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Technology in Corrections

DC Public Safety Radio

See the main site at http://media.csosa.gov

See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/04/innovative-technology-solutions-in-corrections/

Leonard: From the Nation’s Capital, this is D.C. Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the topic for today is technology in corrections high priority needs, a really innovative, really interesting document that came out of the RAND Corporation. We have two people by our microphones today. We have Brian Jackson. Brian is Director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. His research focuses on technology issues in public safety, including both the use of technology in policing, corrections and the courts and technological use in crime by adversary groups, which I’d love to hear a little bit more about. Joe Russo is a researcher at the University of Denver, focusing on technology issues in the correction sector. He is currently in support of a number of initiatives for the National Law Enforcement in Corrections Technology Center, a program of the National Institute of Justice. To Joe and to Brian, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Brian: Thanks very much.

Joe: Thank you.

Leonard: All right. Joe’s been at our microphones several times before. Every time we do a show on technology it turns out to be one of our most popular shows. I read this document and I find it fascinating, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. There’s a variety of documents that comes out on technology or corrections or the criminal justice system. I define this to be a seminal document. I find this to be one of the most important documents I’ve seen within the correctional arena. Am I overplaying my hand here, Brian or what?

Brian: Well, that’s certainly what we’re trying to do here though the goal of this project really is a very ambitious one to try to help catalyze innovation in the criminal justice community. Certainly we hope that this document will be that important but whether it actually is that important will depend on a lot of other actors in the corrections center to take the ideas that came up in this study and put them into practice.

Leonard: What it does is takes virtually every issue that we have in both community corrections and mainstream corrections, analyzes it, prioritizes, but makes it a priority or puts it in rank order, and figures out whether or not there is technology that could have an impact on those particular issues. I mean all the problems that we have today could have a technological solution. If they do you list them and put them in rank order. In the ballpark?

Brian: Yes, that’s certainly what we did. We did it in collaboration with a lot of practitioners from the community to take advantage of their expertise and their on the ground knowledge, and with their help tried to rank them to identify where to start. There’s always a lot of ways that improvements in technology are practiced could help organizations be more effective or more efficient. The challenge is always to figure out where to start so in this effort we not only try to be comprehensive and look at a lot of the challenges facing corrections, a lot of the potential solutions, but then try to winnow them down to the ones that really looked best to practitioners in the area.

Leonard: Joe, how did the University of Denver that supports JustNet, which is an organization funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, how did the University of Denver get involved in this project?

Joe: [00:03:46] Well, we’re partners with RAND on a larger NIJ funded effort to identify high priority needs across the criminal justice sector. Our role in support of RAND is specific to the corrections community so we assisted with developing this report to assembling the advisory panel and so on.

Leonard: Joe’s been by our microphones a thousand times again producing some of our most popular programs in terms of talking about technology and corrections technology in the criminal justice system. Okay, gentlemen, now that we’ve introduced the document … oh, and by the way, the document is going to be in the show notes, the address for the document on the website www.RAND R-A-N-D .ORG, www.RAND R-A-N-D .org. Oh, before going into further into the show, Brian, for the uninitiated, what is RAND?

Brian: Oh, well certainly. RAND is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. We do research for a wide variety of clients, a lot of them in government, federal agencies, state and local government, but also the private sector. Our mission is to improve policy and decision making through research analysis. We’re a lot of academic researchers but we’re academic researchers that really judge our success by whether what we do makes things better in the real world.

Leonard: For the practitioner community I’ve been following RAND since the beginning of my academic career. RAND has put out some of the most famous and well known studies involved in the criminal justice system. I remember decades ago reading your research on habitual offenders and found it fascinating and that prompted a discussion throughout the criminal justice system. Joe, how do people use this document? How do policy makers, how do practitioners use this document?

Joe: As you mentioned, it’s a seminal document and foundation in a lot of ways. Then part of our approach was to establish the state of the art so we took a look across the spectrum of what corrections is, what it has been and identified the different technologies and different policies and practice that are currently in place. Then from there, as we alluded to, we identified emerging or current needs and tried to develop associated on problems or ways to address those problems.

How various groups can use this information is diverse depending on the audience. Private industry can use this information because it’s a very valuable source of needs from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, from the end users themselves who have articulated what their needs are. Private industry who is interested in making investment in the sector have the blueprint that identifies a starting point of what the needs of the community are. From the federal perspective, funding sources again have that ready made source of that previously identified high priority area so they can target their research and development portfolios accordingly.

Leonard: All right, either one of you can come in and answer this question. There are seven million people under the adult correctional system, the supervision of the adult correctional system, every single day, seven million people. Seven-hundred-thousand people come out of prisons on a year to year basis. That does not include the numbers in terms of the juvenile justice system. That does not include people coming out of the jail system. There are enormous numbers of people. We in the criminal justice system, I’ve heard from my peers throughout the country that they are overwhelmed by the numbers, overwhelmed by the complexity, overwhelmed by the problems. What we’re talking about is, I don’t know, how many problems do we want to look at. Mental health, so if I said mental health from a technology point of view, what would the response of the document be?

