What Works in Parole and Probation-2-DC Public Safety

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From my microphones in downtown Washington D.C., this is D.C. Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Back on our microphones is Bill Burrell. Bill is one of the best known people within the arena of parole and probation of offender re-entry of larger criminal justice issues. Bill has, what I think, and what a lot of people think, is an outstanding background. From 2003 to 2007, he was a member of the faculty, the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Temple faculty, Bill served for 19 years as Chief of Adult Probation Services for the New Jersey State Court System. Bill is chairman of the Editorial Committee for Perspectives, The Journal of the American Probation and Parole Association. He also serves as a member of APPA’s board of directors. Bill currently serves as a member of the editorial board of Community Corrections Report and Bill specializes in consulting – consulting with a wide variety of organizations throughout the country in terms of parole and probation practices. Ladies and gentlemen, the usual commercial. We really appreciated all of the letters, all of the emails and, in some cases, phone calls – even though I haven’t given out the phone number. You can contact us directly through the comment line to D.C. Public Safety, via the comment boxes, or you could email me directly – which more of you seem to be apt to doing. That’s leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or you can follow me via Twitter at Twitter/LenSipes.

Bill Burrell, welcome back for our second show on evidence-based practices and what works.

Bill Burrell: Good to be with you again, Len.

Len Sipes: Bill, the first show – we sort of went over, I think, in terms of summarizing what we did in the first 30-minute radio program, was to provide the sense of frustration on the part of a lot of practitioners throughout the country and their disconnect from the academic and the advocacy community in terms of what is evidence-based. They’re all chomping at the bit to do evidence-based. They really wanted to take this evidence back to their general assemblies, and throughout the country, or to their court systems, and to say: “Look here’s the state-of-the-art. This is how they measured it. These are the results they got. We want to do the same thing and be on the National Institute of Drug Abuse.” A lot of that seems to be lacking. There’s an increasing body of knowledge within the criminal justice community in terms of what it is we should be doing but it seems to lack any sense of surgical precision. Do you think I summarized the first show we did correctly?

Bill Burrell: Yes. You did an excellent job of summarizing a very complicated and thorny issue. I agree with you. The desire’s there around the field to implement evidence-based practices because of the potential that they hold for improving our results. But the gap between the theory and the research and implementation in agencies on the ground is huge; of the issues we talked about last time in terms of how to narrow that gap.

Len Sipes: And it was interesting because I’m getting ready to do the radio show this morning and I was talking to senior staff here at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. And I said, “I’m going to do a radio show with Bill Burrell.” And they go, “Oh, Bill.” Very few people are known in this field but you are. And I don’t say that to overly compliment you. I’m simply saying that as a recognition of reality. And they said the two issues that they’re wrestling with right now are employment programs and housing. And they said, “Ask Bill what is the state-of-the-art in terms of employment and what is the state-of-the-art regarding employment and housing, and what evidence is there and what prescriptive packages are there that gives us precise guidelines in terms of the best way of finding employment for offenders on our case load.” And my response to them is that we know that that doesn’t exist but I’ll ask Bill anyway. Bill, your response would be?

Bill Burrell: Well, again this is an area where there’s a lot of knowledge but not a lot in the way of prescriptive packages that are evidence-based in terms of being evaluated rigorously and shown to produce the improvements we’re looking for. And I think that – in these two areas, employment and housing – that is to some degree a result of the fact that we have in the field been relatively late to get to those issues as important areas of focus for supervision officers. Housing, in particular, I think is one that has come up largely because of the work being done in the re-entry field where researchers and agencies began to reach out beyond the boundaries of the traditional re-entry agencies, parole and probation imports and correctional institutions, and start to look at a larger picture that involves other agencies and other organizations who have mandates and missions that overlap with ours. So, for example, in the employment field, there are federally-funded agencies where force investment boards and so on, and every community receives federal funds and part of their mandate is to help unemployed offenders get jobs. Now, many of those agencies don’t really know how to go about doing that. So, if we form a partnership with them – because we have the offenders, they’ve got the resources and the mandate and the programs – working together, we can achieve some good things. Housing has always been a question that parole officers have struggled with when people are released from prison. Sometimes folks can go back to their families. Other times they can’t. And the question of how to find housing for newly-released offenders has always been a challenge. Now the innovation, I think, that the re-entry initiative has brought is again to bring the public housing people into the room, bring them to the table, and engage in a dialogue about the challenge facing the parole officers in terms of finding places for folks to live and whatever resources might be available in the community. And so, these collaborations are relatively new in the field the last, I’d say, five to maybe 10 years, and in most instances they’ve not been set up and structured as a program, so to speak. So it’s kind of hard to do tough, rigorous research on something that is really not a formalized program with criteria and so on. So we’re kind of behind the eight ball a little bit on those two areas. And we contrast that with the work that has been going on with offenders and substance-abuse treatment and other kinds of cognant behavioral programming which has been going on for 20 to 30 years. So, there’s a lot more opportunities to do rigorous research to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. I think the challenge that we face now is to advance the thinking and practice in these areas of employment and housing, set up programs, evaluate them, and find out which strategies work and which ones don’t.

