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Successful Probation Practices in Travis County, TX, DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I am your host Leonard Sipes.  Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is about successful probation practices in Travis County, Texas, where they have reduced recidivism over the course of the last six years, and have saved taxpayers in excess of $21 million.  Our guest today is Dr. Geraldine Nagy, Director, Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections.  Geraldine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Thank you, I’m glad to be here.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Geraldine, this is a program that has received a lot of publicity.  There are a lot of notices in the literature that I read, the people that I talk to about the wonderful things that you have done down there in Travis County, Texas, in terms of probation.  In essence, one of the things we said before hitting the recording button is that you’ve basically taken the probation department and have gone beyond the usual instructions of most probation departments, which is to follow the orders and the mandate of the courts, and what you have done is actually reduced recidivism, which means reducing new criminal offences.  You’ve saved taxpayers, literally, tens of millions of dollars.  How did you do all that?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, it took a lot of people doing a lot of work.  But it began with a very honest look at probation, and probation in Travis County, but probation in general, and we decided that our mission in Travis County was not only be to make sure that people complied with their conditions of probation, but we had a responsibility to do what we could to reduce crime in Travis County, Texas, through our interactions with the probationers.  So we redefined our role and we expanded our mission and we put numerous changes in place in order to accomplish that.

Len Sipes:  Now, you’ve had a 17% reduction in recidivism, and that’s based upon what, new arrest?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  That’s new arrest statewide, so it’s any kind of arrest in the state of Texas.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And that’s an [PH] average reduction.

Len Sipes:  Okay.  And for Travis County, what would be the recidivism rate?  Was it still 17%?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  The recidivism rate at this point is 24%.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.  That is absolutely amazing.  And the fact that you’ve been able to save $21 million in the process.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes, you know, I think there are a lot of things that are remarkable about this.  I think first of all, it hasn’t required a huge infusion of money into Travis County Probation.  We’ve basically, in our processes and cost efficiency, and stay focused on that goal of protecting the public and reducing recidivism, and evaluated everything we did with that goal in mind.  And so most of what we’ve been able to do has been a better realization of resource and taking a more focused approach to what we do.

Len Sipes:  Now, this whole idea of evidence-based practice, what you did was take a look at the literature, take a look at the research and basically said to the folks when you were hired, I think I can do a better job utilizing the research and bringing evidence-based practices to Travis County, Texas, and I think I can reduce recidivism, and I think I can save taxpayer dollars.  What was their reaction to your proposal?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, what I found with the probation officers, and the other – the managers and the leadership here, is that everyone was on the same page with regards to having probation being meaningful and being able to measure the results with measures that mattered to other folks in the community, the judges, the people who live here and things.  And so, I didn’t get a lot of resistance from staff.  I think the average probation officer back in the older days really had wished, would have wished if they had known, to have this information available so that they could do their jobs better.  So I think there was some excitement about new opportunities.  So there wasn’t a lot of resistance from staff.  It required a lot of education.  It required strong leadership throughout our organization.  But people were willing to try something new if they thought it was going to make a difference.

Len Sipes:  Well, I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 42 years.  If somebody, if I was doing the same thing the same way for 20 years, and somebody came along and said, “Leonard, we’re going to try an entirely new way of conducting public affairs,” I would be very anxious. I would say, “Oh, my heavens, look.  I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, and I’m sure some people felt that way, but, you know, I just felt that it was so important not to diminish what they had been doing.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  They had been doing what they had been doing quite well.  They were serving the courts quite well.  So this was not saying what they had done was wrong or unimportant, but they could do more.  And that we could reallocate our resources and we could actually reduce their caseloads by being smarter, how we did things, so that they could make a difference with their folks.  And so, yeah, I’m sure there was some anxiety, some not knowing, but I think that’s part of making any meaningful change, and people for the most part stuck with it.  Our turnover rate has been very low.  And I see a big difference in how people relate to their jobs now.

Len Sipes:  Can I ask you whether or not, is it your belief that most probation agencies in this country follow your model?  My guess would be that most do not.  My guess would be that most still follow a very traditional model of basically doing what the courts ask them to do and to follow the mandate of the courts.  It’s quite a change to go over to a model that basically said, hey, I’m going to make things dramatically better.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  I think there’s a growing interest in evidence-based practices and making changes at the local level.  I think there’re some challenges to do that, and so I think what is different from Travis County is we were successful in really, over the course of the years, doing a top to bottom change to bring us into alignment with a broad array of knowledge and research.  And I think that required a great deal of planning and doing it in a very methodical way, and that is the [INDISCERNIBLE] which describes the process that we went through, is to give some assistance for people who know what to do, but they aren’t quite sure how to do it.  Because it is complex change.  That takes time.

Len Sipes:  Well, from the list–

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  There was a lot of interested–

Len Sipes:  Go ahead, please.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Oh, I’m done.

