states, and the way that works is that the Counsel of State of Governments helps identify the drivers and the policy options, and gets states to the point where they pass legislation, and then Vera comes in and helps implement. And then at the local level, it’s the Center for Effective Public Policy and the Crime and Justice Institute that are working with counties across the country.

Len Sipes: Oh, lots of different people, lots of jurisdictions involved in this.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, a lot of players, a lot of very, very seasoned criminal justice professionals, often former practitioners and/or data analysts that come into states and localities and, as I said before, really embed themselves in the system, develop the relationships and the trust, and really make things happen.

Len Sipes: This is, in my mind, the most significant story of the criminal justice system as we move into the 21st century and yet it gets zero coverage. There’s nobody from the Boston Globe, there’s nobody from the New York Times, there’s nobody from the Washington Post, there’s nobody looking at this systematically, and yet this, in my mind, is a fundamental change in terms of how we within the criminal justice system operate. Why is that? Is it just a bunch of policy wonks sitting with a bunch of budget-cutters and saying, “Hey, what’s the best way we that can rearrange the deck chairs?” or is this really a substantive, hard-nosed examination of the fact that we can do this better without imposing so much of a fiscal burden on the states and counties and cities?

Nancy La Vigne: It’s definitely the latter because it’s not just budget-cutters and policy wonks. It’s all the key players in the system that have a shared interest in doing things differently and getting more bang for their buck. I mean, the return on investment has been really poor. If you look at the increased expenditures on corrections across the country —

Len Sipes: Massive.

Nancy La Vigne: — massive, with no real discernible change in the recidivism rate.

Len Sipes: But isn’t it interesting of how you take a look at conservative politicians – not to touch upon politics in any way, shape, or form – but conservative politicians are demanding that the criminal justice system prove its cost effectiveness, demanding that we get a bigger bang for our criminal justice dollar. I mean, I find that to be interesting.

Nancy La Vigne: This is why it’s been so popular an initiative, it’s because it garners support on both sides of the aisle. The left has always been more sympathetic to rehabilitation spending and perhaps diverting people from prison. The right has observed that this is not just a wise use of taxpayer dollars, and they do, they want to see a better return on the investment and that’s what we’re seeing. You know, we talked at the end of the first segment about the projected savings and how they get reinvested. Across the 17 states that are currently engaged in justice reinvestment, they’re projecting between 9 and 438 million dollars in savings.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing. Now is that per state or is that total?

Nancy La Vigne: An average of $163 million per state.

Len Sipes: An average of $163 million cost savings per state.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes. Um-hum. Yeah. It’s huge!

Len Sipes: Who’s getting the Nobel Prize for this?

Nancy La Vigne: I’d love to see it. Well, we have to see those savings, realized, right?

Len Sipes: Of course. Of course.

Nancy La Vigne: A lot of these are projections and we hope they’re accurate but even if they’re off by 50%, that’s still a tremendous savings. Across all the states, in five years the projected savings is $2.12 billion.

Len Sipes: $2.12 billion.

Nancy La Vigne: And that speaks volumes, I think.

Len Sipes: Well, it does speak volumes if we can hold down the rate of recidivism, if we can ensure public safety, if we focus on those people who pose a clear and present danger to our well-being.

Nancy La Vigne: Well, the beauty of this model is that a lot of the policy responses to the drivers of growth embody those principles. Every single state that engages in Justice Reinvestment is refining their risk assessment tools and validating them, and using them to guide decisions on diversion, on supervision, on everything including on needs and who should great treatment, and everything in between; and that is evidence-based, and we know that that’s tied to better outcomes in terms of recidivism rates.

Len Sipes: In essence what we’re saying is that there’s a certain portion of the population that comes into the criminal justice system, again, recognizing there’s been an almost continuous 20-year decline in crime per the National Crime Survey in crimes reported to law enforcement agencies and through the FBI, there is still a certain portion of the population coming to the criminal justice system that is better served from a public safety point of view and from a recidivism point of view not to process them in the way that we did ten years ago.

Nancy La Vigne: Um-hum. I think that’s right.