Len Sipes: And we said last time, and I think that I’ve used this example in conversations with practitioners throughout the country, the National Institute of Drug Abuse has simply been there for decades and they have their – they’re very well-funded. They’re very well-structured. And this is something that has been going on for a long time. They’ve spent decades examining the precise, best method of getting people involved in drug treatment, the kind of drug treatment they should have, the assessments that they should have, and so there’s a prescriptive package of exactly what we should do. But you said last time – and I think it’s very insightful – that they have this simply because they’ve been around for 20, 30 years doing this sort of thing. They’re well-funded. We, in terms of evidence-based assessments of what works with parole and probation, what works for the offender communities beyond substance abuse, we are relatively new to the game.

Bill Burrell: Indeed. And we’re lacking that institutional research capacity that NIDA has. In fact, a colleague of mine, Faye Taxman, at George Mason University, has been talking about the concept of a federal initiative to help with offender supervision in the community. I don’t know if it would necessarily be something along the lines of NIDA, but some application of resources to the field, to the research, to give us some capacity similar to what NIDA’s been able to do for the substance abuse community. So we might be in a position in maybe four to five years of having some of these prescriptive models that NIDA produces for substance abuse treatment on all types of variations. So you could imagine whether it’s the criminal justice population, prevention models, school-based programs, all types of things that help the people in the field of substance abuse treatment, prevention and education do their job better because they are evidence based.

Len Sipes: We’re all extremely impressed with the materials. I get their monthly newsletters and I pass them on to senior staff and it’s like everybody is very envious of the work of the National Institute of Drug Abuse in wishing that we could have the same capacity in the probably 15 key areas. But we’re doing this program today, Bill, to focus on not the struggles so much. A lot of the states throughout the country have done, I think, an extraordinarily good job of implementing programs dealing with criminal offenders while under community supervision. And I think it’s one of the things that we wanted to talk about today because it was a pretty dire conversation last time, from the standpoint that it’s like, “Well, we don’t have this and We don’t have that and states are cutting back funds,” which they’re doing all throughout the country. Some, interestingly enough, are cutting parole and probation. Others are saying, “We’re going to use parole and probation more intensely. We’re going to take people out of the prison system because we can no longer afford to keep them there and put them into parole and probation.” And there is a whole mix that’s going on right now throughout the country in terms of what parole and probation could be, should be doing. So let’s talk about some of the states and some of the jurisdictions throughout the country that are doing this well.

Bill Burrell: Okay. Well, I think probably the best example that I’m aware of is right next door to you in the state of Maryland. Back in around 2000, 2001, they created a program called Proactive Community Supervision. And, from my perspective, it did everything right with that. They formed a strong partnership with the University of Maryland. I’m going to mention Faye Taxman who, at the time, was with the University of Maryland – they formed a strong partnership to ensure that the program was grounded in the research and that the implementation of the Proactive Community Supervision model was done carefully, was monitored, here was fidelity to the original design so that we’re comfortable and confident that what was evaluated was, indeed, the program that was originally designed. And they also took their time. They didn’t rush into this. In fact, only a portion of their operations were converted over to Proactive Community Supervision to provide an opportunity to do a comparison. They had four offices implement PCS, as they call it, and four who were the control sites and that’s where they drew their evaluation from. And they found some really significant improvements in outcomes, reductions in outcomes, reductions in recidivism of around 30% and reductions in technical violations or just violations of the conditions of supervision also in the neighborhood of 30%. So, they’re probably the best example I can think of as a model, they had a rigorous evaluation done to demonstrate the results and additionally, they did the field a tremendous favor or service by producing a document based on their experience called Tools of the Trade, which is available from the National Institute of Corrections for no cost. And what that monograph does is to lay out that process of implementation, lay out all the tools that were involved, talk about the training that’s required, talk about the process of managing change in an organization, which is a critical area for us. These, as I like to say, these evidence-based programs are not self-executing. You can’t just install them and say, “Now, we’re evidence-based.” You have to spend time training your staff, looking at the organizational infrastructure, things like mission and goals, staff training, staff selection, reward structures and systems, information technology – a whole variety of things within your organization need to be reviewed and, in many instances, changed to ensure that they’re consistent with the model that you’re trying to undertake. And in Maryland, they did exactly this. They spent the time trying to figure out all the elements were, where changes need to be made. For example, with their line parole and probation agents, there was concern that when these new strategies and techniques were being implemented and officers were learning how to do these new things and approach their work differently, that that might have an impact on their performance appraisals. So what the administration of the division did was that they suspended the performance appraisals; so the officers were not looking over their shoulder, fearful of getting a poor performance appraisal because they were struggling with and learning these new strategies and techniques. So the Maryland model, I think, is one that people should take a close look at and, again, the good thing is that they documented this very, very well. The Tools of the Trade is only one of a number of publications that are all available either from the University of Maryland or from the Division of Parole and Probation that gives you very, very detailed information about what they did and how they did it.

Len Sipes: And for the listeners, what we’ll do is we’ll put down the link for Tools of the Trade from the National Institute of Corrections, and they can get the report for free from them, correct?

Bill Burrell: That’s correct.

