Human Trafficking-The Urban Institute

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2014/04/human-trafficking-urban-institute/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, today’s show examines human trafficking. Research shows that there’s a common misperception about human trafficking. Most believe that it’s something that happens predominately outside of the US, not in our own backyards. Research from the Urban Institute tells us why so many human trafficking cases slip through the justice system and where new efforts could make a difference. Our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking spanning eight countries and five continents. She currently leads a National Institute of Justice study to examine the organization, operation, and victimization of trafficking in the Unites States. Colleen Owens, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Colleen Owens:  Thank you very much for having me.

Len Sipes:  Colleen, this is just an extraordinarily important topic, because as I told you before we hit the record button, I was talking to a friend of mine who said, “What’s the topic of today’s radio show?” and I said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States.” And he said, “Human trafficking in the Unites States; is there human trafficking in the Unites States?” So answer the question for my friend.

Colleen Owens:  Yes, absolutely. There is human trafficking in the United States. I think unfortunately that’s not an uncommon reaction. I think it happens more than people realize. And there are reasons why a lot of people in the United States don’t think that it actually happens here. The way that I often describe it is that it’s sort of hidden in plain sight and that even cases that do come forward and are identified by our criminal justice system will still become hidden in the criminal justice system later on. And we can get into reasons why that is.

Len Sipes:  If you take a look at the research on rape, and it’s something undoubtedly that you have and I know Urban has over the course of years, it’s so underreported. I would imagine this equals that degree of non-reporting.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. And I think there are differences when you look at sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, both of which happen in the United States, and no community is immune to it. But what we found in our research is that very low percentages of victims actually self-identify and come forward to law enforcement and report themselves as being victimized by labor or sex trafficking, and there are a lot of reasons why that is. So for sex trafficking victims, for example, they might perceive themselves to actually complicit in the crime of prostitution. They might view themselves, instead of being victims, they might view themselves as being criminals, violating our prostitution laws, regardless of the fact that they’re forced or that there’s fraud or coercion used to compel them into that.

Len Sipes:  So they see themselves as vulnerable to the criminal justice system. They don’t see the criminal justice system as being necessarily on their side. They see them as potentially victims of the criminal justice system.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. That’s part of it, the other issue is, so both US citizen victims as well as foreign nationals in our country are victimized by labor and sex trafficking. And so for US citizen victims they don’t have the issue that, for example, foreign nationals might have where they might be undocumented either prior to the trafficking or as a result of the trafficking they become undocumented, and so they might fear that coming forward would mean that they’d be put in jail for being undocumented.

Len Sipes:  The website for the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. They’ve been before our microphones many times in the past and we hope many times in the future. Look for human trafficking on their website. Colleen, do we have a sense as to the extent of the problem in the United States and throughout the world?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. Prevalence is the biggest question; it’s also the biggest unanswered question. The best statistics that we actually do have are from the International Labor Organization and they estimate that approximately 21.9 million individuals around the world become victims of labor and sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Wait a minute, 21.9 million, so 22 million human beings.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  22 million human beings are victims of sex or labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  And explain to me what is sex trafficking and what is labor trafficking.

Colleen Owens:  So there’re a variety of laws, but within the United States our federal law, which is the TVPA, was passed in 2000, it’s been reauthorized several times, and all states now actually have state laws against human trafficking. Sometimes those state laws vary in term of the definition and also the criminalization of human trafficking. But the TVPA, our federal law, defines human trafficking as essentially the use force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into labor or services, and so that can be two broadly different things, so compelling a person into forced labor situations or into forced commercial sex situations.

Len Sipes:  Okay. So we’re talking about, what, principally labor or sex do we know?

Colleen Owens:  I’m sorry.

Len Sipes:  Are we talking about principally people being forced into labor situations or sexual situations or do we know?

Colleen Owens:  We don’t know actually. So there’s what the available statistics tell us, and that is one piece of the puzzle. So the available statistics are few and far between, but when you look at investigations that local, state, federal law enforcement have undertaken into human trafficking, they’re primarily investigations into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So that might lead some people to believe that sex trafficking is more prevalent. However, through the research that I’ve done and that I’ve done with colleagues from Northeastern University we’ve looked at, we’ve gone into communities and we’ve spoken with criminal justice actors and what we found is that primarily criminal justice actors are operationalizing human trafficking as sex trafficking and mostly sex trafficking of minors. So that means if they are looking for these cases, which is a big if, they’re primarily looking for sex trafficking of minors, and they’re not proactively out there looking for labor trafficking in communities, for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Do we have any sense, with this 22 million worldwide; do we have any sense as to the extent of victimization in the United States?

Colleen Owens:  We really don’t know. We don’t have good statistics on that. There’ve been a few attempts to get an accurate measure that have been unsuccessful. I think like a lot of crimes you’d mentioned earlier, like rape for example –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  It’s unreported.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And so those that actually do come forward and report cases that go forward in the criminal justice system are always going to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the prevalence.

Len Sipes:  But feel free to push back –

Colleen Owens:  Sure.

Len Sipes:  If it’s not valid to make this assumption. But is it proper to suggest that out of the 22 million certainly we could say that millions of people in the United States are victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, is that possible to extrapolate to the Unites States?

Colleen Owens:  So the International Labor Organization, which came up with that number, estimated that when you look at the United States as well as other EU, or what I think they called industrialized –

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  Nations, they estimated that 1.5 million victims of labor and sex trafficking were in those countries.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So within the Unites States we still don’t have a good count of how many victims are in our country.

Len Sipes:  Why is it that – we’re talking about something despicable, we’re talking about something disgusting, we’re talking about I’m assuming female victims.

Colleen Owens:  Both men and women, as well as children.

Len Sipes:  Does one category lead the other?

Colleen Owens:  No. And you do start to see differences when you look at labor trafficking versus sex trafficking. But again, sometimes the numbers that we see are more as a result of investigative priorities and available services and outreach to communities. And that influences who you see coming forward.

Len Sipes:  I’m making the assumption, and quickly tell me where I’m wrong or it’s not supported at all, but the overwhelming majority of what we call the sexual assault problem in the United States is male perpetrators and female victims. I do understand that males are subject to being raped, males are subject to being sexually abused, but it’s principally male perpetrators, female victims. So I can’t make that assumption here?

Colleen Owens:  Well, with sex trafficking what we’ve been seeing is that primarily the offenders been coming forward through the criminal justice system are male, but we’ve seen an increasing trend in female offenders as well.

Len Sipes:  Huh.

Colleen Owens:  And so this is a real grey area for a lot of criminal justice actors. Law enforcement officials that we’ve spoken with have talked about you have a situation where traffickers are victimizing for example female victims and then over a period of time those victims then are sort of groomed in a sense to become offenders. And so they’re used by the trafficker to then recruit other victims and to also enforce the rules and keep the victims compliant. And so they’re sort of in this victim and offender category.

Len Sipes:  So help me put it in perspective, and, again, pushback, because you’ve made, said very clearly that this is very difficult to put numbers and groups regarding this problem within context. But what we are talking about is either labor, and I’m going to stereotype now, tell me where I’m wrong, of where the person works in the house, the person is brought in from another country, the person is recruited within the United States, the person is taken to a house, the person acts as a sort of a servant within the house, or the person is recruited for sexual activities and they’re held in bondage almost and they’re moved from one location to another location. So what we’re talking about is bondage, what we’re talking about is trafficking human beings in the most significant and serious ways. We’re not talking about finding somebody for prostitution. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people who are either coming in from outside of the country or being recruited inside of the country for sex bondage or for labor bondage, are we not?

Colleen Owens:  Yes. No. That’s exactly what it is. I mean I think at the root of our trafficking laws, they’re actually rooted in 13th Amendment principles of slavery. And so often you hear human trafficking described as modern day slavery. But really what is at the heart of it is that somebody is being, their labor is being used against their will, that person’s freedom is being denied.

Len Sipes:  I remember reading some of the literature, or the list of the literature that you provided before the program, and the word slavery did come to mind and I’m saying to myself, “Why is the word slavery not in here? Is it too politically incorrect of a word?” I don’t know where to take this topic. I’m trying to be fair and slice it right down the middle. But it strikes me as being disgusting and despicable, and it strikes me as being slavery, it strikes me as human bondage. In the cases that I’ve been exposed to throughout the criminal justice system, I’m going to be stereotypical I suppose, the women involved were held in psychological and physical bondage, they were told that if they left they would be killed, their families would be killed, they would be injured, they were threatened, they felt that they had no place to go. I mean is that what we’re talking about?

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is definitely part of what we’re talking about. I think another part where sometimes to be honest there is sort of a wide variety of different stakeholders within the anti-trafficking movement. And sometimes what you do see is that there are arguments or discussions about sort of the role of prostitution versus sex trafficking and when does something become trafficking versus when is somebody voluntarily involved in prostitution. And so –

Len Sipes:  Well, is anybody ever voluntarily involved in prostitution?

Colleen Owens:  That’s a good question. It’s sort of what our laws say and how our laws are enforced. But, yeah, I mean that a question that people debate.

Len Sipes:  I mean I know it’s legal in certain areas of the country, but for the vast majority of my exposure throughout my years within the criminal justice system, prostitution has been, I can’t use the word, “If you don’t do this and if you don’t comply with me and if you don’t give me 60% of what it is that you make, I’m going to kill you.”

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. No. That is –

Len Sipes:  I mean that to me is –

Colleen Owens:  That is 100% of trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Colleen Owens:  So it’s that a person is using force, fraud, or coercion. And if you’re under the age of 18 then our laws say that you don’t have to show force fraud or coercion, because the thought is that if you’re under the age of 18 you can’t voluntarily consent to the commercial sex act.

Len Sipes:  All right, are these – I’m sorry, I may have asked this question already – are these outside of the United States coming into the Unites States or recruited within the United States?

Colleen Owens:  So it’s both. So US citizens as well as foreign nationals are both groups that are victimized by human trafficking. So when you look at sex trafficking in the Unites States, US citizen victims are involved. So you have for example runaway homeless youth that are often on the street looking for a place to stay and somebody might approach them and say, “If you do x, y, and z, I’ll give you a place to stay.” And so in our laws actually we say that exchanging anything of value, so it doesn’t actually even have to be money that’s being paid, but offering someone a place to sleep or food to eat can actually be used to coerce a person into sex trafficking.

Len Sipes:  So we’re talking about very vulnerable human beings –

Colleen Owens:  Yes.

Len Sipes:  To begin with, either outside of the United States or inside of the United States. Those vulnerabilities are played on, they’re exploited, and suddenly the person ends up in bondage. And by that I mean a situation that they cannot extract themselves out of and they’re afraid to go to the authorities because they’re afraid that they may be implicated in crimes.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And I think so there’s a really important piece of what you said, this is that they feel that they’re in bondage, and I think that is often a misperception, and you see that really affects cases, even when they go forward, if they go forward in the criminal justice system, which is, well, this victim wasn’t being held in chains, they weren’t locked in a basement, therefore they could’ve left. But understanding the psychological coercion that goes into compelling a person to do things against their will is very important, and our laws protect people against that, but actually proving those cases in court and holding offenders that use primarily psychological means of coercion is very difficult.