Len Sipes: And that’s taking risks, and that’s why a lot of the people at the local level, at the country level, are saying, “Well, why should we take those risks? Those risks have a way of blowing up in our face.” I think that would be the greatest point of reluctance. Why change it? Why take that risk? Why not simply incarcerate that person for a year or six months instead of putting that person into drug court?

Nancy La Vigne: Well, because it’s just not sustainable, that’s why. There’s just not enough room. There’s not enough money to build more prisons and so if you don’t make these hard decisions now, essentially you’re not making strategic decisions about how to use that space most wisely. You want to free up that space for folks who are really a danger to society but if you don’t make hard decisions about who needs to be in and who shouldn’t be in, those decisions should be backed up by risk assessment tools, then you’re actually engaging in really bad practice.

Len Sipes: And isn’t California the poster child for this whole movement where the courts have ordered the release of tens of thousands of offenders from their prison system in California because of the fact that they could not fund properly their health care system? – And they’ve released massive numbers of offenders, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Exactly. When you said “poster child” I paused for a section. “No, no, don’t hold up California as the example of Justice Reinvestment!”

Len Sipes: No, no, no, I’m not. I’m not.

Nancy La Vigne: No, this is what could happen to you if you don’t engage, yes. Right. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: If you don’t. Right. Right. Right. There are consequences for not managing your population better. There are consequences for not managing your dollars better.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And states, I mean, and one state that you looked at in terms of one of our reports, 12% of their overall budget was the state correctional system. That’s astounding!

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, I think that was Oregon.

Len Sipes: That’s astounding, that 12% of the budget is Corrections. It raised from I think 4% to 12% in terms of the various states but you’re talking about billions of billions of dollars, and if you can divert individuals from coming back into the criminal justice system, you are saving literally billions dollars in terms of future prison costs, building and operating those prisons. That doesn’t have to happen if you manage your population carefully.

Nancy La Vigne: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Len Sipes: Okay, but we can, through a data-driven process, assure people that this is not going to have an adverse impact on their public safety.

Nancy La Vigne: Again, states, localities, are using risk-assessment tools – some, not all. The ones they are using are not always validated which means they’re not always accurate. By using these tools, and using them in a way that can guide decision-making, I think that they should have confidence. I have confidence that this is no threat to public safety, in fact it’ a wiser and more efficient use of scarce criminal justice resources.

Len Sipes: Right, and the alternative is billions, billions, billions more or the alternative is what’s happening in California with tens of thousands of offenders court-ordered release so if we don’t manage our resources carefully, if we don’t make data-driven decisions, evidence-based decision, we’re not serving the public.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, and getting back to the concept of reinvestment, the ways in which states and localities are looking to reinvest a fraction of the savings is in evidence-based programs that are designed to reduce recidivism so you really are getting at recidivism reduction in two ways. You’re getting at it through better use of risk and needs assessments and you’re getting at it through enhanced programs to help people succeed on the outside.

Len Sipes: Um-hum, and that goes all the way from who do you prosecute to what programs do you provide at the end of it because the criminal justice system has done basically a terrible job in the opinion of many in terms of I think, what, 10%, 12% of people get substance abuse treatment while in prison. The numbers for mental health treatment are even smaller. The percentage getting mental health and substance abuse treatment on community supervision is also small, and that’s come back to bite us.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: To a certain degree, that’s not cost-effective.

Nancy La Vigne: Agreed.

Len Sipes: And the numbers need to drive that in terms of that larger policy discussion with hard-bitten criminal justice people like myself.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. We’ve got to get you out of your stodgy ways, Len.

Len Sipes: I would love to do a bit of the fly-on-the-wall for so many of those meetings where people are saying, “Hey, if we don’t do this, we just have the courts release lots of people, and we don’t have the money to continue doing what we’re doing.”

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

Len Sipes: Yeah, it’s a fascinating thing. I really applaud Urban, I really applaud all the partners, and I applaud the Department of Justice of really trying to take a really unique and different approach, and this is why I called the program Reinventing the Criminal Justice System through Justice-Free Investment. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Your guest today has been Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute, www.urban.org – www.urban.org. And we thank everybody for their time and efforts in terms of all the input that you provide for the radio shows here at DC Public Safety. We appreciate your calls. We appreciate your letters. We appreciate your emails, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Share