Len Sipes:  Okay, just on the list that I’m looking at, it includes so many things in terms of motivational interviewing.  I just did a radio show on motivational interviewing, redesigning conditions of supervision, a uniform policy on sanctions, reduced caseloads in the regular units of felony revocations, staffing and review committee, technical violation, court and document of mental health integrated services program.  I mean, I can go on and on and on about this list.  A reentry drug court, a DWI court for repeat offenders, an absconder unit, web-based interactive workforce, redesign of the sex offender management program, establishing a counseling center for intensive outpatient operations.  I mean, enhance job skills training, retooling of job performance measures, that’s a lot, Geraldine.  That is just a huge amount of work.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  It is a lot.  And I think our key was to do a lot of planning upfront, planning the [PH] class, [PH] work through the important steps, because I think the mistake that many people make when they start a significant change is they throw something out without a lot of warning.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  About why they’re doing it and how it fits the bigger picture.  So we’ve really worked on educating folks.  We’ve worked on working very closely with our judges, our prosecutors, our defense bar, and we really, you know, one person cannot do this.  Even your top administrative team cannot do this.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  It needs to be leadership at all levels throughout the organization.  So we had to develop folks to be able to manage workgroups and produce products, and to work fairly independently.  And that took the first year.  So there’s some development that has to take place.  But the second most critical thing is putting a structure in place to actually implement things and manage the work so that it gets done.  And I think that’s what we did here in Travis County, that brought us quite a bit of success much sooner than I expected.  So I think that was key.

Len Sipes:  You had to sell this to, I would imagine, the court, the county commissioners, local law enforcement, your treatment partners.  You had to sell this to lots of different people, correct?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes, I think for probably the first year I did 30 or 40 different presentations.

Len Sipes:  Wow.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  To community groups, to commissioner of court, to the prosecutor’s office, to the county attorney’s office.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  To commissioners because I felt that what we needed to have is a clear understanding of what we were going to do, why we were going to do it, what I expected the outcomes to be, and to build confidence in our department.  Because we are not a county entity.  We are a judicial entity, we are funded primarily through state, so I needed to build those alliances and yes, we needed support.  We worked very closely with many people.

Len Sipes:  Geraldine, what’s the essence of the program?  I mean, I just read a long list of the individual initiatives.  Some of the individual initiatives that you took on, that you implemented, what is the heart and soul of probation agencies in order for them to be successful, in order for them to have the same results that you’ve had there in Travis County?  What’s the secret sauce?  What is the heart and soul of it?  If you could give an elevator speech in terms of what makes for a successful probation agency, it would be what?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  I think it’s working with the local system collaboratively as a whole, and secondly, creating a culture that knows how to make decisions, relies heavily on research and data, and will take an honest look at itself and change what it needs to.  And so, our way of doing business is probably the biggest change – you listed some of the things that we did, but probation is a living dynamic sort of thing and there are always new problems, there are always new issues, and those need to be based on research and evaluation rather than opinion or emotion.  And so, we’ve taken a different approach to how we do business.

Len Sipes:  Now, in terms of the offender population, you assess them, correct?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Right.  Yeah, an assessment is a foundation of effective probation.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Apart from what I just said, if you [PH] take one thing, it’s in order to be effective, we must know who we’re dealing with.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  On an individual level.  So we need to know how likely they are to reoffend, we need to know what issues are contributing to their criminal behavior and then we need to develop strategies, either through probation supervision or treatment, just focus on those specific areas.  But the foundation is assessment, and the foundation for the courts as well is assessment because they set the conditions of probation.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  That’s the start.

Len Sipes:  Once you have an assessment, what do you do with them?  I mean, do you divide them into high risk and low risk, can provide different strategies based upon levels of risk?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yes.  If you were to look at the research, it would say one thing that I think cannot be disputed.  That is, if you over-supervise, over-treat low risk people, people who have support in their lives, have a lesser criminal history, they’re unlikely to reoffend, then you will do them harm.  They are actually more likely to go out and commit a new crime.  If you take your high risk person, and you only see them monthly, for example.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And send them to a treatment that is not very intensive, you can pretty much expect that they will go out and commit a new crime frequently.  So the idea is that we reallocate our resources and sort these [PH] folks, for lack of a better word, so that we know who to spend our time with.  So it’s really somewhat like an emergency room.  You expect to go in there for people to triage the people.  The same thing should happen in a probation department because it really is in some cases life or death for a potential victim in the future.  I mean, that might be the rare case, but still, we’re making important decisions here.  And so, it’s important to be informed.  It’s important to be fully informed and to respond to that.  The key, I think, for probation departments, many do assessments, it’s how they’re used by the courts, by the probation officer, at the point that there’s a non-compliance, at the point in deciding should this person get off probation, all of those are key decision making points.  So the assessment needs to be utilized at each of those decision points.

Len Sipes:  My guest today is Dr. Geraldine Nagy.  We’re halfway through the program.  Dr. Nagy is Director of Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections, well established within the [INDISCERNIBLE] as having one of the most successful probation programs in the country.  A significant reduction in recidivism, a savings to taxpayers of over $21 million and that’s why we have Geraldine at the microphones again today.  A high risk offender, Geraldine, has to receive the bulk of the services.  The low risk offender, you’re talking about a danger of over-supervising them, that’s something a lot of people have a hard time understanding.  So the judge sentences this person to probation, and he’s been in touch with the criminal justice system a couple of times for say, non-violent crimes.  He doesn’t have a substance abuse history.  Is that the kind of person we’re talking about for low risk?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah.  And there’s two types of low risk folks.  Some, it’s a situational one-time thing; they’re corrected at the point of arrest.  They’re not going to do it again.  For those [INDISCERNIBLE] are low, low that we supervise in very large caseloads.  Those other low risk folks that do have some issues, maybe some treatment requirements, and so, we put them in treatment, but it would be a lesser intensity treatment than what we would provide for a high risk person who has a longer history.