Brian: Well, I can jump in on that. Certainly those are two of the really big challenges that the practitioners that we worked with here talked about. It’s simply the ideas of scale and also the challenges of mental health issues in prisoner populations that the correctional system is having to deal with today. I mean when you look at the options that were talked about in the document, they ranged from low tech approaches that are training to help deal with mental health issues, all the way up to high technology activities, better censors or systems to try to prevent suicide attempts in institutional settings, or in the case of the large supervision burden for individuals who are in the community correction system, better technologies to do individual tracking and make that a more effective element of corrective supervision and dealing with offenders in that context.

Really that’s what, for me at least, was one of the most interesting responses or interesting findings that came out of this work is that these very large problems can have multiple solutions to them, some of which may be technological systems, but some of them may be more about policies and practice, how we do things. The opportunities there to match solutions to the needs of different correctional systems and so on is an opportunity to make a broader change across the sector as a whole.

Leonard: Right. There are going to be practitioners throughout the country listening to this program today going, “Oh, thank God.” This is so needed because the discussion throughout the country today is taking about less use on prisons, less reliance on mainstream incarceration and a greater reliance on community supervision. Community supervision is sitting there going, “Oh my heavens, there’s no way we can take on more people.” I mean it would have to be a technological solution because the money isn’t there. The average caseload right now … I don’t think there is a national average but I think it comes close to 150 to one parole and probation agent. I have seen cases where it’s 250, 300 cases for one parole and probation agent.

Here in my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C., we are so lucky. We have under 50 to one ratios but we’re unusual and we’re lucky because we’re a federal agency but for everybody else they’re overwhelmed. They’re saying, “If you can’t give me a technological solution to handling this huge caseload and to provide the services and the supervision concurrently, if you can’t provide me a tech solution, we can’t do this.” Are they right?

Joe: I’ll jump in. I think they’re exactly right. It’s interesting that this issue was brought up by both parts of the panel. The community institutional correction side brought up the issue that a lot of the prison realignment strategies, particularly in California, have created a burden on the local jails. They going to have to identify the need for more alternatives to incarceration to get folks out of the jails. Well, at the same time in a nearby room, the community correction folks were gathering and they said, “Well, you know what, we’re getting all these highly violent folks who we typically would not previously get. Due to realignment efforts across the board now they’re being pushed into the community so we have a situation now known as mass supervision versus mass incarceration, which gets to exactly what you’re speaking about.

We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the tools to deal with this ever growing population. What the community corrections folks said the need was more targeted resources specifically for community corrections so they can meet this challenge. It was interesting how both groups identified similar problems coming from different approaches.

Leonard: What would be the technological solution? What immediately comes to my mind would be global positioning or satellite supervision of individuals, GPS supervision of individual offenders but, as effective as that may be, that puts a brand new set of requirements and a brand new workload onto the shoulders of parole and probation agents. In some cases, technology is a plus and in some cases it is not nearly as good as people make it out to be. I’m not questioning the effectiveness of GPS, I’m simply saying that instead of talking to this person once a week, now they’re getting data points, hundreds of them, every single day and they’re saying that they can’t process all that information.

Brian: Well, figuring out ways to improve technologies as they exist now was a big element at what we covered in the advisory panel discussions. In that case, one of the things that was discussed was better analysis tools, where reviewing those hundreds of data points didn’t produce hundreds of false alarms that were bouncing into the inbox of all of these supervision officers, but analytics that helped filter that data stream to make it possible to focus on the truly important elements of that.

Other pieces of technology, in terms of trying to deal with volume and deal with distance that came up, were ideas like the ability to deliver programming at a distance, whether that’s using a technology like Skype to allow people to more efficiently meet with the people that they were supervising, or in the case of treatment provision, the people that they were treating as part of their supervision. You’ll have better understandings and evaluations of the effectiveness of those alternative models of delivering that could help remove some of the travel burdens, if you will, in a jurisdiction where officers have to travel over long distances to visit their supervervisees in person.

Leonard: To deal with individuals on supervision through video visitation, either through … I don’t know. My app on my iPhone or my iPad gives me the right to instantaneously communicate with my wife through her iPhone or iPad. Technologies along those lines to deliver services to individuals to ask them questions or to supervise them, that’s what we’re talking about?

Brian: Yes, absolutely but the challenge of understanding whether that’s as effective as the traditional ways of doing that, emphasizing that in order to enable inhibition, we both need the good technology ideas and also need the evaluations, so we have confidence going in that the new ways of doing things will work well.