Len Sipes:  Okay. We’re going to go back to my original question then in terms of public misperception, in terms what a person asks me about the radio show, the topic of my radio show, and I said human trafficking, and they’re going, “Where?” And I’m saying, “In the United States.” And so, but we’re going to reintroduce you. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Colleen Owens. She is a Research Associate with the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center where she directs several national and international research projects on human trafficking. The website for the Urban Institute is www.urban.org. So, Colleen, let’s go back to that question once again. If it is as you describe and if we know that 22 million human beings are involved and within the western industrialized world, the United States, Canada, and the EU, you’re talking about at least one to two million human beings. This is a significant and serious problem in the Unites States that we don’t recognize as a significant and serious problem, correct?

Colleen Owens:  Yes and no. So I think we do recognize it as a significant and serious problem in the sense that so in 2000 we passed a federal, it was the first federal to actually criminalize human trafficking. I should mention that human trafficking is not a new crime; it’s a crime that has existed for –

Len Sipes:  Centuries.

Colleen Owens:  Forever, for centuries.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Colleen Owens:  It’s just a newly defined crime and there are new penalties to combat it. It’s being taken seriously in the United States and many other foreign countries. At the time that the US law was passed this was also the same time that the Palermo Protocol was passed. So this was a sort of international movement to really take this crime seriously and to not only hold offenders accountable, but to create and provide services for those victimized by the crime. Since 2000, all states in the United States have passed laws to criminalize human trafficking, but laws vary, some states don’t criminalize sex trafficking, some have different definitions of labor trafficking, for example. So on the one hand we have taken it very seriously, but our research shows that we have a long way to go and these laws aren’t actually being enforced as they should be. So a lot needs to be done in terms of more awareness and resources to identify victims to hold offenders accountable and to provide services for those victims.

Len Sipes:  A tough, tough topic. I mean where does the criminal justice system need to go with this? I mean I’ve spent the first half of the program trying to understand the degree and the extent of the program for myself. I’m not quite sure that everybody – when you say prostitution, people very rarely ever come to grips with the fact that these are victims that are slapped, punched, threatened, have a gun held to their head, they’re in bondage. It’s just people say the word “prostitution” they really don’t understand how nasty it is for the lives of the individuals involved. So you say human trafficking, the words human trafficking roll off the tongue, and thank you very much for helping me create the context for the first half of the program. What must the criminal justice system do, in terms of the second half of the program, what must we do, and what should society do across the board, because I will constantly go back to that conversation, “What do you mean there’s human trafficking in the United States?”, so?

Colleen Owens:  Right. So that’s a big question with a lot of answers, but I mean I think first and foremost those that are in charge of enforcing our laws should be made aware of what those laws are, there needs to be a lot more training, and it needs to be on the state and local level. The federal government does do training on human trafficking and it is very helpful and they should continue to do that. But we really need more state and local training that involves both investigators, as well as prosecutors working together to understand what their laws are and then how to operationalize those laws. So what evidence do you need to collect to be able to take a case forward and prove it in court? What indicators do law enforcement need to be aware of to identify that that person is actually a victim of crime and not arrest those victims and charge them as criminals. So in sex trafficking cases, for example, victims may be arrested and charged with prostitution and in labor trafficking cases victims may be arrested and charged and placed into deportation proceedings if they’re here and they’re undocumented. And so there really needs to be a lot more awareness for criminal justice system actors. The other piece of it actually is we need to actually create spaces in the criminal justice system to bring these cases forward. So in our study that we conducted with Northeastern University on challenges investigating and prosecuting human trafficking, we found that there were actually no state labor trafficking prosecutions in our study.

Len Sipes:  What?

Colleen Owens:  And when we went to local state prosecutors and asked them about what would happen if a labor trafficking case came to your desk, they actually said, “We don’t what we would do with it. We don’t know who would actually take that case.” And so there really aren’t actors in place in our system in many ways that are even in charge of finding these cases and then bringing them forward, and the same is true with investigating labor trafficking. So we’re doing a study right now that will be released in the summer and we’re finding in our study that those victimized by labor trafficking in our sample anyway are primarily from other countries, they’re either here undocumented or they were – a significant percentage of our sample was actually brought into the United States on temporary work visa programs, they were promised certain jobs, certain hours, certain wage, some of them were promised that if they remained in the job for a certain period of time that they would have their visa extended and they could get a green card. That of course was all fraudulent –

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Colleen Owens:  And never happened, and then the person finds themself undocumented. But when you look at local law enforcement, for example, and you compare sort of the investigations of sex trafficking versus labor trafficking, sex trafficking, while there’s still a long way to go in terms of investigating those crimes, law enforcement at least has been in the business of doing investigations into prostitution.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So they sort of it’s now requiring them to take a step back and ask, “Is this person in this situation willingly? Is this actually their choice? Are they being forced?” So that change is happening slowly. But when you look at labor trafficking, local law enforcement has never been in the business of enforcing workplace regulations or something that would even be similar to a labor trafficking situation. That’s been the business of the civil justice system, so Department of Labor. But the Department of Labor is not able to open cases criminally. So they’re not always trained to look for criminal elements. They might identify back wages, they might identify workplace hazards, but they are not trained to pull together all the criminal elements that amount to a labor trafficking situation and that would make it distinct from just, I don’t want to say just labor exploitation, because that is serious, but sort of taking it to that next step.

Len Sipes:  I’ve interviewed dozens of women in the criminal justice system who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and I’ve interviewed them at these microphones, and I’ve interviewed them on television shows. And when I sit down with them, either before or when we hit the record button, it is routinely this, it is, and this is going to be very stereotypical, I apologize for it, but this is what I hear over and over and over again, that the women are involved in the criminal justice system in probably, I’m going to guess, 60% to 70% of the cases where a male is forcing them to move drugs. A male is forcing them to be engaged in criminal activity, and they’re doing it through physical violence, through threat, through literally a gun pointed to the head.

And these are women who’re coming from histories of sexual violence, histories of sexual abuse themselves. So they go out and they’re involved in all this criminal activity and then they’re saying to themselves, “How can I extract myself from this? How can I get out of this, because I’ve been doing drug dealing? I’m running huge amounts of drugs down the interstate 95 corridor. I carry guns. I carry false IDs. I’m just as vulnerable as the people who’re making me do this.” So they don’t come forward. So when they get caught up in the criminal justice system we find when we have them under supervision on parole and probation here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, that in many cases they are just as much victims as perpetrators. We have them on a drug charge and they come out of the prison system and we find that they’ve lived terrible lives. They’re just as much victims as anybody else in the process, even though they committed federal trafficking, drug trafficking laws. So I’m assuming that that carries over to this topic.

Colleen Owens:  Yeah. I often actually – sometimes you hear people describing the phenomenon of human trafficking through a supply and demand framework, and while I think that is valid, I actually prefer to describe through where vulnerabilities meet exploitation type of a framework. And I’ve done research in many other countries as well and I find that the phenomenon sort of looks the same through that lens no matter where you go. So it involves asking yourself in this local context, in this city in the United States, in this village in Cambodia, what are the vulnerabilities and where is the exploitation happening, where are people taking advantage of those vulnerabilities? And so for example with labor trafficking in the US, US citizens one would think they might not be at risk of labor trafficking because often a tool is to use someone’s undocumented status against them.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  But in fact there was just a big case that came out that was reported by the New York Times of US citizens with disabilities that were forced to work in a turkey processing plant for 30 years. And so we are seeing that, US citizen victims with disabilities. There are other cases, there was one in Philadelphia as well, are being used for labor trafficking scenarios. And then the same is true with sex trafficking. A lot of the vulnerabilities and the past histories of abuse are there for sex trafficking victims. You see a lot of runaway youth, a lot of youth that have been caught up prior in the criminal justice system, they may have been arrested for quality of life issues, they may have had previous records being charged with prostitution, even though technically those should be sex trafficking charges if they were under 18, or they should’ve been treated as sex trafficking victims if they were under 18. But you do see a lot of these past histories of abuse and vulnerability. And I think what really needs to happen on the front end is being able to identify those factors sooner and develop programs to prevent a lot of that from happening, because it’s as much addressing the sort of demand side of holding offenders accountable, as it is addressing the supply side, and identifying what vulnerabilities are leading victims, are sort of leading to people being victimized and how do we address those vulnerabilities?

Len Sipes:  The criminal justice system needs to understand that people are not coming forward; they’re not escaping these situations, because they feel vulnerable. The victims themselves feel vulnerable. The victims themselves believe that there’s a possibility that they’re going to be prosecuted. So that’s one of the big reasons why they don’t come forward and that’s one of the things that we have to do was to make sure that we have the sensitivity and the wherewithal and the knowledge to reach out to these individuals and offer them immunity from prosecution as long as they help us prosecute the bad guys.

Colleen Owens:  Right. And some states actually have passed on the side of minor victims of trafficking, sex trafficking, they’ve passed what’s known as safe harbor laws. So basically stating, passing additional laws that you cannot be charged crimes, quote, “crimes that are committed as a result of your victimization”. But we don’t have a lot of those laws for, for example, victims of labor trafficking that may be charged with crimes pursuant to their labor trafficking situation.

Len Sipes:  But we have a criminal justice system that sees itself as overburdened, overwhelmed. We have a criminal justice system that’s having an extraordinarily hard time processing the day to day burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, homicides. There’s criticism directed toward cities throughout the United States and urban areas in terms of their inability to prosecute. So when something like this comes along they’re saying to themselves, “I don’t have the resources –”

Colleen Owens:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  “For this type of investigation.” Is it a matter that they’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources?

Colleen Owens:  It’s sort of a self-perpetuating cycle I guess you could say. They’re not looking for it because they don’t have the resources, and they don’t have the resources because they’re not looking for it.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  So, right, I mean we hear that often that we need more resources, we need more resources.

Len Sipes:  More training.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly, more training. You need agencies to prioritize this, because exactly as you said, you may have people calling about the fact that their cars were broken into, and so that sort of leads the priorities, right?

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  When you see what’s going on in your community and you’re making those calls for service. This is a crime that does not rely on calls for service for the most part.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Colleen Owens:  And yet when we speak with law enforcement their main approach to investigating this is to wait for calls to come in. And so it’s not being investigated basically.

Len Sipes:  But we do, I mean in general, we within the criminal justice system and society in general do need to understand that this does exist in the United States, it is an ongoing problem, it involves literally millions of human beings, and we have to take this seriously and we have to be looking for this.

Colleen Owens:  Exactly. I think if we’re a country that believes in freedom, then this is something that we need to take seriously. And it’s a serious human rights abuse. And people in our country are being abused by traffickers. And they engage in it, because for the most part it’s very low-risk.

Len Sipes:  Colleen Owens, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you were on the show today and that the Urban Institute is taking this on. Congratulations to the Urban Institute for taking a very tough topic, www.urban.org, www.urban.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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Transition from Jail to Community-Urban Institute-NIC-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.