Len Sipes:  I had a judge one time said, “Be careful when you ask for treatment for low risk offenders because if I impose those conditions of treatment, those conditions of treatment are enforceable.  And so, the person doesn’t like the program, doesn’t like the group, doesn’t like the facilitator of the group, and the treatment modality doesn’t fit that particular person’s needs, if you come back and tell me that he’s not in compliance, I could possibly send that person back to jail or prison.  So be careful what you ask for,” is that what we’re talking about here?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, and low risk people exactly like you have described have been going to Texas prisons for some time.  I mean, our legislative budget board looked at who exactly is going to prison in the state of Texas and there’s a substantial number of low risk people that end up in the state prison.  So, yeah, piling on extensive conditions for low risk people puts them at greater risk of being revoked, but it also puts them, if they comply, in situations where they’re interacting with high risk people, but it also interferes with their ability to do the things that makes them low risk, like maintain employment.  Do what they need to do with their children and families.  So there’s a number of reasons that low risk people need to be supervised less.  But the greatest one is if you’re supervising them, you can’t supervise the high risk.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  At the level that you should.  So that really is, when I talk about the allocation of resources, one of the biggest shifts in our department was moving that attention to high risk people, so now, they’re watched more closely, but they also have more requirements.  Then there’s that constant interaction to make sure that they’re benefitting from those requirements.

Len Sipes:  Now, it’s interesting that well over, I guess, 35 years ago, I remember that when I left law enforcement and went to college, and started studying criminology, there was a book I read many decades ago called Radical Non-Intervention that said exactly that.  Be careful of what you do with the low risk offender.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is not interact with that person, interact with that person as little as possible.  Don’t bring them full bore into the criminal justice system.  You’re going to create more problems than you solve.  That concept’s been around for decades.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, you know, not everybody understands the concept because I think not everyone realizes that we have the tools and methods to identify those low risk folks well.  And that again, [PH] goes back to assessments.  So I often hear people that say, “Oh, no, that’s not going to work.  What if this one person…?”  And the question is, can we do a good job in making those judgments with the tools that we have?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And yes, much better.  Much better than we could than we did before, certainly, when we just kind of looked at a person and said, “Oh, you look low risk and you look high risk”.

Len Sipes:  Right.  Right.  And using the tools.  It’s not perfect.  I mean, it’s not 100%, but I’ve been told by people in the field that it does approach 80 – 85% accuracy.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, and low risk is not no risk.  It’s important for us to recognize that.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  But still, when you look at the research, over and over and over again, it shows that if you over-supervise or treat these folks, they are more likely to go out and commit crime.  In other words, it doesn’t stop them, it makes them more likely to [PH] commit a crime.

Len Sipes:  So now you have the resources that focus on the higher risk offenders.  Now, they come into contact with your probation officers on a much more frequent basis.  They can keep a stronger eye on them and you can get them involved in the programs that they need because there’s a substance abuse history for the bulk of offenders, there are mental health issues for a large percentage of offenders on criminal caseloads, so now you can get them involved in the programs and now you can keep a much better eye on them, and hopefully, through the programs and through the supervisions, lower their recidivism risk.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Right.  And we did a lot of training with our officers to build the skills to be able to do that well.  You mentioned one of those things, motivational interviewing, which is really a strategy for assisting offenders to break through denial and to make a commitment to action-oriented steps to deal with their drug addiction, for example, and really, you know, making sure that they’re addressing the things that for that particular individual, put that person at risk of committing another crime.  So there’s a different level of interaction between the officers and probationer now.

Len Sipes:  And it’s not necessarily confrontational in terms of reading them the Riot Act, again, motivational interviewing is breaking down, as you said, breaking down those barriers and getting the person to understand what it is they did and the steps that they need, cognitive behavioral therapy or what some people call thinking for change, getting them to think differently about who they are and what they do.  And that’s proven to be successful.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, if we want to really make a change in a person, we all know that we have to change their thinking.  And we have to get them to recognize for themselves the importance of the change, and that’s what motivational interviewing and supervision is about.  It’s really helping that person take responsibility and giving them the tools, now that they know they need to take responsibility, how can they solve problems.  How can they manage their impulsivity?  Those are just two examples.

Len Sipes:  But it’s interesting that there’s a lot of people within the criminal justice system, let alone outside of the criminal justice system, who, they sort of scoff at this concept of motivational interviewing and they sort of scoff at this concept of incentives for good behavior on probation, yet these are the things that seem to prompt change in terms of people who desperately need the change.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, one of the things that we do now, is we do what is called [PH] fidelity study, in which we look at case files and evaluate individual officers and the department as a whole as to how much they’re adhering to these new strategies [INDISCERNIBLE] level.  Just an example.  We think that probation officers don’t matter.  I have in front of me a preliminary study, but it looks to see, do offenders who have an officer that does a very good job on their supervision agreement or plan, does that have a relationship [PH] risk with [PH] revocation and recidivism?  And what we found was that there are officers that do well, have offenders with a 17% reduction in technical revocation, a 10% reduction in revocations as a whole, and they’re less likely to have arrest at 12% level.  That’s just one little element.  That’s just one little element.  So I guess what I’m trying to say here and want to be clear about it, that quality of what that officer does with the offender starts with this plan, and people who have a good follow-up plan are significantly less likely to be revoked, a 10 and a 17% reduction is great for this one small, little area.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And a [PH] 12% reduction in recidivism.  So officers matter.  They make a difference in what they do in that office with the probationer.  And that’s what this is all about.  Really changing that interaction so that people are successful.  And that’s probably the biggest change we’ve made.