Leonard: Right. People are saying that, mixing radio shows here, because I’ve done radio shows … I just did a show on video visitation. I’ve done a show on correctional education. People are saying that the overwhelming majority of individuals caught up in the criminal justice system do not get the services they need. If it’s not done by video, if it’s not done by distance learning, it’s probably not going to be done at all. I think people need to understand that, out of everybody out there who has a substance abuse problem when they come in the program probation or when they come in the mainstream corrections, the data that I’m looking at is that only a small minority of those individuals get substance abuse treatment or substance abuse education. Some people are suggesting if it’s not done by video it’s not going to get done.

Joe: That’s certainly an approach that should be examined and exploited but what you’re describing there is an efficiency issue, if we can deliver these services in better, more efficiently, more inexpensively and so on. Certainly that needs to be examined. I think Brian is right. At the end of the day we need to evaluate is it truly better than nothing and if so how much better than nothing. These are things that shouldn’t impede agencies exploring these technologies but research is lagging. We’ll have to examine that and look at it and determine the effectiveness and whether it’s worth the investment.

The larger issue I think we need to talk about GPS and other technological tools to supervise offenders, is most technologies, other than the process type technologies, most supervision type technologies involve work. That’s a point that often people miss is that we just put folks on GPS and that makes it easier, more efficient. Well, that creates a lot of workload. That needs to be examined from the larger context of risk assessment, which is a common theme in the community corrections group as part of this panel. We need better tools to identify who needs what level of service and then targeted resources directed to those folks.

That gets to the larger issue is everyone within this criminal justice system need to be there and the folks that are within that criminal justice system already, do they need the same level of resources. Obviously the answer is no. We need better tools to differentiate who needs what type of intervention.

Leonard: Gentlemen, I want to reintroduce both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re doing a show today on innovative use of corrections technology. Brian Jackson is the director of the Safety and Justice Program and a senior physical scientist at RAND. Joe Russo, back at our microphones, is a researcher at the University of Denver focusing on technological issues within the correctional sector. The document that we’re talking about is “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections: Identifying High Priority Technology and Other Needs in the U.S. Corrections Sector”. Want to give out the websites for both gentlemen and the document for RAND www.RAND.org. We’ll have the direct URL or the address to get you to that document but you can also find it by searching RAND’s website or simply Googling it. Joe is at the University of Denver, www.JustNet J-U-S-T-N-E-T .org O-R-G.

Gentlemen, to enter into this new era of corrections, whether it be mainstream corrections in a prison or whether it be a parole and probation agent who usually comes with a bachelors degree or higher, you’re talking about a fairly technologically sophisticated individual who can handle multiple technological platforms at the same time to supervise his or her community supervision population, or to run a safe and efficient prison system. We’re talking about a level of technology that we do not have now, correct?

Joe: It is in some respects the technology is already in place. The technology will grow and improve and that’s going to be continuous. I think that the point that you’re getting at, Leonard, is that correction is changing to a degree that there’s a large [inaudible 00:19:07] from specialization. If you go into a prison, a newer prison these days, almost everything is wired so the technical skills needed to operate a prison or run facilities within a prison, are much different than they were 20 years ago. That’s going to continue to change. More and more prisons are looking at allowing access to the internet for inmates as part of education reentry services. Almost every security system plugs in or is connected to a network in some way.

A lot of the same things are happening through the corrections whether it’s GPS or social media, monitoring, whatever the case might be. As society changes and becomes more technologically advanced, the supervision services have to keep pace and certainly the job is changing. On the positive side, with millennials and other generations coming into the workforce, they’re more ready and adaptable to that approach.

Leonard: To ask that person … Let’s just say going back to community corrections, and I don’t mean to keep harping on community corrections, but that’s where I’ve spent the last 11 years with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency here in downtown Washington. To be able to analyze an individual, figure out through some algorithm as to whether or not this person is high risk, medium risk, or no risk, what that person’s needs are, what they’re not, figure out whether or not that person should be supervised at all or placed on the lowest level of supervision or the highest level of supervision, operate a GPS unit, video interface with that person on a fairly regular basis, that requires a certain sophistication. That requires a certain wherewithal and do we have that workforce now?

Brian: In all sectors we have that challenge as technology changes. Me working at a research environment, I use very different technologies and interface with my colleagues in a very different way than what’s happened 20 years ago, and that creates training challenges. Some of that is solved by, as Joe pointed out, the millennials coming in to the sector and bringing with them greater technological familiarity and a comfort level simply because they’ve used a lot of technology similar to this.

In many of the areas, in the discussions with our advisory panel as part of this work, is through the training implications of both technologies and how to use them and how to make decisions about acquiring them, came out as part of the discussion as a key element to thinking about innovation in corrections, whether that is training up individual practitioners to use the technology effectively, or whether that’s figuring out how to present information to leaders who are making decisions about technologies that they have to learn about as they’re making the assessment in procurement decisions.

A lot of this falls into an area of how do we produce that information in a way where the sector can use it effectively, since if we want innovation, part of that is arming the people, who are making the choices and who are using the technologies on a daily basis, with what they need to use it effectively. You can’t get good outcomes just by buying new technology and assuming that it will happen and work well if there’s an investment that needs to be made there to let it be adopted effectively by the organization and its members.