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

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/05/transition-from-jail-to-community-urban-institute-nic-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an extraordinarily interesting program today, the Transition from Jail Project, funded by the National Institute of Corrections, and our folks from the Urban Institute are back at the microphone. We have Jesse Jannetta, who’s been before our microphones before, been on our television show. He is a Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute; and Janeen Buck, again a Senior Research Associate, again with the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. This particular program has its own website: www.jailtransition.com. www.jailtransition.com. What I want to do before turning the microphones over to Janeen and to Jesse is to read a one-paragraph description of this project and then we talk about re-entry from jail systems. This is from their executive summary. In 2007, the National Institute of Corrections partnered with the Urban Institute to develop and test an innovative, comprehensive model for effective jail-to-community transition. Designed to address the unique challenges and opportunities surrounding jail re-entry, the Transition from Jail Community Initiative advances systems-level change through collaborative and coordinated relationships between jails and local communities to address re-entry. Enhanced public safety, reduced recidivism, and improved individual reintegration outcomes are the over-arching goals of the model. And, the other fact that I want to do before turning it over to my guests – 9 million people are released from jail systems every year versus 700,000 from state prisons. Again, Janeen Buck and Jesse Jannetta from the Urban Institute, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Janeen Buck: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here today, Len.

Len Sipes: All right, this is an extraordinarily interesting program because I’ve had discussions with staff members and, you know, they tell me, and from my own experience, there’s nothing tougher than a jail. I mean, it is extraordinarily difficult to run an urban jail. It is chaotic; it is noisy; it is just loud, and if it has a booking center attached to it you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people processing in and out of this chaotic atmosphere every single day. How in the name of heavens do we plan on doing a re-entry program within an atmosphere of a large urban jail? Who wants to take that?

Jesse Jannetta: Well, I can start, Len. I think that really what you’re describing is one of the fundamental challenges that the TJC model and project is trying to address is just how quickly the jail population turns over. Everyone goes to jail; that’s where you go. If it’s a booking facility after you’re arrested, to you have people are in there bonding out or being released in pre-trial status pretty quickly. You have people there awaiting trial if they haven’t been able to make bond or if they’re not going to be released. You have parole and probation violators.  So it’s a very diverse population coming in and out often pretty quickly, and so what TJC is trying to do, among other things, is to help jurisdictions think in a data-driven way about who they’re looking for to intervene with in terms of how likely they are to reoffend, in terms of the needs that they have, so that they can take whatever resources they have and target it where it’s going to have the biggest positive impact on their local community, and so they’re not trying to deal with the whole haystack, so to speak, but they’re really looking for the needle.

Len Sipes: All right, a yes or no question – can this be done within this very chaotic, I mean you’ve done the research and you had jurisdictions where you tried this. I mean, obviously it can be done but the average person sitting out there who knows Corrections is saying, “No, this can’t be done.” It can be done, Janeen?

Janeen Buck: It can be done, and in fact it was done. We started our work and partnership with the National Institute of Corrections, as you mentioned, in 2007. Our first task was really to work with NIC and a large group of external advisors that drew from jail administrators, community-based service providers, local law enforcement – a whole host of folks who were very familiar with this issue, if not on the front lines of this issue, to devise a flexible and comprehensive model for jail transition and then to go out and actually test that model in the real world setting of six communities.  So we started with six communities in 2008. We started working first with Denver, the city and county of Denver, which was a more urban jail setting, as you mentioned.  Then we also worked with a smaller, more rural county, Douglas County in Kansas, which was a much smaller jail. We started working there to implement the model, and we expanded to four additional sites the following year in 2009, working with one of the largest jail systems, Orange County, bringing them on in 2009.

Len Sipes: Orange County, California?

Janeen Buck: California, yes, as well as a number of other sites, again, that were diverse with respect to size, structure of their system, and we found that, yes, they were able to implement the model.

Len Sipes: What are the key elements of the model?

Janeen Buck: Well, I think, first and foremost, and I think Jesse would agree with this, it’s really collaboration. It is a systems approach that requires, like re-entry does, working across systems, so it’s the jail and the community and other members of the criminal justice system as well coming together to really jointly own this issue and work together collaboratively to create a model that works for them.

Len Sipes: Is the whole idea exposing or attaching people caught up in the criminal justice system to services on the outside, is that the heart and soul of it?

Jesse Jannetta: I think it’s both because what you want to do is have a process that starts in the jail, and again you have often pretty short periods of intervention or unpredictable as well. You know, people may be with you in the jail for a while but you may not know that at the outset of their time there, but even if it’s just doing in-reach from community-based organizations into the jail to start meeting and identifying potential clients, you want a piece of it to begin pre-release, if at all possible.  And the other fundamental I would say is what we call the triage approach so that you’re trying, through data, doing a pretty minimal, in terms of resource, risk-to-reoffend screener at booking so that you can see particularly who your higher-risk portion of your population is. That’s who you want to target first and foremost for programming, and at the same time who are the people who are lower risk who you want to keep into a more minimal intervention track. So again, you’re really focusing the resources that you have and the time and energy that you have, which are limited, on the people who need it the most and that the community needs to get at the most.

Len Sipes: Okay, so you’re talking about the three categories of people who come into the jail system: those who are booked, those people who are there on a pre-trial basis, and those people that are serving short sentences. You’re talking about all three populations.

Jesse Jannetta: Right, and I think that jurisdictions have come down that we’ve worked with in different ways on that. Some have preferred to work only with the sentence population; others have said if they’re in the right risk category and if they have the identified needs, we’ll start working with them regardless of whether they’re there on pre-trial or sentence status because many people, you know, if they’re in the jails for a substantial period of pre-trial, if and when they are sentenced, they may be sentenced to time served. So if you’ve been in the jail for three months awaiting the completion of your adjudication, you may then be sentenced. The judge will say, “Well, the three months you’ve been in jail already is sufficient to be the sentence,” and so if you wait to work with them, you will have missed your window of opportunity for intervention.

Len Sipes: Technical assistance was provided to the jails?

Janeen Buck: Um-hum.

Jesse Jannetta: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: And what sort of technical assistance?

Janeen Buck: Well, we went in and helped first really get a handle on the jail population that was there, again, working this angle of a data-driven approach. Who’s in your jail? How long are they there for? What kind of information do you have about your jail population? Again, I think bringing evidence-based practice or best practice to bear and providing technical assistance around that, so as Jesse mentioned, having a universal screener for risk of re-offense which allows you to get a very quick sort on your jail population and which really drives that next approach, thinking about, where do you put your resources, who should go on for in-depth, a risk needs assessment to help drive decision-making around services that need to be received through provided technical assistance around both kind of re-entry practices with respect to screening and assessment and looking at programming, evidence-based programs, as well as evaluation-related technical assistance.

Len Sipes: All right, so we’re talking about collaboration. We’re talking about getting everybody together, figuring out what’s in the community, how can these community resources be brought to the attention of people who are in the jail system, in the three categories of the jail system, providing technical assistance, making sure that they know what they’re doing, using objective risk instruments, triaging people to ferret out the people who don’t need services to those people who desperately need services. – And I’m assuming afterwards, after you do all that, there’s some sort of connection between that individual and services in the community upon release.

Jesse Jannetta: That’s right, and I think the case planning is a key piece of that, so what you want to do through your triage process. So first you find your higher-risk folks through the screener, and then out of that group and often looking at people who are going to be in the jail for at least long enough to begin an intervention continuum; those are the people who would get a full-risk needs assessment to tell you what they need, and then that’s got to be tied into the case plan so that you’re taking this is what we know about, what we need to address to reduce their likelihood of recidivism, and these are our goals. This is who we’re trying to connect them to, both the programming in the jail and then in the community.  Something that we did a lot of work on in the participating communities is talking about and trying to have continuity of approach between the way the programming’s delivered in the jail and in the community. So as you’re addressing substance abuse, for example, which is a common issue in this population, are the in-jail programs and then the people providing that programming in the community you’re trying to hand people off to, are they doing this kind of work in the same way or are they even really aware of how each of those pieces of the system is addressing it because if you hand somebody off from a substance abuse program in the jail that’s doing things in one way, and then they go into the community and it’s a completely different modality and philosophy, that can be really counter-productive particularly with the client who may feel like, “Well, I don’t know who to listen to. I’m getting different messages.” Whereas, if you can integrate that, then what you can try and do is build on a common approach and have them be mutually reinforcing.

Len Sipes: Okay. Now I’m going to put on my – oh, go ahead, please, Janeen.

Janeen Buck: And I would just add to that – I think another key piece was even developing that shared knowledge and understanding around screening and assessment, and using to the extent that you could a shared instrument so that there was that continuity of understanding around the needs too.

Len Sipes: Right, everybody’s singing from the same sheet of music, right?

Janeen Buck: Exactly, and you build a common vocabulary that makes sense.

Len Sipes: Okay. I’m going to put on my practitioner hat, and you dealt with these individuals as how many jurisdictions, Janeen?

Janeen Buck: Well currently all together right now we will have been working with 14. We worked with 6 in the first round.

Len Sipes: 14, and that’s a lot of jurisdictions. All right, I would imagine the average person is saying, pardon my sexism, “Lady, don’t you understand how difficult it is to run a jail? We’ve got to do this and that,” and it’s going through their minds. A dozen issues are going through their minds. “Do we really have the time to do this and is this really going to be successful?” There had to be a certain level of cynicism on the part of hard-bitten criminal justice administrators when this issue was first brought up.

Jesse Jannetta: I would say that although one thing to bear in mind is we had a competitive application process for the opportunity to be in a TJC site, so we are working with jurisdictions that in a sense —

Len Sipes: That want you there.

Jesse Jannetta: — put their foot forward. But with that said, and particularly when you’re talking about a large collaborative endeavor, the jurisdiction or the person who wrote the application for the jurisdiction may feel that way but there’s a real diversity of opinion within everybody in that jurisdiction about how feasible it was, and we have had to deal with that as well as, you know, we started with two sites in ’08, another four in ’09, working with them in phase one through the middle of the financial crisis when spending of all kinds of resources of all kinds in local government have really been in retrenchment, and that did bring skepticism. But I think that one of the things that was really heartening in what we found in phase one is the degree to which our local partners said, “No, these budget cuts” – and some of our participating jurisdictions experienced quite substantial budget cuts in some of the core, whether it was the sheriff’s department or probation or the community providers – but that for them was not a reason not to do TJC but was in fact a reason that the kind of strategic approach that we’re doing, they felt was as important as ever because now resources are even more limited, and it’s all the more important that we’re making sure we’re using them in as targeted a way as possible, and they really hung in there through some tough times.  You know, a lot of local jurisdictions, the degree to which there was already some degree of programming or connection to community resources, there’s a lot of great stuff going on at the local level and a lot of jail re-entry activity going on all around the country. So while there is that skepticism, we also had the opportunity through TJC – and this started when we brought together our network of jail practitioners at the beginning – to build on what everybody has been doing at the local level and learning already –

Len Sipes: Enhance it. Improve it.

Jesse Jannetta: — and put it together into a common approach, and then try and bring that out to the field.

Len Sipes: The second question I want to get to right before the break and that is this – you know, I’ve been in this business for a long time – a lot of people at the community level don’t particularly appreciate people caught up in the criminal justice system. They find them hard to deal with versus a very motivated person. This is the classic example from a drug treatment provider who a woman has three kids and she’s strung out on cocaine, and she desperately wants to get off of it for her sake and her kids versus my guy on parole or mandatory supervision who was forced into it by a judge or by the member of the parole commission. They say, “I’d much rather have the woman who wants to be there than the person who was forced to be there.” So was there any resistance in terms of expanding the number of contacts through the jail systems?