Len Sipes:  Well, I think it is.  I mean, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to bring it up, because you see motivational interviewing and people just don’t understand how important it is for that officer to guide that individual in terms of the proper way of conducting their lives.  And that the officers’ embracing of motivational interviewing, maybe there needs to be a different way of phrasing it or describing it, but that seems to be the heart and soul in terms of getting people to do what it is they should’ve been doing from the beginning.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  You know, when I go to a doctor and he just doesn’t even look up to me and reads from a chart, and we don’t have an interaction, I think I’m less likely to comply with what he’s told me to [PH] do.  But if, has a very engaging conversation, listens to me, talks about my problems, and problem-solves with me, I am likely to do that.  And I think that’s true of [PH] probation.  I think that’s true with the probation officer, and so that’s really what we’ve switched from, is going through routine process and a checklist, to actually having a problem-solving session with somebody who’s trained to help you solve your problems.  Whether it be drug abuse or impulsivity or hanging around with the wrong friends, or not having a job, any of those.  And so, I just think it’s — [PH] we believe in proving that that it makes a difference and it’s a viable alternative.  That when people go to prison, which is very costly, and has all sorts of other ramifications for a society, that it’s a viable alternative to doing that, where they don’t get that sort of assistance.

Len Sipes:  We have three minutes left in the program.  You know, Project Hope in Hawaii, which was able to reduce recidivism and returns to prison significantly, you know, it was interesting that they responded very quickly to violations in terms of incarcerations.  But one of the things that I was really sort of surprised about is that their focus on programs was really a change in philosophy in terms of how you deal with the offender, in terms of both motivational interviewing and enforcing the conditions of supervision rather stringently.  And I remember asking about the impact of programs, and programs were an important part of it, but not necessarily the most important part of it.  Do you feel that that’s true there for Travis County?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Yeah, I agree.  One of the things I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood about is that while officers are working with people to change, they’re also an officer of the court, and so those officers that are able to maintain that authority and hold people accountable, are also more effective in getting people to take responsibility for their actions and to change.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And I think that’s what Project Hope does, is very quickly it shows that this is serious business.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  And that’s what we expect our officers to do as well.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Now, the response needs to be appropriate.  We don’t want to throw somebody in prison, but jail I think can be a very useful tool.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, well, certainly and in terms of Travis County and Project Hope in Hawaii, that seems to have been borne out by the data.  Do you feel that you have — well, first of all, no parole and probation agency in the country feels that they have all the resources necessary in terms of mental health, in terms of drug treatment, in terms of job assistance.  But do you feel that you have enough for your higher risk offenders?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  No.  And there’s probably no director that’s gonna say, as you said, say the answer to that is [PH] yes.  But we have a certain issue here in Texas.  People are funded by the number of people that are on probation.  And what’s happened in Travis County as we get more successful as a criminal justice system and diverting low risk people, even from prosecution, and sentencing people to probation, rather than to prison, our population is changing, so our population is [PH] growing some, meaning we get less funding for operation because we don’t have all these low risk folks on probation anymore.  So our caseloads are almost all-high and medium risk, and yet we’re not getting [PH] funding for that.  And so, there’s some challenges to funding.

Len Sipes:  That’s got to be a huge challenge.  All right.  Now, you’ve been written up so often and accolades have come your way, so what is your principal advice to other directors of parole and probation throughout the United States or for that matter, throughout the world?

Dr. Geraldine Nagy:  Well, I think that people often don’t initiate major change because they know that it’s going to be difficult.  And they anticipate all the challenges from the beginning.  And what I would say to other directors is success, when you’re dealing with any major change, in the middle, it can look like failure.  You can look at people who have created change in our culture and then in the middle, there were substantial challenges.  And the way that I see that is that the challenges are just part of the puzzle, so don’t stop because you don’t have solutions to those from the get go.  People will help you solve those problems.

Len Sipes:  I want to thank you for that.  Our guest today, ladies and gentlemen, has been Dr. Geraldine Nagy, Director, Travis County Community Supervision and Corrections.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We want to thank you for all of the contact.  We’re up to 133,000 requests on a monthly basis for the radio/television show’s blog and transcripts at media,  Please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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GPS Monitoring of Criminal Offenders-Florida State University-DC Public Safety Radio

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The program today, ladies and gentlemen, is on GPS global positioning systems or electronic monitoring. We have Bill Bales on from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. They just recently completed a study of 5,000 offenders in terms of the impacts of electronic monitoring and global positioning systems, and some of those results were pretty good. We also have Carlton Butler, a program administrator for GPS for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’ve been doing GPS monitoring since 2003, so the whole idea, ladies and gentlemen, is to take a look at electronic monitoring, global positioning system monitoring, finding out whether or not it works to reduce recidivism. According to the Florida State University study, it does. And with that introduction, Bill Bales and Carlton Butler, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carlton Butler:  Thank you, Len.