Leonard: Part of the document talks about the poor outcomes on key correctional measures of effectiveness, notably offender recidivism. Offender recidivism measured by … I can think of three historic documents and documents from other individuals and taking a look at individual research programs, is pretty daggone high in terms of recontact with the criminal justice system, rearrest. Generally the mantra has been within three years of two-thirds of rearrested and fifty percent re-incarcerated. You take a look at other reports and you get variations on those figures but in essence the figures are high. How does technology have an impact, have a bearing on improving the effectiveness in terms of offender outcomes?

Joe: Well, I’ll jump in. I think technology in the prison sector can be very useful and then is already being applied to support reentry. I mentioned earlier about agencies being more open to internet access if not complete, that which is not on the table yet, but at least access to internet content to help offenders develop their young vocational skills, education skills, make connections with potential employers and then in resources in the community. Between video visitation, video conferencing in general, giving offenders access to the community before they reach the community, I think technology can be leveraged to a great degree.

Leonard: RAND, interestingly enough, did an overview. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m pretty daggone sure it was RAND. I think I saw it yesterday. Talking about correctional education in part of that document they suggested that the video delivery of services was as effective as in person. I may be overplaying my hand here but it was pretty encouraging in terms of what you can do through video delivery. Am I right or wrong?

Brian: Yes, that was certainly part of that study done by a number of my colleagues here at RAND who were looking both at the effectiveness overall of educational interventions and the very significant effect and cost effective effect that they have on reducing recidivism after release, but also development of technology in delivering those educational interventions. Again this comes down to resources, where it may be more costly to deliver education in person and be able to deliver it at a distance, whether that’s on a tablet based system or a video based system in a classroom, where the technology can become the force multiplier to let these services to reach more inmates, and as a result hopefully have a better effect for them as they leave to reintegrate into society, and hopefully find other things to do that do not lead them back into the correctional system.

Leonard: There are companies out there and I guess I shouldn’t mention the one company that I have in mind. I’m confronted as a person in the criminal justice system who’s been doing public affairs for the last 35 years. I’m always confronted with new technologies and I’m always confronted with a need to learn. There’s a company out there that provides technological overviews of equipment, of programs, of modalities that don’t assume that you have any prior knowledge of that technology at all. They walk you step by step, bit by bit, to the point where you feel pretty comfortable creating Final Cut Pro and creating a green screen movie in Final Cut Pro. This seems to be a powerful event in our lives in terms of the potential for delivering educational programs, vocational programs, maybe even mental health issues.

Joe: Well, absolutely. I mean often we talk about telemedicine as a way to deliver medical services but it’s established as well as a way to make contact and deliver services to inmates in prisons and even folks in the community. One of the things that came across during our research here was the needs of the rural agencies. Because of isolation, it’s not an efficiency issue in terms of using video to connect with their clientele. It’s not a resource issue. There is no other way to effectively connect with their clientele other than video and other technology approaches so it’s very important.

Leonard: Final three minutes of the program, we have a criminal justice system that is emerging in the technological arena but I don’t get the sense that we’re all that terribly sophisticated. I don’t get the sense that a lot of our agencies are run by people with tech backgrounds. How long will it take the criminal justice system to gear up, fund, train, implement a technological solution across the board for managing offenders, both in the community or managing people behind prison bars?

Brian: Well, certainly innovation across the entire system is a high bar. I mean in our criminal justice system the fact that we do this in a decentralized way means that we have answered to a lot of independent actors that are making their own decisions, that face their own financial constraints and their own legacy systems constraints. If you’re thinking about innovation across the board in the same way, it’ll be a long time, but the advantage that we have in that is that we have a lot of separate agencies that can do experiments and can try things and figure out what works. That provides a benefit to the other agencies that would come after them. On the one hand, thinking about uniform innovation, it will be a long time but what I’m encouraged by, particularly with the great ideas that came up in our advisory panels, is that we’ve got a lot of agencies out there that are trying new things and their experience can help lead the way for other agencies that come after.

Leonard: Yeah, but I’m suggesting that there’s a sense of … I don’t want to use the word panic but apprehension on the part of community corrections saying, “We need this stuff now.” If we’re going to deinstitutionalize, therefore rely more upon community supervision and you’re going to even increase the caseloads that we’re dealing with now, you’ve got to give us tools. I think that what I’m hearing is a need for speed.

Joe: There’s no doubt that there’s urgency but it’s a double edged sword. You don’t want to introduce technologies that haven’t been validated in the field or that potentially create an increased workload like GPS’s so it’s a balancing act. As Brian said there are agencies who are doing things piecemeal. It’s probably not the right term. Here and there they’re experimenting and some are having very good results.