Janeen Buck: I don’t think there was resistance to that. I think people were on board with that. I do think having the information at their disposal about who to target, when, and how much was very helpful, having that evidence-based approach, both from the community and the jail side. Does that make sense? Jesse, what would you add?

Jesse Jannetta: Yeah. What I also say, if you’re a community organization working on a lot of different social issues, it’s a really open question, and part of the data-driven approach that we can do can illuminate this. How different is that really from what you’re already doing? I mean, if you’re a community organization working with people who have serious mental health issues in the community; you’re working with a population that’s in and out of jail, same with addiction issues. People at the career centers, a lot of the folks who are coming in off the street who really need help, getting attached to employment have been criminal justice involved.  So in many cases, you know, the fundamental insight is on the community side, whether you know it or not, you’re already working with the population that’s in and out of the jail so why don’t we collaborate so that that work can be more effective? I think that a lot of community organizations, even if they’re relatively new to this effort, found that that was the case that they’re not finding new people.

Len Sipes: Well, right after the break I do want to talk about some of the successes that you’ve had. I mean, there has to be many successes considering the amount of jurisdictions that you were in. But ladies and gentlemen let me reintroduce both my guest and the program. We have Janeen Buck, Senior Program Associate, and Jesse Jannetta, again, Senior Research Associate rather from the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. The specific website for this project, the program is called the Transition from Jail Project, www.jailtransition.com. www.jailtransition.com.  Janeen or Jesse, certainly you have your fair share of success stories from this. I mean, people are sitting there going, “Okay, now I get the concept, and now Leonard has defended the practitioner community by these over-eager and over-optimistic researchers,” but this is something that’s necessary. I mean, we’ve been talking about using jails as a triage facility and connecting them with community resources for years but people have said, “We just don’t have the resources to do that.” So, out of all the jurisdictions that you’ve been with and interacted with, give me some success stories.

Janeen Buck: I think really all of our jurisdictions have been success stories, specifically with that. You know, they had very committed networks of community-based partners and providers. Some, obviously, had much broader networks than others but everybody really came to the table through this and were very committed, and I think to Jesse’s point right before the break, it’s important to note that many of the providers who were at the table knew these people, knew that their clients were a part of the jail population, had a stake in coming to the table, and I think they were excited to be a part and invited to the table and to help because they really were already owning this issue but to work collaboratively in that way. That said, I think we saw in all of the jurisdictions that we were working in an expansion in terms of the network of community-based providers, community participation that was at the table, both at an assistance level in terms of collaboration but also in terms of the nuts and bolts coming to the table, doing in-reach, or being willing to change or modify their practice to have that continuity of approach. Jesse, what would you add?

Jesse Jannetta: The biggest thing that I would add is I think it’s fair to say that when we started phase one, not one of those jurisdictions was really having validated risk and need information guiding who was getting programming services in the jail and in the community.

Len Sipes: Which is crucial.

Jesse Jannetta: And sites reached different degrees to which that information was driving the process but every one of them had it. Every one of it had it integrated in a process where it was, in fact, informing who was getting program services so they were moving towards this point where they were confident or gaining confidence that now we are serving who we want to. You know, in most jurisdictions that we’ve worked with, if you ask who determines who gets programming in the jail, the answer number one is usually the inmates. It’s their volition, and often it’s the judges for some of the mandated programming, and what they wanted to do is say, “No, we as a system have to say who ought to be in that programming,” and then, you know, there’s challenges convincing the inmates to do it or sometimes, you know, if you have to go back to the bench to get them to be on board with that strategy but if you can’t even say who’s supposed to be getting the programming, you could never get there strategically, and they got there, I think.

Len Sipes: Help me with my misunderstanding. Is this solely an in-house program or is it a connection to the community program or both?

Jesse Jannetta: I would say both, and I think it may be easiest to give some examples. A good one I think is in the city and county of Denver, so what they did is do a lot of work on enhancing their continuum between the Jail Life Skills Program that they have where their jail program officers were doing programming of a lot of different kinds, and then they had community capacity through what was called the Community Re-entry Project, and the primary hand-off they were trying to do is get people to go to the Community Re-entry Project which had capacity to do a lot of different kind of services there or refer out, and I kind of think of that as the hub and spoke.  So they were trying to identify who were the priorities to get programming in the jail, get them in Jail Life Skills, have them meet initially with staff from the Community Re-entry Project prior to release, and then get them to go there where a lot of things that they needed could be handled there at CRP or they could refer out. – But that was the primary door they wanted people to go through in the community.

Len Sipes: And was there meaningful success in terms of hooking people into programs? I mean, once you figured out, in terms of your objective risk instrument, who needed services and who didn’t – I mean, and anybody who’s been on the floor of a booking center or the floor of an intake area of a jail, it’s pretty obvious who needs psychiatric treatment as they walk in through the door; who’s withdrawing from drugs as they’re walking in the door. We know that many offenders commit their crimes while under the influence of some substance. It’s pretty easy to understand that this is a population in dire need. So considering the dire need of that population, do you feel that the jurisdictions really succeeded in terms of hooking the right people up with the right services?

Janeen Buck: Yeah, I think that they did. Is there room to grow? – I’m sure there is but I think over the life of the technical assistance period, we really saw a movement toward that in each jurisdiction. Jurisdictions implemented cognitive-based restructuring programs where it used that risk-and-assessment information to really link the right individuals to those services.

Len Sipes: Okay, so thinking for a change, teaching people how to make good judgments throughout life, yes.

Janeen Buck: Right, exactly, kind of a foundational piece to thinking about change, how you’re looking at your circumstances, and using that kind of as a foundation for linking them and building that continuum of other services. So to answer your question, I think they did. Again, I think we saw substantial movement there. We’re doing a sustainability assessment in the six sites, going back to look and see what’s been sustained since the technical assistance period ended, how are they building on things, and we’re seeing in the jurisdictions that we were working in, they’ve kept the screening and assessment procedures. They’re still using them. They’re thinking very strategically about who to target for programming, and they’re continuing to build their continuum of programs and thinking very much about risk and need and who to put there. So I think we saw movement there. I think it’s something that will continue to stand.

Len Sipes: So in all the jurisdictions that you work with from a technical assistance point of view, they embraced this, they embraced it seriously, and more people are being plugged in to more programs, and more importantly, the right people are being plugged into the right programs?

Jesse Jannetta: I think yes, and I think they’re –

Len Sipes: That’s extraordinary!

Janeen Buck: Yes, it is.

Jesse Jannetta: And in programming that in many places didn’t exist. I mean, we had several that didn’t have any cognitive-based programming were able to implement Thinking for a Change. Several put in programming units in their jail facilities so that the people living in that housing unit were all people who were in the target population for programming, and the programming was delivered there which wasn’t happening. I mean, they didn’t have the screening and assessment information. – And the other thing, although this was in some ways the biggest TA challenge, making a lot of progress in having an ability to measure –

Janeen Buck: I was just going to say that, yes.

Jesse Jannetta: — to do performance measurement around their transition processes. You know, there is huge limitations in the data systems locally. So they know that data-driven processes are the way to go, they know that these things they’re doing are important to measure but it’s very hard to do it. Some of that is about the data systems they have. I often think a bigger limiting factor is the number of trained staff who know how to pull that information, analytical capacity in the counties. There may only be a few people who know it, and there are huge claims that those skills are very valuable, and often the people who know how to do that are shared not only with the jail or the justice system but with the entire county, so it’s challenging to get down into the data and know what’s going on but really valuable.

Len Sipes: We only have about four minutes left. What message would you give to other correctional administrators throughout this country that run jails? Again, the numbers are enormous compared to those released from prison. 700,000 come out of the state and federal prisons every year versus 9 million coming out of the jail systems. So to the jail administrators, correctional administrators that you’re talking to – mayors, governors, aides to mayors and governors – what message would you give to them as a result of your experience as part of this National Institute of Corrections-funded project?

Jesse Jannetta: There are tremendous resources already going to the population that is going in and out of the jails but often not in a very coordinated or coherent way. Most jurisdictions, without getting a dime of additional resources, can be more effective in working with that population if they use something like the TJC model to be more strategic. – And to the community partners, people who are not criminal justice system or don’t work in jails, most people coming out of jails aren’t under probation supervision. They walk out of the jail with no necessarily formal responsibility to anyone in the criminal justice system. So for jail transition to work, other community partners have to step up to the plate and be willing, as full partners, to work with those folks coming back from the jail, and people in the criminal justice system, for this to really work, have to be willing to invite in the community partners and let them participate as full partners, otherwise you’re going to be really limited in what you’re able to do.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Janeen.

Janeen Buck: And to add to that, I think, you know, part of collaboration and inviting people in too is being willing to share information back and forth about practice. I think, again, speaking to the importance of that data-driven piece to being able to measure what you’re doing and not just the outcome of “is it effective,” but do you have data? Are you willing to share that information to see that you are serving the right people, that you’re serving them in a timely fashion, that you’re addressing their needs; and being open to looking at the data, I think to use that to make system improvements, which was a key part of the TJC model too.

Len Sipes: And I would imagine the strength of all of this is a team approach in terms of working with these individuals caught up in the criminal justice system. So it’s just not the Salvation Army; it’s just not mental health people; it’s just not substance abuse people; it’s just not people helping women with children, or people with HIV. It is supposedly, I am assuming, a comprehensive approach of trying to bring as many partners to the table as to this one person as humanly possible which gets us the biggest bang, possible bang for our dollar, correct?

Janeen Buck: Right. That’s absolutely right, and jurisdictions did that in different ways. The jurisdictions that we worked with in Ken County, they really brought everybody together. They had a strong community base there, had substance abuse providers, mental health providers, working with correctional officers in the jail, really had a team approach from not just a coordinated case plan but coming to the table together and discussing cases together.

Len Sipes: There is hope. What you’re telling me is that, from years of experience, funding by the National Institute of Corrections, a researched technical assistance project from the Urban Institute, there is hope. People listening to this and saying, “There is no way I can do it in my chaotic jail,” what we’re saying is that you can.

Jesse Jannetta: Right.

Janeen Buck: Right, and there are tools available for this.

Jesse Jannetta: Yeah. You know, we’ve had the opportunity, as we’ve said, to work with 14 jurisdictions. There are 2,800 jail systems in the United States, and IC knew that our impact would be really limited in only the 14. So the model is deep-dive in these 14 different places, capture everything that we’re learning, make it available to everyone else. The project website is the place to go for that. If we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, what you need is there.

Len Sipes: Okay. Jesse Jannetta, you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, the program today is the Transition from Jail Project, funded by the National Institute of Corrections. Our guests today have been Janeen Buck, Senior Research Associate, and Jesse Jannetta, again, Senior Research Associate from the Urban Institute: www.urban.org. The website for this program is www.jailtransition.com. www.jailtransiton.com.  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.

[Audio Ends]

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

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

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

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

[Audio Begins]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Yes! Yes!

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

Len Sipes: Thank you.

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

Len Sipes: 17 states are doing this?

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

Len Sipes: And did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Please.

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

Len Sipes: True.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: 70%.

Len Sipes: 70%, yes it was.

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

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

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

Len Sipes: It’s a huge issue.