Bill Bales:  Thank you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Bill, the first question’s gonna go to you. Now this is an impressive study. We’re talking about 5,000 offenders were part of the study, and then you do represent one of the premier research organizations in the United States, the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. So the thing that I find amazing when I read your report, is that reduce risk of failure by 31 per cent. You’ve reduced – the program, GPS program, electronic monitoring reduces absconding, it reduces revocations, it reduces new crimes. One of the really interesting things that I found is that it’s used as an alternative to prison in about a third of all cases. And considering how states are really struggling with their correctional budgets, I think all of that is a pretty impressive set of findings. So Bill, can you give me a sense as to the larger study and what it really means?

Bill Bales:  Certainly. Yeah, the study involved—and I think this is very important—it involved medium and high-risk felony offenders in Florida. And Florida currently has almost 3,000 people on electronic monitoring. Almost all of those are Global Positioning System cases, and we did a very, what I believe is a sophisticated study of complicated matching of offenders who were placed on GPS versus similar offenders not placed on GPS, and then tracked them. So essentially, we have what we believe is a very equivalent control and experimental group, and the findings are very robust in the sense that just over 30 percent reduction in the likelihood of failure for the same type of offender on EM as non-EM. So that – it’s a finding that again, is very unequivocal from an empirical standpoint, and we believe is very sound from a research perspective. And like you said, Leonard, we also found that about a third of these offenders on electronic monitoring would have been in prison if not for electronic monitoring. And we also found somewhat surprising is that when you look at the effect of EM on outcomes, it’s fairly similar across different offender types in terms of younger versus older, male versus female. Across offense types, we found very similar results, except for among violent offenders the effect was not quite as great, but it was still a significant reduction in new crimes and absconding and violations. So it’s not as though Global Positioning Systems are only useful and effective for certain types of offenders, it’s pretty much across the board. So that was a very positive effect.

Len Sipes:  Now the findings of the research are significant, because all of us read criminological research as it pertains to reducing recidivism, reducing offending, reducing new crimes.

Bill Bales:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And ordinarily, those results, if they are positive, range in the 10 to 20 percent. The outer limits of a lot of the programs that are used around the country are about 20 percent. I mean, you’ve reduced the risk of failure by 31 percent. That makes your study one of the most significant research findings in criminology regarding managing people on community supervision, correct?

Bill Bales:  That is correct, yes. You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of the empirical research in criminology, if we find effects of various types of programs and interventions, they tend to be fairly marginal effects, if any. So yes, this is a very strong finding. And I will also mention that this project was funded by the National Institute of Justice, and the initial report went through a very rigorous peer review process. So these are findings that have been sanctioned and approved by, you know, other experts outside of certainly our college here.

Len Sipes:  Right, you’re a part of the Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice funds research on the basis of – under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice. So generally speaking, whatever research they fund is peer reviewed and methodologically correct.

Bill Bales:  Right. Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct. Yes.

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we’ve been doing – Carlton Butler, program administrator for our program here in Washington DC under the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency–we’ve been doing GPS since 2003, correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. We have been.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now when one of the things that I have found is that there’s just a wide array of evidence, there’s a wide array of stories in terms of the success of GPS. One that comes to mind simply in terms of apprehending an individual, we found that was a person that was involved in a series of sex crimes against young girls. And the picture was put out, and one of our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, recognized the face, looked at the GPS tracking system, was able to tie him in to exactly the locations and times that these crimes were committed, worked with the metropolitan police department, and arrested him. So GPS not only has a deterrent value, it has an apprehension value.

Carlton Butler:  Yes it does. Here in DC, Len, we have a partnership program with all our law enforcement partners. We call it the Crimes and Correlation Program, and in that program we offer limited access to our law enforcement partners, and they use crime data to help resolve crimes in the neighborhood. And under that particular case was one of those instances where the Crimes and Correlation Program worked very well.

Len Sipes:  And again, I think the point needs to be made is that law enforcement has access to our GPS tracking data. So not only do we, within the agency, keep track of individuals under supervision, law enforcement has access to that tracking data directly. They can see on any given day, if they have a suspect, where he’s been and where he is.

Carlton Butler:  That is correct, but they also use it for some extended purposes as well. In the District of Columbia, unfortunately there is some issues with gang interaction.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And they use the program to set up what we call global zones throughout the city, to help track who’s actually entering those zones, to be able to match individuals up who might be involved in gang activity, and/or new criminal activities. So they kind of use it to the extent where they do use it for tracking new crimes. But they also use it for crime prevention as well.

Len Sipes:  Bill, I’m gonna go back to you. Now your research shows a reduction in absconding, a reduction in revocations, of reduction in new crimes. Once again, I mean these are just extraordinary findings. It is just – GPS seems to be certainly something that’s gonna be used in the future. You also estimate that five billion offenders are electronic monitoring or GPS somewhere in the United States, correct?