Leonard: All right, Joe. You’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had Brian Jackson, the Director of safety and justice programs for RAND, Joe Russo, a researcher for the University of Denver today talking about an extraordinary document, “Fostering Innovation in Community and Institutional Corrections”. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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Technology in Corrections-Corrections Technology Center of Excellence-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/05/technology-in-corrections-corrections-technology-center-of-excellence-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Today’s show – do parole and probation caseloads have an impact on offender recidivism in crime. To discuss this topic, we have two principles. We have Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice Program Evaluation, Michael Kane. The second guest is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. He’s been working in the Criminal Justice field for the past eight years. They wrote a really interesting piece of research on the fact that caseload size done right seems to reduce recidivism and when I say ‘recidivism,’ I remind most people that that indeed involves reduced crime. So let me, for the next 15 seconds, read the beginning of it and we’ll have an interview with Sarah and Michael.

“A Criminal Justice researcher has studied caseload size to determine whether smaller caseloads improve probation outcomes. With exceptions, the findings have been disappointing. Reduced probation officer caseloads have not reduced criminal recidivism for high-risk probationers and have increased revocation rates.

One explanation is that officers with reduced caseloads do not change their supervision practices when caseloads are reduced. This raised the question – would reduce caseloads improve supervision outcomes for medium to high-risk offenders in a probation agency that trains its officers to apply a balance of control and rehabilitative measures”

To Sarah and Michael, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Thank you.

Michael Kane:  Thank you.

Len Sipes:  Okay, that was a ridiculously long introduction, but in setting the stage, it’s really difficult, but Sarah, also give me a sense. You work for Abt Associates Abt. In my 42 years in the Criminal Justice system, Abt Associates always seems to have been there and producing some of the better known research throughout this country and throughout the criminological community. So tell me a little bit about Abt Associates.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure. We’re based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we are probably one of the oldest public policy analysis companies and we have, as you mentioned, been doing a number of projects for the Department of Justice and various other government agencies. Mostly in the [INDISCERNIBLE] program evaluation. We also do global international technical assistance and evaluation for various governments and government agencies domestically.

Len Sipes:  This research is funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice. Michaels Kane, give me a sense as to the Crime and Justice Institute at the Community Resources for Justice.

Michael Kane:  Sure, Community Resources for Justice is a nonprofit operating in Boston. Our larger organization also operates halfway houses, both federal and state, and homes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Crime and Justice Institute is a division of CRJ and we work to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice systems nationwide. We provide nonpartisan consulting, policy analysis, evaluation services and technical assistance to improve public safety in a lot of jurisdictions working directly with corrections and community corrections agencies.

Len Sipes:  The website for Abt Associates – www.abtassociates.com. The website for the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice is www.cjinstitute.org. Alright, so both to Sarah and Michael, let’s begin talking about this. In the research that you did – again, funded by the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice – it took a look at parole and probation or, in this case, rather probation caseload size and we said in the introduction that caseload size really does not seem to matter in terms of the research in the past. In fact, reducing caseload size, making it the number that the parole and probation officer or the probation officer in this case has to supervise and to assist, lowering that number in the past seemed to increase the rate of recidivism, but basically what you guys said was, “Well, if you guys lowered the ratio, if you made the caseload smaller, if you trained this parole and probation agent or probation agent in evidence-based practices, if you gave him the top skills, the top knowledge that we had today,” I wonder what would happen.  Am I summarizing the research correctly?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  I think that’s right. I think one of the reasons that the National Institute of Justice felt that this was important to revisit is that some of the best evaluations in Criminal Justice were done on supervision intensive probation. These were large, random assignment studies that produced some pretty irrefutable outcomes, but as you said, decreasing the caseload size for probationers who are supervised intensively did not seem to improve outcomes and, in fact, worsened outcomes in a lot of ways. The takeaway from that research was both that these were probationers, not in the traditional sense. These were people who were diverted from jails and prisons and put onto probation and supervised in the community very intensively, but also, there were a couple of exceptions to those core findings in a couple of agencies. They did combine the sorts of things that we associate today with evidence-based practices with these reduced caseloads and in those couple of places, they had improved outcomes. So there’s really a foundation for revisiting this now that evidence-based practices have become so widespread in probation agencies across the country.

Len Sipes: So it’s just not a matter of trail them and jail them. It’s just not a matter of enforcement. It has to be combined with services if that person has any chances at all of not going back to prison and in saying that, there were two jurisdictions that you studied out of the three where not only were there reductions. There were significant reductions in terms of the overall rate of recidivism. I think in the Oklahoma City area there was about a 30% reduction in recidivism. In Polk County, Iowa, in one case, was up to 40% in some categories. So that’s significant and that’s what immediately caught my eye and said that I wanted to interview Sarah and Michael today because , ordinarily, when you get successful outcomes for reentry programs, if you will, they generally range in the 10-15% range. These are significant – 30% for Oklahoma, 39% for some categories in Polk County. Those are significant reductions.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and I want to just clarify one thing in that we’re talking about reduction in risk of recidivism, which is a fine point to make, but I think important because it’s a probabilistic kind of thing rather than an absolute these people stopped reoffending. So there’s a little bit of a difference and that’s due to the nature of the study design.