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

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

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: So what else?

Nancy La Vigne: What else?

Len Sipes: It’s very complicated.

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

Len Sipes: Yes.

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: Um-hum.

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

Nancy La Vigne: The Counsel of State Governments.

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

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

Len Sipes: Right.

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

Len Sipes: Please. Please. Please.

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Massive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Len Sipes: Of course. Of course.

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

Len Sipes: $2.12 billion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

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

Nancy La Vigne: Agreed.

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

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

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

Nancy La Vigne: Right.

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

[Audio Ends]

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Housing and Offender Reentry-The Urban Institute-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.

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/10/housing-and-offender-reentry-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re talking today about housing and offender reentry. Back at our microphones, the Urban Institute, always, always, always happy to have them by our microphone. Jocelyn Fontaine is a Senior Research Associate. www.urban.org. She has a piece of research, supportive housing for returning offenders, that is an evaluation from the State of Ohio state prison system. It was done in conjunction with The Corporation for Supportive Housing and the results are really gonna surprise you. I really am pleased to welcome to our microphones Jocelyn Fontaine, Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute. Jocelyn, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: I really am happy to have you because this is a very important topic. We talk about offender reentry a lot and we talk about substance abuse and we talk about mental health and we talk about jobs, but rarely do we ever talk about housing and you have some really interesting findings. So give me a background, some background on the project and the research.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely. So a few years ago, around 2006 and 2007, the state prison system in Ohio partnered with the Corporation for Supportive Housing on a Supportive Housing pilot. They were looking for a way to get folks who are leaving their system into housing and wanted to partner with The Corporation for Supportive Housing who does this work, to help them to figure out how can we get folks into housing in the community, based on the assumption that if we get people into housing, they can get linked up to the services that they need –

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: They’re better able to find and maintain jobs and we can also reduce recidivism, which is costly for the state and of course, is a public safety concern. So they partnered on this Supportive Housing pilot which was focused on those who would benefit the most from supportive housing. So that is individuals with histories of residential instability, as well as behavioral health challenges, and they started out with wanting to house about 84 people coming out of the state prison system, this was state wide. It was first implemented in 10 correctional institutions and then they expanded it to three more, so it was 13 total. And they housed far more than the 84 that they initially intended to.

Len Sipes: Oh, how many did they house?

Jocelyn Fontaine: They housed, in our pilot, or the evaluation that we did, there were more than 118 or so folks.

Len Sipes: Wow.

Jocelyn Fontaine: But they housed far more than that, and it’s in fact still going on today, so they’re still housing folks.

Len Sipes: That’s great.

Jocelyn Fontaine: But they housed far more than 100 folks into supportive housing in five of the larger cities in the State of Ohio, so that was Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: And in fact like I said, people are still housed in the program and it’s got some pretty good findings.

Len Sipes: Well, the findings are astounding, I’ve spent a career looking at recidivism research and we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency like to think that we are a research based agency, we all read the research and discuss the research. These are some of the most significant findings I’ve ever heard in terms of recidivism. So you were able to find a certain percentage reduction in rearrest and a certain percentage reduction in reincarcerations. Tell me about them please.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Sure. So we’re pretty proud of the evaluation that we were able to do. It was a quasi-experimental design, which essentially meant that we expected the interest in the housing pilot to exceed their ability to house people, especially since it was implemented in 13 institutions, so what we wanted to do was a natural comparison group and that is get folks who looked similar but weren’t able to be housed by the pilot due to the limitations that they had in only having 84 housing beds. So that was our comparison group, so individuals who looked like those who got the housing, but weren’t able to because of the capacity of the program. We tracked those folks for a year following their release and we found that the RHO participants, and that stands for the Returning Home Ohio, that’s the pilot project, that the RHO participants were significantly less likely to be rearrested within one year. We found that the participants were 40% in fact, less likely to be rearrested than the comparison group subjects. And we also found that the participants in the RHO program were significantly less likely to be reincarcerated, which is one of the more interesting findings for the state prison system, since of course they want to reduce rearrest, but they’re mostly interested in people coming back into the prison system.

Len Sipes: Sure. Well, then that was a 60% reduction in reincarcerations right?

Jocelyn Fontaine: They were 60% less likely to be reincarcerated within one year, yeah.

Len Sipes: Right. Now that’s amazing, Jocelyn, because you take a look at offender reentry research across the board and just last week we had Nancy La Vigne, the Urban Institute, the famous Nancy La Vigne at these microphones and we were talking about the fact that most of the research projects that measure offender reentry probably go in the 10 to 20% range when they are successful, not all are successful. It’s, would be naïve to believe that every piece of research out there, every effort out there is going to reduce recidivism. Some research studies show that they don’t. The ones that do seem to run in that 10% to 20% range. Having a 40% reduction in rearrest and having a 60% reduction in reincarcerations is astounding.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, well, we’re talking, just to make sure that we’re clear, so we’re talking about the likelihood that they’re going to be rearrested and reincarcerated –

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: But we are very proud of the outcomes, very proud of the findings, especially since we only had a one year window to look at outcomes.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: And that is important to mention because not all of the folks who were in the treatment group or that got the housing, got the housing for a full year that we looked at their outcomes.

Len Sipes: Right, right?

Jocelyn Fontaine: So we’d expect actually the benefits of the program to be even greater, once we’re able to look at a longer outcome period and I’m currently working with the state prison system and the Corporation for Supportive Housing to continue to track folks, because we found, and something that I think is also interesting to talk about is, even though we had interested participants and interested providers and making the seamless link from release from prison to supportive housing in the community, we found that it wasn’t that seamless, that it took some time to get people into the housing upon release, so all that’s to say that once we feel that people are actually having the housing itself for one full year or longer, that we’d find even greater reductions in the recidivism rate and even greater benefits.

Len Sipes: There are endless questions that are running through my mind in terms of process and how it began and how you were able to convince landlords to bring people from the state prison system into homes that they rent. But this gets to the larger issue of recidivism across the board, we need to mention, I think we talked about before the show, the fact that they’ve received other services as well. So they were just not housing, there were a variety of stabilization services that I think dealt with substance abuse and mental health?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Tell me about those.

Jocelyn Fontaine: So this was a group that ranged from, I guess relatively low need to high need. So what this program was able to do, and I’m quite proud of them for doing that, was house a range of folks with different needs. Now, supportive housing is supposed to be target for those individuals at the higher need level, but there were some people in the housing who had lower needs and lower or less significant histories of substance abuse and mental illness so all that’s to say is that what the program did was working with providers so they would assess individual need once they came into the program and determine what services do they need as part of their supportive housing suite of services.

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: So supportive housing can range from just having a case manager, to more wrap around services. Linkage to employment to the extent that that’s you know, feasible and appropriate, as well as, you know, recovery services, a whole range of things that go into supportive housing on top of the provision of affordable housing. And we also looked at, as you mentioned, whether people were getting linked up to services and we found that those individuals who were part of the program were significantly more likely to use state billable mental health and substance abuse services and more quickly, so that is a great finding of this project is that especially if we’re thinking about the folks who were in the program as being previously under, unserved, that they are getting linked up to the mental health and substance abuse services that they need, more likely to get linked up to those services and receiving more of those services.

Len Sipes: Was there a way of measuring the various services to see if housing was the key variable, or whether it was substance abuse or job assistance or mental health evaluation, was there a way of ferreting out discreet variables to the degree of saying, “Hey, it was 10% substance abuse and 10% housing and 5% mental health.” I would imagine that would take a tremendous piece of research to do that, but were you able to do that?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, we weren’t’ and that’s actually an excellent question. So this story, it’s a great one, but it’s also a story I guess, like other research, a variation. So we had various types of offenders come through this program and then we also had various providers providing the service, so the providers were across the five cities, as I mentioned. They were a mix of both scatter site and single site housing agencies, so that is, they either managed or maintained a large building of affordable housing, of which the former offenders were part of that housing building, to agencies that worked with landlords and said, “Hey, we’re providing the housing, or we’ll pay for the housing, will you allow this person, Jocelyn Fontaine, to live in your housing building?”

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: The agencies also ranged in the type of services that they offered. Some, it was primarily just case management services and referrals to other agencies for things, all the way to one agency that really provided a range of services, it was a requirement of participation in their program that they participate in a lot of services. So putting all of that into one regression, one statistical model, we’re not able to tease out the relative benefits of the type of services that folks got, but that just calls for more research and we’re happy to do that and it’s a good thing too to see that even with all of this variation, that you know, the program still stuck. That meant that the providers got it right, that the program itself was able to match individuals to the housing services pretty well, or else we probably wouldn’t have had the findings that we had.

Len Sipes: Jocelyn, I’m going to, want you to take off your methodological hat and put on your opinion hat now.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Okay.

Len Sipes: What do you think is the impact of having stable housing? Parole and probation agencies throughout this country routinely report that a third of the people who they supervise are in unstable housing. It may be a shelter, it may be on the street, it may be you know, you’re at your Mom’s house, but your Mom said, “Hey, two months, and you’re out.” Then they shift over to their brother, he and the brother get into an argument, then they shift over to his sister, you know, brother in law’s not terribly happy about this, then he shifts over to a girlfriend, they break up. I mean, housing seems to be a key issue for an awful lot of offenders, and so what this research suggests is that it may be more important than we originally thought.

Jocelyn Fontaine: I think that’s right. As a housing person, I think it’s very important. You know, if you get an employment reentry person, they’re gonna say the jobs, but I like to think of housing as both the figurative and literal foundation that successful reentry can be launched. So it is my opinion that if someone doesn’t have stable housing, it’s difficult for them to find and maintain employment. If a person is worried about where they’re gonna sleep that night, it’s difficult for them to maintain their sobriety or continue on their regimen for mental health services for example. So I think it is extremely important and if you know, someone doesn’t have a place to sleep, if they’re worried about their housing, I think it’s difficult for them to think also about, you know, finding a job, being able to go to that job every single day, maintain good hours, having the clothing that they need in order to be successful in that job, having the rest that they need if they’re, you know, worrying about where they’re gonna lay their heads. So I think we need to think of housing as a platform for successful reentry, not only is it you know, a good thing to get people into housing, but thinking of housing, again, as that platform. So once people are into stable housing and it doesn’t necessarily have to be supportive housing, right? Its affordable housing, and appropriate housing placement, then folks can begin to be more successful on these other outcomes like job, reducing their substance use, getting medications for physical or mental health, reunifying with their family and friends.

Len Sipes: Several offenders have told me throughout my career that the housing component to them was one of the most important parts of coming out. That and supportive friends, supportive family and this is why I think the faith based program that we run and volunteer programs that try to mentor to people coming out of the prison system become so important, that it was quiet place to go and be by themselves and to provide a, it provides a certain sense of stabilization in the psychological well being of their lives. I mean, they just said, “My God, I mean, after being in prison and being around people all the time and then you go over to my brother’s house and I was over there with his family and you have no privacy and suddenly you have the ability to sleep when you want to think, when you want to contemplate life, that they found it to be psychologically comforting and a psychological comfort level that will allow them to do the certain things that they had to do. So am I in the ballpark or am I being Pollyannaish about this?

Jocelyn Fontaine: No, I think that sounds about right. That’s how we think of our own housing, right?