Bill Bales:  I believe that’s the figure. I don’t recall it right off the top of my head –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Bales:  – to be honest with you. Yes, I know that it’s – certainly it’s expanding as, you know, correctional and preventative type of tool that’s available to various states throughout the country. And my sense is that it will be a method used more and more in the future because of its effectiveness, and the fact that it’s anywhere from six to seven times cheaper than sending someone to state prison or federal prison.

Len Sipes:  And we all agree that states are suffering. I’m not going to get into a debate about the efficacy of incarceration, I’ll leave that to others to decide, but we do know that states throughout the United States, virtually all of them, they’ve got to reduce the budgets of state agencies across the board. What I’ve read in my reading of newspaper articles and media reports, the budget cuts have been the prominent point of concern in the media. The budget difficulties with state agencies and local agencies, we have laying off police officers, closing down prisons, reducing the amount of people in the state attorney’s office and public defenders offices, and the states are saying, “Hey, we have absolutely no choice but to do this, because we’ve got to operate within the confines of the budgets that are given us.” So what this seems to say to me is that GPS is a viable alternative to use as those states try to figure out how to protect public safety, and at the same time, how to manage their own budget. That seems to me that GPS is certainly going to be part of that mix.

Bill Bales:  Yes. I would certainly agree with you 100 percent. There’s no question. Every state in the country is under dire, you know, financial straits at the moment, and Corrections, at least in Florida, the current budget is about 2.5 billion a year.  And it’s almost 10 percent of the state budget, and most of that is in the area of prisons. So certainly to the extent that you can reduce the prison population by even a percent or two, you can make a huge dent in the state budget when we have big deficits.

Len Sipes:  And out of pure curiosity, Bill, one of the things, when I read this study and it came out through the Department of Justice mailing list, I guess I’m a bit surprised that mainstream media has not picked up on this, that other organizations have not picked up on this, that again, the significance of these findings are I guess somewhat short of astounding. Are you getting a lot of coverage for the research?

Bill Bales:  Well, yeah, we’ve gotten numerous enquiries from just really a host of entities. Several states have contacted us that are considering either starting or expanding their GPS programs. And so, legislative bodies have contacted us, governor’s offices. Yeah, we’ve received quite a bit of attention because of the policy implications and the possible cost savings of this technology, which in the scheme of things is relatively new as a correctional strategy. So obviously we’d want more attention, but hopefully others will build on this research to the extent that researchers continue to find positive outcomes of this technology. My sense is it will get more and more attention from policy makers.

Len Sipes:  I guess my observation is that I’m personally surprised it’s not on the front page of USA Today. To me, after all of my years in criminal justice and criminology, to me this is one of the prominent, most significant studies out there. But one of the questions I want to put to Carlton, and Bill, you can chime in if you like, but let’s give Carlton the first crack at this, is that we’re not saying that this is a panacea. I mean, offenders cut these devices off all the time. They have to be recharged. You lose the GPS signal if you go inside of a building. There are ways, and we’re not to discuss specifically what they are, but offenders do try to defeat GPS devices. So this is certainly not a panacea. It’s certainly not foolproof, and it takes a tremendous amount of administration. You suddenly have parole and probation agents—in our case, community supervision officers—with a ton of data that they have to sift through. So this is not as easy as simply slapping on a GPS anklet on that person. Carlton, you wanna take a shot at all that?

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree this program is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace the supervision officer with their supervision duties on a particular offender. I would say, however, I think the technology has improved a great deal over the last at least three years, and I think that within the next year or so, we will probably see some more advancement to the equipment. What I mean by that is that obviously there are offenders who will attempt to circumvent the system, and because we know this exists, the GPS practitioners are working very hard with vendors to make sure that their devices are updated to be able to kind of help with those kinds of situations. One of the things that I know is prevalent most now in this industry is efforts to shield the device in efforts to jam the device.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And I do know that that is on the forefront of the vendors, manufacturers, to make sure that their device has the ability to detect those type of things. And I would also like to say too, there’s a national committee that was conformed by the National Institution of Justice, and it’s made up of 35 members. Out of that group, it’s probably, I would say, about 25 or 27 practitioners on that. In fact, Mr. [PH] Sanifield, who is the administrator, and I’m sure Bill worked with in Florida, is a member of that committee. And in that committee, we’re doing something unlike what has been done in the past, and that is we’re writing national standards for GPS. And the reason why we’re doing that, because as Bill said earlier in one of his statements, we see the technology or need for the technology to be increasing. And because of that, most practitioners right now who are trying to start up programs, don’t have a whole lot of information unless they reach out to one of their – someone that already has done. So, we hope that these standards will help individuals who want to develop or enhance their GPS program, because there will be a lot of data shared in these standards.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program, and let me introduce our guests—Bill Bales from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site for the Florida State University Department of Criminology is I’m gonna give that out several times throughout the course of the program. Carlton Butler is a program administrator for my agency, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We are the parole and probation agency here for Washington DC. We’re a federal agency, We just redid our fact sheet on GPS, which is gonna be on the main page of our web site, so if anybody’s interested in what it is that we do here.  Bill, okay; back to you. You’ve heard Carlton say that there’s a need for national standards, and the committee that he’s working with is there. There’s a need for national standards on GPS. Do you agree?