Michael Kane:  It’s not a 30% absolute reduction in recidivism, but compared to the control commission…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  What it would have been otherwise.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Michael Kane:  It is a 30% reduction. Yeah, that’s important to point out.

Len Sipes:  Okay, but I mean do you…

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  You’re right. These are significant. You’re right.

Len Sipes:  That’s my question. My premise is considering the low percentage rates in so many other programs that I’ve encountered, this seems to be doing significantly better than previous reentry-related research programs. Am I right?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes, but I do want to qualify that a little bit because reentry programs are generally dealing with offenders who are coming out of jail and prison and because of that, are at higher risk for recidivism. We’re talking here about probationers who, at least for this particular offense or case, they have not been incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right, but you are talking about medium to high-risk probationers.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct, but probationers in general, overall, are a little bit lower risk than say parolees.

Len Sipes:  True, but it’s not unusual for them to have prior incarcerations in their backgrounds.

Michael Kane:  Right, the population don’t overlap.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Correct and higher risk probationers often do have a more extensive criminal history. So, yes, we are talking about who are people who are at high risk for recidivism, but not quite as high-risk as a parolee.

Len Sipes:  Michael Kane, we talk about evidence-based practices within the confines of this study. What are we talking about?

Michael Kane:  Sure, within the confines of this study, we’re talking about three major things. The things that we look for in the sites that we chose were sites that had implemented a third-generations risk and needs assessment and used that risk assessments to target based on risk.

Len Sipes:  Figure out who the offender is.

Michael Kane:  Right, figure out who the offender is and concentrate probation services on offenders that are medium and high-risk. The second thing we looked for were sites that do some kind of case planning based on need. The third-generations need assessments, they typically generate a list of criminogenic needs and these sites base case plan on what needs are determined by that. The third thing that we’re looking for is sites that train in and practice motivational enhancement techniques. In some cases, that might be like motivational interviewing. So those were the three things that we looked for in terms of [INDISCERNIBLE].

Len Sipes:  So it’s basically– they implemented a risk needs assessment. They figured out who this person truly was. They engaged a case management process based upon that risk and needs assessment, which is basically saying, “You’re low-risk. You really don’t need these services nearly as badly as somebody with a high score in terms of antisocial personality or violent tendencies. So we’re going to figure out who gets what based upon their scores in terms of the risk and needs instrument and training the officers there on how to motivate the people on their caseloads to do better.”

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  That’s the heart and soul of it.

Michael Kane:  Yeah and so I think it’s important to know that we’re not saying that that’s all evidence-based practices are or trying to condense them, but we had to make some decisions about what kind of things we were looking for in sites and those are the three things that really stood out to us. They’re also things that are easier as researchers to measure. We can see what the risk and need assessment that they’re doing is and we can see whether or not they target individuals based on their risk level and whether or not they target based on need. They can program evidence that they did the training around motivational enhancement techniques. So those are kind of things that we can confirm. There are plenty of other components of evidence-based practices that are more difficult to confirm.

Len Sipes:  Right, but the bottom line of this is that they went through all of this – the case management, the risk and needs assessment, the motivational interviewing – to get them involved in programs. You guys didn’t measure the programs. You measured those things that I mentioned, but all of this is predicated on getting them involved in the programs that were necessary even though you didn’t measure that part of it.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Because that part of it had some methodological difficulties.

Michael Kane:  Right.

Len Sipes:  Alright, what are we talking about in terms of caseload, Sarah? I mean if this whole discussion and research is predicated on reduced caseloads, what do we mean by reduced caseloads?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, I think we mean a couple of things. One is a relative measure. As you know, caseloads fluctuate throughout the country and so agencies have very high caseloads depending on their resource levels and some have more medium size caseloads. I would say almost nobody thinks that their caseloads are too low, but for Oklahoma City, when we introduced the reduce caseload and randomly assigned officers to either the reduced caseload or the regular caseload, during our study, their caseload was about 106 probationers per officer on the regular caseload and 54 on the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay, basically on probation agent to 54 offenders.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, for the reduced caseload.

Len Sipes:  Okay and Polk County?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  In Polk County, it was a little more complicated to determine, but we’re looking at a little bit higher-risk offenders in Polk County and so we were looking at their intensive supervision programming and their caseload was roughly, over the study period, 30 probationers per officer.

Len Sipes:  Okay, about 30:1.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah and about 50 in the comparison officers.