Len Sipes: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That’s how we –

Jocelyn Fontaine: So we should expect that from other folks as well and it’s just you know, when we release folks without proper housing placements and it makes sense that people rely on their family mostly in the, you know, the initial days of their release, but we need to be honest that sometimes that’s not the best housing placement and we found in some of the work that Nancy La Vigne has done and we’ve continued to do in more recent reentry evaluations is that people would like to be able to have their own place and to not have to rely on their family so much and have acknowledged, you know, which I think is quite honestly, that it’s not the best place, it’s not you know, the best place to go is back with family and heavily relying on them and perhaps not being able to support your family in the way that you should, in order to be able to stay living in their housing. So it makes sense to me that there’s these psychological benefits of housing.

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guest today is Jocelyn Fontaine; she is the Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute. www.urban.org www.urban.org. Housing and offender reentry is the topic of today’s program. She did a piece of research with others called Supportive Housing for Returning Prisoners, a program in Ohio that has astoundingly wonderful results, reduced rearrest by 40%, reduced reincarcerations by 60%. Jocelyn, with 700,000 people coming out of the state and local prison systems, state and federal prison systems every single year. 700,000, that’s just an immense number of human beings that are transitioning from the prison system to the state levels and transitioning to federal parole and probation authorities like mine. You know, the states are screaming bloody murder about their budgets and they’re saying, they’re reducing incarcerations, they’re closing prisons, they’re trying to come to grips with trying different things to reduce the rate of reincarceration, reduce the rate of recidivism because A: it cuts back dramatically on criminal victimization, but B: to them I think more importantly, it cuts a back on how much money they have to spend.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And that’s a reality for governors throughout this country. I’ve maintained that governors have had this conversation with every state correctional administrator in the country, that you’ve gotta learn to live within your budgets and you’ve gotta learn to find a way to reduce the amount of people coming back. This seems to hold some promise; this seems to hold something that people should consider.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep, and I want to give credit to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for you know, very much going out on a limb and funding this program, and funding the research. I don’ t know if we mentioned that, but that’s pretty progressive and innovative to, “Let’s see if this housing sticks” and then waiting it out to see. As I mentioned earlier on, this started in 2006, we just finished the research just a couple of months ago. So their willingness to participate in the research study, to put themselves under scrutiny, to allow us to come in to look at their data and see what happens, is, a credit to them, that they’re you know, a progressive state that’s willing to look at this in a different way.

Len Sipes: And Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been a progressive entity over the course of the last quarter century. They always seem to be taking a lead in terms of taking a look at how they operate and what the impact is. Jocelyn, what are the policy implications of all of this, the average person sitting here in Washington DC, the average person listening to this program in New York City and Honolulu and San Francisco, they’re gonna take a look at their housing situation in those particular cities, which are some of the most expensive cities in the world, and they’re gonna say, “Wait a minute.” Giving housing to people coming out of the prison system, I can’t even find housing for my kid.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah.

Len Sipes: I desperately want my own kid to get out of my own house, but he or she can’t afford it and here we are providing arrangements, making arrangements and in some cases, paying for them, to find supportive housing upon release from the prison system. So what are the policy implications, what are the practical lessons that governors and mayors and county executives and parole and probation administrators can pull from this?

Jocelyn Fontaine: I think one is that collaboration and partnerships are a good thing and that they work. The state prison system didn’t go it alone here, they worked with an agency that has a history of doing this, that has helped jurisdictions across the country and in fact they’re doing this work in other places beyond Ohio, so working with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to say, “Look, we’re releasing these guys. Some of them are appropriate for supportive housing. Help us figure out how to make it work.” The Corporation for Supportive Housing is you know, knows hey there’s these community based providers that are providing this service to people in the community, right?

Len Sipes: Right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: And that there’s a percentage of them that have these criminal justice histories. They’re there, right? 700,000 people you just mentioned the number –

Len Sipes: Yes, every year.

Jocelyn Fontaine: That means that’s a lot of people who are in the community that are receiving supportive housing with these criminal justice histories. So what they’ve tried to do is just say, “Let’s extend this.” So these agencies are already doing this work, the prison system is releasing people, so let’s just make that linkage a little bit more seamless so that they can extend or reach into the prisons to get these guys and then therefore we’d have better reentry outcomes. So I think that’s a lesson that you already have agencies in your communities doing this work, they’re already providing supportive housing.

Len Sipes: They’re already doing it.

Jocelyn Fontaine: They’re already doing it, so why don’t we just toward better outcomes, so that these guys aren’t hitting the community with no housing placements, nowhere to go, see if it works, you know? See if we can create this linkage and you know, if the Department of Corrections they’re willing to spend this money, Ohio was willing to do it knowing that if we spend it now, that’s savings that we’ll get later because they’re not coming back –

Len Sipes: Right!

Jocelyn Fontaine: Then it’s a worthwhile investment. And of course, that’s for jurisdictions to decide on their own, but it was beneficial in Ohio.

Len Sipes: And also the savings in terms of criminal victimizations.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.

Len Sipes: I mean, you have a situation where if you could produce 40% fewer arrests, 60% fewer reincarcerations, I mean, that would save tens of billions of dollars over the long run in terms of every state in the country, but you can see how difficult it is because the average person is gonna say to themselves, “Wait a minute, I can’t afford housing, why are you giving it to people coming out of the prison system?” The flip side of that is that it saves people from being victimized and it saves taxpayers a tremendous amount of money.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly. And there are other small things that can be done, right? So here, in this program, the state prison system was actually funding the housing, but there are other things that can be done just by a prison system creating more information for returning prisoners, about available housing placement, right? And it doesn’t have to be a situation which the correctional department is paying for all of someone’s rent; it could be a percentage, right?

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Jocelyn Fontaine: That get’s phased out over time as person gets linked up to more gainful employment.

Len Sipes: And the percentage may be just enough to tip the scale.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly, exactly.

Len Sipes: It may be just enough to get that person in a supportive housing in to dramatically increase the chances of the person –

Jocelyn Fontaine: Getting a job. . .

Len Sipes: . . . Doing well, getting a job, becoming a taxpayer, not a tax burden, and especially if they’re linked to other supportive services like mental health and substance abuse treatment and job services, but the, you know, so the other part of it is that they come back into these same communities and people sit there and go, “Well, you know, I’m not close to those communities, that doesn’t mean anything to me.” But one of out of every 42 people in the United States are under the auspices of or actually being supervised by a parole and probation agency.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah.

Len Sipes: So my, what I say to people is that you come into contact every single day with people on supervision by a parole and probation agency, you just don’t know it. If you’ve, some criminologists, I’ve heard the figure, one in 20 and I have no documentation to one in 20, they just gave their opinion in terms of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the past, but everybody, every single day, comes into contact with people who have been caught up, currently, or in the past, with the criminal justice system. So I guess my question is that do you want them coming out with support so they won’t reoffend and so you won’t have to pay for them again, or not? What’s your comfort level?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.

Len Sipes: The person comes out of the prison system with mental health problems; don’t you want that person to receive mental health treatment?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.

Len Sipes: And doesn’t that protect you and your family and your kids and your neighbors and your friends?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep, and we’ve heard that from landlords, as part of this housing study, or even employers, as part of other reentry evaluations that we’ve done, who’ve said, you know, these guys or these gals in this program are better than the other folks that you know, that I’m employing because they have a case manager, because they’re part of a program, because someone’s watching, not over them, but helping them out, that they have somebody, some support system, someone that’s focused on their reentry goals. And so you know, just like you said, you know, without a doubt, these folks are coming back and so if, you know, we can provide them with some supports, you know, I think that that goes a long way towards better reentry outcomes so that people aren’t coming back into the system.

Len Sipes: It’s my guess that an employer is going to be far more prone to hire somebody if they have stable housing. It’s my guess that in a discretionary world, where people go in and get drug treatment, you know, it is discretionary. I mean, people do chose who gets drug treatment and who doesn’t and I would guess that people would be more prone, or more apt to say, “Yes, let’s provide this person with drug treatment. He has stable housing, we’re not gonna have to worry about him wandering the streets, we’re not gonna have to worry about him deteriorating because he has no place to go.” It just seems to be a platform for other good things to happen in that person’s life which is why I’m guessing, and I think you’re guessing the same thing, that we have a 40% reduction in rearrest and a 60% reduction in reincarcerations.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And that, you know, that platform, that just absolutely intrigues me. Final words, we’re in the final three minutes of the program, Jocelyn. So we talked about policy implications, we talked about landlords, we talked about mayors considering this sort of a program, they need to get beyond, do they not, the fear that they may be criticized, for providing housing for people coming out of the prison system? Again, considering that there’s a lot of people who can’t afford housing to begin with?

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, I think you know, here’s the public campaigning that mayors and other public officials need to do is what you said earlier, realizing that it may not be your brother or your sister or someone in your family member, but it is likely to be someone in your community, and so realizing that these folks are coming back, that we’re paying for them in one way or another, that we do well to be paying for them in a strategic and a smart way and known to be effective way, other than you know, thinking, “It’s not my problem and I don’t have to deal with this, I don’t have to pay for it.” And the fact is that you do, and so when people are rearrested and reincarcerated, we are certainly paying for it, so we do well to think more strategically about what’s more effective use of our taxpayer dollars.

Len Sipes: They’re a five to ten minute drive from 70%, 80% of any metropolitan, anybody living in any metropolitan area.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Definitely.

Len Sipes: When I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I was well known because I did a lot of television work and you wouldn’t believe all the different people caught up under supervision, who would greet me and say, “Mr. Sipes, how are you doing? I saw you on television. Yeah, I’m in from this pre-release system and I’m working here.” And it’s like, “Wow.” You don’t know how many people who are delivering your pizza, filling your gas tank –

Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Handling your order, helping you out, doing your lawn care, doing your maintenance work, who are caught up in the criminal justice system? You just don’t know.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, and that’s the sad part, but. . .

Len Sipes: Yeah, and having them having supportive housing and having them have supportive services does seem to make a difference.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep.

Len Sipes: Not necessarily as high as your difference, but it does, nevertheless, make a difference.

Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, absolutely.

Len Sipes: All right Jocelyn, you’ve got the final word. Our guest today ladies and gentlemen, Jocelyn Fontaine, Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute, www.urban.org We’ll have a link to the document that she references: Supportive Housing for Returning Prisoners. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety, we really do appreciate all the comments, we appreciate your criticisms, we appreciate your suggestions for new shows, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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What Works in Offender Reentry-The Urban Institute-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.

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/10/what-works-in-offender-reentry-the-urban-institute-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital this is DC Public Safety, I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back at our microphones is Nancy la Vigne, she is the Director of the Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute. www.urban.org We’re here today to talk about what works in reentry and the fact that there are now, for the first time, actual websites, databases, that really do summarize the state of the art in terms of research in a variety of areas, what we have is crimesolutions.gov from the Office of Justice Programs, which gives research on a wide variety of criminal justice topics, including reentry but now we have another website that’s focusing specifically on reentry. It was launched by the Urban Institute and a Council of State Governments. The website is the “what works” clearinghouse for reentry. It’s at www. nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/whatworks .Nancy La Vigne, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Nancy La Vigne: Thanks, it’s great to be here.

Len Sipes: Wonderful website. Is it in competition with crimesolutions.gov?