Bill Bales:  Yes, I think that makes total sense. It is like, as Leonard knows—I mean, as you know and as Carlton knows—it’s a fairly sophisticated technology. But based on our research–and part of that involved actually going out throughout the state of Florida and interviewing those probation officers and administrators, and also offenders—we found that they were well trained, and a lot of that had to do with the vendor themselves, that were very much involved with the community corrections folks that used this technology. And I think that was extremely advantageous, that they have a very close working relationship, and they have mutual goals in mind in terms of, you know, having this GPS system work properly. And the other thing that we witnessed, which was very positive, was there’s continuous efforts to improve not just the technology itself, but just the process of implementing and using this technology to keep offenders from violating. And so I think that’s a critical component of this, is the type of relationships and partnerships that the vendors and the correctional organization has. And one thing—and I’ll plug this just very quickly—the Department of Corrections did in Florida is they determined that so many of the quote “violations” that occurred while people were on GPS, were very very minor instances; like you mentioned, where the GPS device or signal was lost. So they worked with the vendor and implemented a monitoring center that the vendor maintains. And so all the alerts that occur go directly to the vendor, their monitoring center, and 99 percent of them, they can handle and clear without an incident. But the supervising officer is aware of those, but they don’t have to respond to them instantly. So, that’s been a tremendous assistance to the officers in terms of the time involved in working with their GPS case load. So, I think there are a lot of – there are numerous things, initiatives that can be used and expanded as this, you know, capability moves forward.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, that’s one of the things that you advocated and implemented here, is to have the vendor basically take care of all that minor stuff so the community supervision officers can focus on the big part of the violation.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, we did, Len. And also, one of the things that I read in Bill’s report, and that was one of the things that one of the probationary officer’s stated; they would have liked the opportunity to work with the EM program, actually in the unit prior to be given case loads of offenders on EM. I think that’s significant, because one, it gives them the training skill that they need; and two, it helps them to understand what some of the alerts that they actually receive, because oftentimes they get so many alerts and it’s so overwhelming to them, because there’s so much data for them to filter through. This is one of the reasons why we elected to go to the monitoring center, so that we would have someone that was a little more trained and a little more skilled to farm through that data first, before that data would be generated to the probationary officer, so they would know what to do with it beyond that point.

Len Sipes:  I remember talking to a reporter from Massachusetts who basically was a little upset with the system in Massachusetts–and that’s another story for another time–but basically talking about GPS as being over-sold and over-promised. And my sense was that well, how can you possibly over-sell or over-promise GPS? The offender can just snip it off and walk away from the unit. There are no guarantees on GPS, but this is why I was so excited about Bill Bales study, because it basically says, “Yeah, there are endless problems with GPS, there are endless complications, it’s hard to administer, it throws just an unbelievable amount of information.” Remember, the average parole and probation agent in this country sees that offender on a twice a month basis for two 15-minute interviews in an office. That’s what ordinarily happens throughout the United States. Now, you’re getting a ton of data, flow of data, every single day on every single offender who’s on GPS. That becomes difficult to deal with. But let me go back to what I originally said, and Bill, we’ll start with you. I mean, again, this is not a panacea, this is not – nobody should be selling this as something that’s going to quote/unquote “solve supervision problems”.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct, and officers told us that numerous times, that GPS is a tool. But you can never replace the responsibilities and efforts and the things that officers do to keep offenders from violating. And so while pretty much ever officer we talked to thought that GPS was a very effective tool at their disposal, you still have to have that one-on-one contact between the officer and the offender and the, you know, unannounced visits to their homes and their places of employment, and so forth and so on. So, yeah, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is just one tool that appears to be extremely effective. But we can’t lose sight of the incredible value that these officers bring to the table in terms of dealing with, you know, especially very serious offenders, many of whom, at least in Florida, 75 percent are sex offenders. And so, we can’t lose sight of the incredible work the officers do in this regard.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, you have essentially said the same thing, that in terms of the individual officers, it’s – you’ve gotta continue working hard supervising your offenders in person. You’ve gotta work with them, you’ve gotta get them involved in treatment programs, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re working, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re following the conditions of their supervision. The GPS system is simply nothing more than a tool.

Carlton Butler:  I agree, that it is simply a tool, and that is it’s data, as you said, it’s a lot of data that you have to absorb and try to dissect. But that’s all that it is, is data. That one-on-one contact with the offender tends to give the supervision officer a whole other realm of information that the GPS device will never be able to provide. What the GPS device pretty much provides is locations and maps of where the offender would actually frequent. But in terms of – and it might give them some information on new collateral contacts where they may have not known where the offender was going, of certain places he was going.

Len Sipes:  Or, if sex offenders are hanging out at playgrounds.

Carlton Butler:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And we also use this as a curfew. We can restrict them to their house, we can restrict them to their block, we can restrict them to a certain part of the city. And we can, as they comply with the methods of supervision, we can ease up on GPS supervision. We can give them more freedom and more flexibility to reward them for complying with the terms of their supervision.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, that’s true, and these are the types of things we’re able to do here in DC, that’s been very effective in my use of GPS.

Len Sipes:  Okay, gentlemen, we have four minutes left in the program, and I need 30 seconds to close, so that’s three-and-a-half minutes. Bill, where do we go with GPS? With your research, it seems to indicate that this has a major impact not only on state budgets, but it has a major impact or potential for reducing crime, for reducing problems under supervision. Where do we go to from here?