Len Sipes:  We should establish again for anybody listening who doesn’t have the context to understand the discussion in terms of caseload numbers, I have personally witnessed in the state of Maryland, which I was Director of Public Relations for the Maryland Department of Safety for 14 years, caseloads of 130:1. These are 130 real cases. If you counted the inactive cases, it was much higher than that. I’ve known jurisdictions throughout this country that have had 200 offenders on their caseloads. These are regular caseloads. They aren’t administrative caseloads or interstate compact caseloads, but regular caseloads exceeding 200 per parole and probation agent. So first of all, do we agree with my assessment as to the comparison numbers?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes.

Michael Kane:  Yeah, I mean I’ve heard 180. Yeah, I’ve heard all kinds of, what I consider to be, fairly high numbers. So, yes, I think that that’s a good range. It really just differs across jurisdictions.

Len Sipes:  It’s amazing as to how any parole and probation agent could ever possibly be effective with those numbers, but we’re halfway through the program. I’m going to reintroduce the two of you and then we’re going to get into – what I consider – the fun part of the program. It took me 15 minutes to set up an understanding of the program and now we’re going to get into the policy implications. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re talking to Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She is an associate at Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and Public Policy Analysis with research interest in Criminal Justice program evaluation, www.abtassociates.com. Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, www.cjinsitute.org. Okay, Michael or Sarah, either one of you come in. So to the aid to the mayor, to the aid to the governor, to the aid to the congressional person, to the aid to the parole and probation assistant director, to the different people listening to this program right now, what are the principle policy takeaways from this research that if we lower caseloads and have them do the right thing, we can reduce the number of people coming back to the Criminal Justice system significantly and do I have that correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yes and I want to repeat something that some of the many people of advisors for this project emphasized to me a number of times, which is you can’t just do one. You can’t just introduce these techniques associated with evidence-based practices and keep caseloads the same size because officers don’t have time, as you mentioned. They don’t have time to learn all of these new techniques and still supervise their active caseloads, but you also can’t just reduce caseloads without giving the officers the tools to really make changes and how they supervise probationers. So I think that one major takeaway is that it’s really important to do both and our study kind of highlights the importance of that. We can’t tell from our study which particular components of evidence-based practices that are the most cost-effective or the most beneficial, but what we can say is that this the context in which you should reduce caseloads in order to be most effective for recidivism and probationer outcomes in general.

Len Sipes:  Michael, do you have anything to add to that?

Michael Kane:  No, I mean I think Sarah has it right. We know that both of these things have to go along together. I think that that is really a key finding here. I think another thing that is maybe less associated with recidivism reduction is that from our discussions with officers that were on a reduced caseload size, they really did reflect that they felt they were better able to use the techniques that they learned, that those evidence-based practices that they have learned, they were able to spend more quality time with the offender and help them to explore their issues that they were really able to do a better job in terms of making referrals. Those things that it seems like probation and parole are turning towards, it just seems like in the cases we were able to speak with the officers that had the reduced caseload that they felt like that extra time really enabled them to employ the techniques that they learned.

Len Sipes:  Well, it does take time because I’ve seen both in Maryland and the nine years of being with Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which is a federal parole and probation agency here in Washington DC. When I was out with one of the – what we call – community supervision officers, what most jurisdictions call parole and probation agents, encountering a woman who basically she was thrown out of her place where she lived. It was violent. It was nasty. Knives were pulled and words were exchanged and she had to escape with her child. I mean the complexity that so many offenders bring to the parole and probation arena requires time. It just required time. If you’ve got somebody who is on their fifth positive for marijuana, yet they’re doing everything else okay, but yet they’re hanging out on the street corner. They’re being a little too loud, the fifth positive for marijuana, it takes time to intervene in that individual’s life and get them into the right treatment modality. These are time-consuming activities.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  They’re time-consuming and also things officers feel responsible for. In many cases, they are responsible in terms of job performance and in some cases they’re responsible in terms of liability for the people that they’re supervising and I think one of the important implications or sort of a finding is that in Oklahoma City, the officers who were on the reduced caseloads stayed in their jobs for the length of this study. The officers who had the double caseload, the regular caseload of 106 offenders, they left. They took other assignments. They left the agency. They got burned out pretty fast and they called us and told us that. They said, “Look, I’m really sorry to be leaving the study, but I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t feel like I can do my job anymore because there are too many people that I’m supervising.”

Len Sipes:  That applies to most parole and probation agents in the country. That’s my sense of it.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes:  I’m talking about anywhere between 80% and 90%.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right and this study does not cover what the overall retention rate of probation officers in local jurisdictions are, but I think you’ll find that their staff turnover is pretty high. At least, I know anecdotally it is and if you think about the costs associated with hiring new people, training new people to do what’s a pretty responsible job in a community, think of all the money you’ll save if your officers were happy and they stayed and they felt like they were being effective at their job. So I think it’s larger than just finding improved recidivism. I think it’s also a question of is the community safe because I have experienced officers who have a professional commitment that they feel that they can live up to.