Nancy La Vigne: Not at all, in fact it’s very complimentary and bear in mind, both websites are funded by the Office of Justice Programs.

Len Sipes: There you go.

Nancy La Vigne: So we worked very closely with the developers of Crime Solutions to talk about methodology and the ways in which the sites will be different and not duplicative and in fact, they’re not, Crime Solutions, as you said, covers a wide array of crime and justice topics.

Len Sipes: Law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice courts –

Nancy La Vigne: Right, right, exactly.

Len Sipes: You focus on reentry.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, we take more of a deep dive approach and whereas Crime Solutions only looks at what they’re calling brand name programs, we’re looking at all evaluations across a wide array of programs related to reentry. And as you know, reentry is a very broad topic in and of itself, so we’re looking at a wide array of different types of reentry interventions and summarizing the research findings across those types. So: employment, mental health, housing, juvenile justice.

Len Sipes: Nancy, you’ve been around for quite some time. I mean, you are the Director of the one of the most prestigious research organizations in the country, if not the world. Why did it take us so long? I remember talking to the former Assistant Attorney General, Laurie Robinson, who said that we are going to do this, we are going to start summarizing the research, we’re gonna start making it easy for practitioners. Why did it take us decades to do this?

Nancy La Vigne: Well, I think in the case of the reentry topic, it took a real awareness and sense of urgency by members of Congress to fully fund reentry in all its aspects and that came with the Second Chance Act. And the Second Chance Act funded the National Reentry Resource Center, which of course, is run by the Council of State Governments and when we partnered with the Council of State Governments, we knew that CSG, as they’re called, was very well equipped to provide technical assistance and that we could provide some research value and the way we saw the best way to add value was to cull all the research on reentry and make it accessible to practitioners. So that’s what we set out to do.

Len Sipes: I just want to state, for the record, that I think that it’s been very frustrating for those of us in the practitioner community because we’ve been waiting decades for this and it’s here. In terms of crimesolutions.gov and in terms of your website, I mean, it’s taken a long time to make it easy for practitioners and policy makers to follow the research.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s right and you know, when you look back, even a decade ago, there were two statements that were made as fact. One is: we don’t know what works. And the other was: well, we might know what works but the “we that know it” are a bunch of academics that do nothing more than talk to each other and publish for each other.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: I was of that second school of thought, which is that, you know, being an academic myself, I was aware of what was out there, I knew that there were evaluation studies that showed that certain types of reentry programs worked, but they were largely inaccessible. Sometimes inaccessible to me. You know, the methodology’s extremely complicated, the way the studies are presented are really more to show off the methodology off and rather than to illustrate the findings and the implications of the findings for policy and practice.

Len Sipes: My heavens, that’s a bias I’ve had for years. I’m glad you expressed it. Here’s the example that I give to everybody else. I remember being the Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and the Secretary of Public Safety comes in with a sour look on his face and he’s got a document from the Department of Justice, and he plops it on my desk. And he goes, “Sipes, I want a one page summation.” And then he goes to the doorway and turns around and points his finger at me and goes, “Now did you hear me? A one page summation. I don’t care about the methodology, I don’t care about the literature review, I don’t have time to wade through this. I simply want to know, did this work, what are the policy implications and how we can implement it here. One page.” And he reminds me, again, “One page.” So simplicity is next to Godliness in terms of the transfer of information.

Nancy La Vigne: Yes, exactly. And you know, and one page is often, for a busy decision maker, too much. They want the bottom line, and that’s what we need to give them.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s what the both organizations, both websites do, is provide that summation. www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/whatworks So, did we cover the website enough or are there more points that you want to make before getting into what the research says?

Nancy La Vigne: Well, sure, no, I would like to talk a little bit about the website and the methodology because I don’t want to overpromise on what this is.

Len Sipes: Please, okay.

Nancy La Vigne: And the reason I can’t overpromise is because I think that the research community has largely failed us and I say that because of the work that we had to do to winnow through all the evaluative research out there to get this much, much smaller subset of studies that we felt met methodological rigor enough that we could include them. And so, just to give you a few statistics, we identified roughly 2500 individual publications –

Len Sipes: Oh my heavens! 2500?

Nancy La Vigne: That called themselves evaluations and were on various topics of reentry which is to you know, prepare people for release from prison or jail, and tracks reentry outcomes. So it doesn’t just track infractions behind bars, for example. Of those, we screened out almost 1500 as irrelevant for a variety of purposes.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Nancy La Vigne: They weren’t really serving a reentry population; they weren’t really relevant outcomes for a reentry topic.

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Nancy La Vigne: Some other reasons, so we have around 1000 that were potentially relevant. Of those, only 276 met our standards for rigor.

Len Sipes: 15000 to 276?

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: That’s amazing.

Nancy La Vigne: Now, there’s more that we’re still in the process of reviewing, but I would say that for every, easily every 10 we review, eight get winnowed out because they’re just not strong enough as studies.

Len Sipes: Okay, and without getting into a methodological review or discussion, it’s just that, that the findings and the way that they went about getting their findings just wasn’t strong enough to hold the confidence of their findings.

Nancy La Vigne: Right, but how do you know this if you’re a practitioner trying to figure out what works?

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: You just go to you know, you find a study online, you find a series of studies, they say that they have positive outcomes and then they take it at face value, and why wouldn’t they?

Len Sipes: Sure, of course.

Nancy La Vigne: So I feel like that’s one way we’re really adding tremendous value is to winnow through all of this supposed knowledge –

Len Sipes: Amazing.

Nancy La Vigne: Down to really what we can say with confidence, seems to be the findings. Now, not all of those studies, once you winnow them down, show that reentry interventions work.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Many are inconclusive and a lot of our findings suggest that more research is necessary.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: But, so I want to be clear. It’s a lot of work that boils down to you know really just, you know, tens of studies that end up on the website. The ones that you see will be relevant, will have met these methodological standards and you can have faith in that they’re saying something meaningful. So I think that that’s really important and I wanted to make sure that your audience understood both the value of the website but also the limitations because of the lack of good quality research that’s out there.

Len Sipes: So the bottom line in terms of what’s there, it can be trusted.

Nancy La Vigne: It can be trusted.

Len Sipes: Okay, the larger issue, I talked to a couple reporters a couple weeks ago, and we were talking about the state of research in terms of offender reentry and one of them said that, “You know Leonard; there are a lot of failed research programs out there.” And I said, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of hope and there’s enough evidence, there’s enough good evidence that we believe that we’re moving in the right direction, that we believe that if you take a look at drug courts in particular and you take a look at GPS in particular, you take a look at substance abuse, if you take a look at preparation in prison, that, that you’re getting fairly consistent, good findings that are methodologically correct, well done evaluations.” So I think there’s enough promise that leads us to believe that we can cut recidivism rates and I’m not saying 30% or 40% but at the moment, somewhere between 10 and 20%. But I point out that out of 700,000 people coming out of the prison system every year, if you cut that down from 15 to 20%, you’re saving billions of dollars and you’re saving victims from hundreds of thousands of victimizations.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, and I would agree with you. There’s certainly enough evidence out there to suggest that these programs are worth continuing to fund and support.

Len Sipes: But what do we say to practitioners when they go to your website, because they go to crimesolutions.gov, they go to your website and what it does seem to say is that promising, promising, promising, promising and you’ve got three or four at the top with the green indicators saying that they did reduce recidivism and you have some down at the bottom with the red – you have a color coded system, which makes it real easy, and some fairly prestigious evaluations didn’t seem to have that much of an impact.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: The Serious and Violent Offender research comes to mind. So the person takes a look at this and again, the word promising comes to mind.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, I mean I think that’s right. And I think that much depends on the population and the nature of the intervention and the fidelity with which it was implemented, which was something that we’re having a very difficult time assessing based on the studies. The studies rarely look at issues of the design and implementation of the program. So if you don’t do that, and you say a program doesn’t work, you don’t know if it doesn’t work because the concept was flawed, or because it wasn’t implemented properly.

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Nancy La Vigne: And so we’re saying it doesn’t work, which is really an unfair indictment on a concept that could be very theoretically sound and could work under better circumstances.

Len Sipes: So we’re going to repeat what Joan Petersilia of Stanford said that what we do too much of at a National Institute of Justice conference, was that we overpromise and deliver too little in community corrections. That seems to be true to some degree, but people need to understand that this Rome was not built in a day. I mean, these are thousands of pieces of research, cumulatively speaking, seem to be saying that we’re moving in the right direction. So for those out there who are saying, hey, we can dramatically cut recidivism, that doesn’t seem to be supported by the literature but I’m talking about 30% and above. That’s not supported by the literature.

Nancy La Vigne: No, it’s not.

Len Sipes: And we shouldn’t be, as advocates –

Nancy La Vigne: It’s an unrealistic goal, and if we have goals like that, we’re setting ourselves up for failure and that’s just no way to go.

Len Sipes: And that was her point. I think her point was was that don’t overpromise because there’s a certain point where the States are going to be well funded again and then they’re going to have to make a decision as to whether or not to continue to build more prisons and if we overpromise, we inevitably invite our own demise.

Nancy La Vigne: Well put.

Len Sipes: But I mean, that’s serious stuff, but at the same time, you know, I travel throughout the country, I work with principally public affairs people, they’re enthused about this. They’re enthused. Most of the people representing parole and probation agencies, most of the people representing correctional agencies, I was doing some training for the National Institute of Corrections and had a chance to talk to directors of public affairs for various states who not only do mainstream prisons, but they also do parole and probation. They’re very happy to be exploring opportunities of doing something else besides putting the person away for 20 years. They’re not saying, you know, “Let’s let’em out.” They’re not saying, “Let’s not incarcerate them.” But what they are saying is is that we certainly can really have an impact in terms of them coming back. So there’s an enthusiasm and and optimism out there nevertheless.

Nancy La Vigne: Oh, I would say so, and it’s interesting. You referenced how long I’ve been in the field. Thanks for showing off my age to your audience.

Len Sipes: I thought you were 25.

Nancy La Vigne: But you know, we’ve both been around for a while, and when you think about it, if you look back, even, you know, a decade or you know, 15 years ago, I would say the large majority of directors of departments of corrections across the country did not view it as their responsibility to do anything to prevent people from returning to their prisons.

Len Sipes: We were told, when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, we had three correctional systems, we were told our mission was to constitutionally incarcerate. The parole and probation side of it, we were told that our mission was to enforce the provisions set by the courts and to enforce the provisions set by the Parole Commission. That was it. There was no mention of recidivism, there was no mention of best practice and there was no mention of intervention. None.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, we’ve come a very long way.

Len Sipes: Where the average correctional administrator wants to do these things, for a variety of different reasons. So the whole idea is to supply programs that are meaningful and evidence based within the correctional setting and to continue that when they come out.

Nancy La Vigne: Yep.

Len Sipes: And there is evidence that shows in some cases, you get some fairly decent reductions and I’m saying again, to be on the safe side, somewhere between 10 and 20%.

Nancy La Vigne: I think that’s safe to say.