Bill Bales:  Well, I think certainly we need to continue to do the research. I mean, our research was but strictly in one state, and it was a population of medium and high risk felony offenders, so as you all know, GPS has been expanding to local jails and other types of correctional facilities. So I think that’s one area. I think the other area is in terms of the application of GPS to various types of offenders, and also the level of discretion that probation officers and administrators have in the use of GPS, because currently, at least in Florida, that’s all determined by the judge. And from what we observed in talking to people, was that something that the states and locals should consider is giving more discretion to the probation offices in terms of the application of GPS, in terms of when an offender needs to be on it, when they need to be off of it; and because they work with the offenders on a consistent basis, and they know when an offender may be going south, and when this tool could possibly be applied to prevent that from getting worse.

Len Sipes:  So more jurisdiction, more authority at the local level to make those decisions in the field based upon conditions and not necessarily what the judge has to say or what the parole commission has to say, to give that flexibility and freedom to the people in the field to make those decisions.

Bill Bales:  Right, yeah. There’s been laws, like the Jessica Lunsford law in Florida where it ties the judge’s hands as to who gets put on GPS. But as I know Carlton knows, every case is different, and what tool we need to bring to the table to, you know, reduce the likelihood of failure, is variable across different types of offenders, different situations. So I think the states, the policy makers, real need to look at this in a very objective way and say, “Okay, this tool seems to be incredibly effective. How can we apply it in a more reasonable, objective and effective manner to the right population at the right points in time of their supervision?”

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we only have about a minute left. That’s basically what you’ve said as well.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  That really, it really cannot be a hard and fast rule. It can’t be a hard and fast application that the community supervision officer/parole and probation agent needs to be involved in this, and really needs to make decisions in terms of when to apply it, when to take them off, how long to keep them on.

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree with everything that Bill has said. I do know that however with the Jessica law, there is a loophole in it that might present a problem. One is that from the time the individual comes off of probation and have life in GPS, there’s nobody to really supervise them after they come off probation or supervision.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  So hopefully they can fix that part of the law, because that’s been a challenge to the industry.

Len Sipes:  Alright, Carlton, I’m gonna give you the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’ve been talking to Bill Bales, Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site is Also being with us today, or also on our air is Carlton Butler, program administrator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. The program administrator for the GPS program, The research that I’ve been talking about today it’s called “A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”. Ladies and gentlemen, we do want to thank you for your letters, for your phone calls, for your e-mails, for suggestions in terms of what we can do to improve the show. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, and I do want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


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CBS News: Reentry and Sanction Center

This Television Program is available at

See for “DC Public Safety” radio and television shows.
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(Audio begins)

Reporter 1: Of the 600,000 inmates America’s prisons release every year, almost two-thirds are expected to be back behind bars within 3 years. Proof corrections experts say that we need new ways to prepare inmates for life beyond the prison walls. That’s tonight’s weekend journal, an exclusive look at a program officially launched this month that seems to be working.

Reporter 2: That’s Decarus Wardrett wielding the trimmer. “Little Man” as he’s known at the North East Washington, DC Barber Shop where he works long days. He’s also working hard at staying clean and out of prison.

Reporter 2: Were drugs a big part of your life?

Decarus Wardrett: Yes, marijuana, crack cocaine, cocaine, PCP. I’ve used it.

Reporter 2: Wardrette is like most offenders. Up to 70% have substance abuse problems, constantly in and out of prison. 42 year old Wardrett has been locked up 10 times; his last stint, more than 7 years for robbery. His repeated incarcerations put him here,

Decarus Wardrett: I didn’t really want to come,

Reporter 2: In DC’s innovative Re-entry and Sanctions program. Hard core federal inmates spend 28 days preparing for their release back into the community by focusing on the drug problems that likely began their downward spiral in the first place.

Male 1: Yeah, I do have a problem with authority figures.

Reporter 2: Counseling plays a big part and includes psychotherapy, fatherhood training and anger management with specialized treatment plans for each resident.

Paul Quander: It forces you to look at yourself. It’s difficult to go back and talk about what happened in your childhood. It’s difficult to talk about your mother and your mother’s substance abuse. It’s difficult to talk about how the first time you saw someone use drugs it was your grandmother.

Reporter 2: The approach used here is part of a growing trend across the country, preparing inmates for re-entering the community and staying out of trouble. That’s a major shift from the philosophy of the last two decades when the focus was on building more prisons. But a significant push came in 2004 when President Bush proposed funding for re-entry programs and Congress approved the Second Chance Act.

Paul Quander: The bottom line is people are going to come home. And we can have them come home from hardened without any resources, without any hope, or we can invest the money and we can invest in the people and we can invest in our communities. It’s not treatment versus lock them up. It’s treatment to enhance public safety. That’s the key.

Reporter 2: Decarus Wardrett knows that.

Decarus Wardrett: So I’m tired of going to jail.

Reporter 2: It’s not going to happen again?

Decarus Wardrett: No, I pray to God it won’t. You know, we can never say never, but each and every day is a struggle so I pray.

Reporter 1: The Second Chance Act is still pending in the House of Representatives.