Len Sipes:  If you’re talking 30% ballpark and another figure and I know it’s no really as simple as I’m making it out to be, but I’m just going to try to make it simple – 30% in Oklahoma in one category, 39% in Polk County. I mean you’re not talking about a lot of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system. You’re talking about a lot of people not going to jail. You’re talking about a lot of people not going back to prison. You’re talking about 700,000 individuals released from state and federal prisons every year. Now, if we could do 30-39% reduction of people not returning to the Criminal Justice system out of those 700,000, you’re talking about saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  That’s right and I think we all know that the level of incarceration in this country is unsustainable physically and that people are going to be released. The question is how well are they going to be supervised in the community post-release, but also how well are they going to be supervised in a community before they get to jail and prison. I think it’s a really important point to make that when people fail on probation and people recidivate while they’re on probation, they often are going into incarcerations whereas they were remaining in the community and everything. The potential, anyway, to be productive, to be employed, to really both contribute to the community and to improve their own lives and those opportunities are greatly diminished once people fail on probation and end up incarcerated.

Len Sipes:  Right. Is there a secret sauce, either one of you, in this in terms of your own guts and I know that the metrological community, the research community hates this question, but it’s what practitioners are interested in. it’s all those people I talked about – the aids to the mayors and governors. They’re sitting there and saying, “Okay, I’m listening to this.” What do you think, Sarah and Michael, is the secret sauce the key ingredient that really prompted reductions in recidivism beyond the fact of reduced caseloads? Is it getting them involved, figuring to who the person really is and getting the right person involved in the right treatment modality? I’ll start off with that.

Michael Kane:  I mean…can I take a stab at this?

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Sure, of course.

Michael Kane:  I think that it’s really the application of the risk and need principles, for me, that those individuals that are the highest risk based on an objective assessment –  in this case, the third-generation risk and need assessment – that those individuals receive more probation services than low-risk individuals and that we objectively assess what their needs are. One size fits all does not work and I think we know that in probation and parole. We can’t say that everyone should receive substance abuse treatment because while a lot of individuals may have substance abuse issues, that’s not the case for everyone. In some cases, we can be giving them services they don’t need, don’t reduce the recidivism rate and so I think the current climate economically in this country where in governmental budgets we’re making tough decisions, what we need to do is make smarter decisions about who we’re giving what. I think that that’s really at the core of implementing evidence-based practices in probation and parole agencies. We have to use the information that we have – in this case, risk and need assessment – and make decisions about resource allocation based on that so that we’re getting the most for our dollars. I think that’s relates directly to this caseload study because we know that if we supervise individuals on a lower caseload and use these techniques, we’re going to get better outcomes. So it is a tradeoff, certainly. There’s certainly a tradeoff in what we’re able to do with those lower-risk cases, but I think that’s really the takeaway for me.

Len Sipes:  I do want to be fair to the research and the listener community. There was another jurisdiction involved, another state involved, but they did not fully implement the evidence-based practices, so they didn’t have the reductions that you had in Oklahoma and Polk County, correct?

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Well, yeah and I think something important to note about that jurisdiction is that they, in fact, were one of the earliest adopters of evidence-based practices and they did a really good job when they implemented it in the 90s, but they had a series of fiscal crises and were not able to maintain the continuous feedback loop that’s necessary to keep programming like this going and operating well. In fact, during the period of time that we had data for the study, it didn’t appear that a lot of these elements of evidence-based practices were fully implemented, but afterwards, towards the end of the study, they kind of doubled-down on their efforts to do some training and to improve their programming. Who know? Today, those study results could be really different.

Len Sipes:  Could be dramatically different, right.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Right, it highlights the need to not just put something in place and say, “Okay, we’ve got this. We should be good.” It really needs to be a continued effort over a long period of time.

Len Sipes:  Got it. Okay, we have one minute left and the question to either one of you is evidence-based practices reduced caseloads do have a way of reducing crime, reducing people coming back into the Criminal Justice system. It’s unfortunate that a lot of states simply are so cash-strapped for money that they have a hard time doing what is, obviously, in everybody’s best interest.

Sarah Cooke-Jalbert:  Yeah, when you have incarceration, that’s a fixed cost. You need to maintain your prisons and your jails and probation is not such a fixed cost, so I think in my opinion – this isn’t a fact proven by the study – I think probation is a little bit easier to reduce money for than it is for, say, incarceration, but in a perfect world, I think policymakers could see that investing in probation really pays off when you compare those costs to the costs of incarceration.

Len Sipes:  Sarah, you have the final word. Our guests today have been Sarah Cooke-Jalbert. She, again, is an associate with Abt Associates. She is a sociologist and public policy analyst with research interest and Criminal Justice program evaluation – www.Abtassociates.com. Michael Kane is a Senior Associate with the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice. Again, that website there is www.cjinstitute.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. One again, we really appreciate all the interaction. We appreciate your emails, telephone calls. We appreciate the fact that you agree and disagree with some of the observations of our programs. We really like it when you come up with suggestions for new programs and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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