Len Sipes: I wanted to give the resource center, the address one more time. We’re halfway through the program. www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org My guest today is Nancy la Vigne. She’s the Director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute, www.urban.org. www.urban.org, and I do also want to talk at the same time about the Crime Solutions data base, funded by the Office of Justice Programs of the US Department of Justice. They are at crimesolutions.gov, and again, Office of Justice programs supports this particular reentry resource center endeavor as well. Where do we go to from here in terms of the research? I mean, part of it is the frustration that the research hasn’t been good enough, hasn’t been rigorous enough and so the message needs to go out to the research community to do better?

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely. And they need to be incentivized to do better and I’m not sure how to do that, because you know, as I said earlier, you know, researchers spend a lot of time publishing to communicate with each other and not with the world outside of academia. So I think that there is a share of academics out there that really care about making a difference and that we need to get to them and explain that you know, while you’re publishing and trying to get tenure, also think about ways that you can do good work that’s of a high quality, that also is accessible.

Len Sipes: That withstands scrutiny. That, that people can depend upon.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah.

Len Sipes: But the practitioner community, unto themselves, I mean, the only thing that they want, is again, a la the Secretary of Public Safety who I used to work for, they just want it simple.

Nancy La Vigne: The bottom line, yeah.

Len Sipes: They just want the bottom line, they just want, you know, want to know the policy, they want to know the results and they wanna know what the policy states and they want to know if they can implement that policy within their jurisdictions, that’s pretty much it.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. Yeah, now let me tell you a little bit more about how the website is set up. I mean, unfortunately, this is a radio show so we can’t do a webinar and have visuals, but it’s tiered in such a way that for those very busy decision makers, it is indeed just the bottom line. But then you can click down and get more and more information.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: And so what it starts out is a description of each category of type of intervention. So under employment it might be a literacy program. Or a vocational training behind bars. And then it has a summary of the finding across all studies that address that intervention. So that’s the bottom line, right?

Len Sipes: And it’s a fairly quick description.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah. But, if you click, it unscrolls a long, detailed, not as detailed as anything you’ll see in a journal article, but detailed description of the population that participated in the program, the geographic location, the nature of the program, and all those other nuances that I think are really critical. Because you have the busy decision maker, right? And he or she just wants to know the bottom line, but ultimately, if they’re going to use that bottom line to develop or alter a program, there’s gonna be someone who is tasked with doing that, and that person is going to need to know these details so that they don’t take, God forbid, the cookie cutter approach of just saying, “Okay, so we’re gonna do vocational programming.” Without thinking through who it works best with, why it works with this population, some of the details behind the program that might have made it more likely to achieve it’s intended results –

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: Those types of details we felt, really had to be somewhere on the website and easily accessible, but the average viewer that goes there is not confronted with all that detail; they can chose to unveil it at their will.

Len Sipes: Do we have in this country any sense of training for the practitioner community that they understand everything that we, you and I just talked about? I mean, isn’t the natural inclination to say that if they did substance abuse treatment, if they did mental health treatment and if they did job placement, it worked in Milwaukee, it reduced recidivism by 17%, so it will work Baltimore, so we’re going to do the exact same thing. But it’s not the exact same thing. It all depends upon the population, it all depends upon high risk, low risk, it all depends upon what you mean by treatment.

Nancy La Vigne: Exactly.

Len Sipes: I mean, and I think a lot of people in the practitioner community don’t quite understand that it’s not a cookie cutter approach; it depends upon your particular set of circumstances.

Nancy La Vigne: Right, I think that’s right. And we try to communicate that in the website, but that’s not our primary goal. However, bear in mind, this is just one part of the larger, National Reentry Resource Center website, which does I think, a very good job at that, where they talk about best practice and you know, how to tailor a program to your local jurisdictions and needs and population so there’s a lot of complimentary guidance and information that should be used in concert with the stuff that’s on the reentry website.

Len Sipes: And nationalreentryresourcecenter.org, people should go to there and explore the entire website –

Nancy La Vigne: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: As well as crimesolutions.gov. But the, in terms of reentry specifically, pretty much everything you need to know is at the National Reentry Resource Center.

Nancy La Vigne: I would say so.

Len Sipes: I mean in terms of guidance, in terms of what to do –

Nancy La Vigne: its one stop shopping.

Len Sipes: Right, right, right, because different people come to me and they say, “Oh, my Congressman–he’s now interested in this reentry issue. Where do I go? What do I do?” And they search the internet and they come to one of my television shows or one of my radio shows and they think I know the answers and I don’t. I say, go to the National Reentry Resource Center, go to OJP, go to NIJ.

Nancy La Vigne: Right. So the Resource Center has been up and running for what – five years, four years? Something like that.

Len Sipes: About.

Nancy La Vigne: So we, you and I, used to field those inquiries all the time. I still am to some extent, but I can’t tell you how much more time I have in my life, now that people are referred to this website. It’s got an added bonus of freeing me up to do more research.

Len Sipes: You don’t have to go through the endless explanations. Before ending the show, I do want to talk about what, in your opinion, seems to be the principle findings and we haven’t really talked about that. So we know about the website, we know about the National Reentry Resource Center, we know about the Office of Justice programs, we know about how you got to where you are in terms of going from 15000 studies to 276 studies, so people are sitting back and going, “Well, shut up Leonard, and tell ‘em what works.”

Nancy La Vigne: Well, you know, we did not set out to synthesize across all of the research that we presented. We present it by topical areas so that people can look and make their own decisions about what seems to work, based on different intervention categories. But I can say that just based on the content we have up right now, which is not fully up there, we have covered just a handful of the topics, housing and employment –

Len Sipes: A work in progress.

Nancy La Vigne: And so forth. . . There are some findings that perhaps won’t surprise you at all. Chief among them is the importance of aftercare, or what’s called the continuum of care. So across all the topics that we’ve explored all ready, the ones, the programs that seem to have an impact are surprise, surprise, the ones that start in an institutional setting –

Len Sipes: Right, within prison.

Nancy La Vigne: And continue out into the community and this I’m sure is a no-brainer for many in your audience but it’s nice that sometimes research can confirm what we know to be true, so. . . that’s a big one.

Len Sipes: Well, we have a captive audience, no pun intended, so there is an opportunity for them to get their GED, there is an opportunity for them to get their welding certificate, there is an opportunity to go to, I don’t think there’s a lot of drug treatment or mental health treatment within prison systems, so the research that I’ve looked at somewhere in the ballpark of 10 to 15% but there are groups in there. So they come out, whatever they get, they come out and it’s supposed to continue seamlessly in the community.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right. We’ve also found rather mixed results on the topic of employment, even though I know in my heart that employment can work, we found it in our own research at the Urban Institute, but if you look across the studies that we felt met the threshold of rigor, we found very mixed results. Some, some work programs or employment readiness programs worked and others did not. Again, this gets back to the missing piece of data for us, which is how well were those programs implemented?

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: And we largely don’t know that. So if I were to conjecture, I’d say that the ones that worked were implemented well, and those that didn’t weren’t, or were not focused on the right population who could best benefit from. . .

Len Sipes: A good history of research in terms of substance abuse, SAMHSA, has had decades to look at what works and how it should be implemented so what do we have in terms of the correctional literature?

Nancy La Vigne: We are still in the process of coding and assessing all the substance abuse studies so. . .

Len Sipes: Ah, okay.

Nancy La Vigne: Which is actually the largest body of research of any category that we have.

Len Sipes: Right, and it’s been around for decades, but I mean, what we have now is again, promising. I mean, there does seem to be some fairly decent findings, because substance abuse research or programs do seem to be coupled with cognitive behavioral therapy and for the average person listening to this program, getting a person to rethink how they live their lives and how they make decisions, so those seem to be coupled, but most of the drug treatment that I’ve been exposed to was cookie cutter. It’s not designed for that individual; it’s designed for anybody with any drug history, with any drug of choice.

Nancy La Vigne: Yeah, there’s often a mismatch on who gets access to the substance abuse treatment behind bars and in some of our own research we found that often it’s just based on your crime of conviction. So if you’re convicted of a drug related crime, you automatically go into some kind of substance abuse treatment program you know, regardless if you’re a trafficker and you might be very successful as a trafficker because you don’t engage in any substance use at all. So, I know that departments of corrections are a lot more savvy about that now but you know, even a decade ago we saw a lot of examples of that. So. . .

Len Sipes: Mental health is an issue that’s just emerging. I saw a piece from the Bureau of Justice Statistics about five or six years ago talking about self reports and the self reports were somewhere in the 55% range of people who self reported a problem with substance, I mean, a mental health problem. I’ve seen more and more literature in terms of self reports and assessments that indicate that very large numbers of offenders have histories of substance, I’m sorry, mental health problems but treatment is far and few and in-between and it’s really tough to deal with schizophrenia within a correctional setting. It’s really tough to deal with depression within a correctional setting.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, and disentangling studies that look at certain types of mental health treatment programs that are more about counseling and you know, clinical counseling, separate and apart from medication, is very difficult. It makes it very challenging for research studies, because you can’t withhold that type of treatment so finding a good comparison group is very. . .

Len Sipes: No, you cannot do random assignment when it comes to health related issues.

Nancy La Vigne: Right, right, right.

Len Sipes: Right, right.

Nancy La Vigne: Which is why we found so many or so few examples of rigorous studies in health – just physical health. We had none to include at all which is kind of disappointing, but in part, some of those end up in a larger category of what we’re calling holistic reentry programs.

Len Sipes: Right.

Nancy La Vigne: So it’s very rare to only address physical issues in a study on reentry.

Len Sipes: And we’re talking about holistic, it seems to be for, it seems to be substance abuse, it seems to be mental health, it seems to be job related, and it seems to be cognitive behavioral therapy, which is again, how to think your way through situations. Those seem to be the four key, core areas of the research that I read.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And those, then the comprehensive programs are designed to deal with all four of those issues.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, and if they’re good, they’ll bring in the family component you know, that’s a favorite topic of mine.

Len Sipes: Yes it is a favorite topic and a very important topic at the same time. So in the final analysis, what we have is an understanding as to the key components. I mean, I think housing is certainly an extraordinarily important component and I read about different, you know, projects around the country that are providing housing, but in Washington DC, which is one of the United States and world’s most expensive housing markets, we’re not gonna be able to provide a lot of housing regardless to how much money we get. I mean, I would imagine a housing program in the middle of the country in a rural area, they can probably stretch their dollars, so that’s, that’s really problematic.

Nancy La Vigne: And that’s right, and really there were very few studies on housing that met our criteria and they were entirely about halfway houses, so. . .

Len Sipes: Yes, right. So in the final analysis it seems those are the four key areas and that people can now have places, a place to go to that will be populated to a much larger degree than it is now, a place to go to in terms of offender reentry and to get all those research summations in one place.

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right.

Len Sipes: And for the future, you’re going to be putting more and more and more in?

Nancy La Vigne: That’s right, right now we have housing and employment and a few other topics and then we’ll be adding substance abuse, cognitive behavioral therapy, sex offender treatment, some special populations topics, like juveniles and so forth.

Len Sipes: Nancy, I really appreciate you being here. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center for the Urban Institute – www.urban.org The National Reentry Resource Center, boy that’s a mouthful. The National Reentry Resource Center, their website, in terms of what works, is exactly that – www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/whatworks and don’t forget crimesolutions.gov. for all the criminal justice topics. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We really appreciate all the interaction, all the emails, all the comments, all the criticism and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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