Len Sipes: All right. Good. Other states that come to mind?

Bill Burrell: Well, I think you have to also take a look at Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections includes probation and parole under its umbrella organization. And they have been working very hard to implement and develop evidence-based practices for their case loads. And here, again, I think you have a person who’s a director of the Department of Corrections out there, Justin Jones. He used to be the director of Parole and Probation, and was elevated to the director of the entire Department of Corrections – who has a strong and longstanding commitment to doing evidence-based practices within community supervision. And that type of leadership goes a long way to ensuring that the agency stays focused over the long-term – and again, as I said, this is things that takes years, in many instances, to implement, particularly if you’re looking at a large statewide agency. I think the other thing about the folks in Oklahoma is they have also had a strong relationship with outside agencies – the family justice out of New York City worked with them on elements of their re-entry model. So they’re not afraid to invite in folks from the outside – academics and other policy folks – to help them look at their organization, figure out where changes need to be made, provide training, provide follow-up assistance and keep their eye on the prize, so to speak, to get to this point where they’ve got these programs in place and they can evaluate them and demonstrate that they’ve been successful.

Len Sipes: I want to reintroduce Bill Burrell. Bill, from 2003 to 2007, was a member of the faculty of the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University. To me, the most impressive thing, Bill served in 19 years as Chief of Adult Probation Services, for those of you listening who complain about the fact that the advocates and the academics don’t understand what they have to do or you have to do, on a day-to-day basis. Bill does because he comes from both the academic side and the operational side. Bill is chairman of the editorial committee for Perspectives, the journal of the American Probation and Parole Association, and he also serves as a member of APPA’s board of directors and he currently serves as a member of the editorial board for the Community Corrections Report. So, you’re busy, busy, busy, Bill. Maryland, Oklahoma, now, all the states out there are trying to do what Adam Gelb of Pew and you worked with Adam and Pew, what Adam Gelb says, there simply has to be a better way of doing it and I think that everybody throughout the country recognizes that there’s got to be a better way of doing this considering that the states are cutting programs and depopulating prisons in some circumstances due to the fact they could no longer afford to keep up that level of corrections. It’s not a matter of being pro-corrections, it’s not a matter of being anti-corrections, it’s simply a fiscal issue which is pushing more and more people in the Parole and Probations. So we seem to be involved in this collective national search for doing it a different way. And I think that’s part of this ongoing series of discussions with you. So basically, if you’re taking a look at Maryland and you’re taking a look at Oklahoma, within those two states there are going to be some significant guidance in terms of how other states could conduct parole and probation activities.

Bill Burrell: Yes. I think in both experiences, you have a combination of the solid, well-evaluated practices and programs that will change the way the work is done within the agency with risk-assessment, case-planning, cognitive behavioral interventions and so on, which really shift the nature of the interactions between line agents and officers and the offenders. But you also have a strong leadership commitment to change. And I have to give credit in Maryland to Judy Sackwold, a former director of the Division of Parole and Probation, who,

Len Sipes: I know Judy.

Bill Burrell: ,formed a partnership with Faye Taxman and spent the time necessary to ensure that everybody within the division understood what was going on, why all these changes were happening, was at the meetings and talked to people and listened to people, their concerns, their fears, their anxieties about change, and was there addressing those concerns and taking care of them as they struggled through the implementation process.

Len Sipes: And we interviewed Neil Goodloe, at the beginning of this series, who used to be with the state of Virginia, who is now a consultant for North Point and that was pretty much his struggle – one of the biggest parts of his delivery at a conference that I heard him speak, and through the radio show, was that it’s not an easy process turning around an agency and a system to look at things differently.

Bill Burrell: That’s true. I mean, we have in-probation parole around the country. A majority of the people, I would suggest, have grown up in this field after rehabilitation was discredited in 1975. The move to get tough on crime, lock them up, surveillance enforcement type of mentality. And when you move to evidence-based practices, at least as I understand them, you are now shifting away from the question of the focus on control and surveillance and punishment to one that introduces into that mix behavior change, helping offenders identify criminogenic problems and difficulties in helping them figure out how to change those things. The fundamental shift in the work of the probation and parole officer, and you have a lot of folks who’ve never had that kind of experience. So you’re really changing, fundamentally, the work that they have to do. And when you start thinking about large-scale organizational change, it’s difficult because you’re literally changing everybody within the organization. And they go through a process, a transition from the old approach to the new approach. And in that transition, they struggle. They’re concerned, they’re anxious, they’re worried; they have to learn new skills. They have to master those new skills and apply them on a ongoing basis. And as you think about any type of change that we, as individual human beings, try to do, we wonder: “Are we going to be successful?” “Can I do it?” “Can I continue within this particular job I’ve got and be successful under this new approach and new model?” So the most important thing, I think, you can do when you start talking about evidence-based practices, is to recognize the scale of the change that’s involved for your agency, for your line officers, for your supervisors, your managers, everybody has to go through a process of transition from the way they’ve been doing it for all these years which they’re very comfortable with and they can do, in many instances, with their eyes closed, and one arm tied behind their back, they’ve got to forget about a lot of that that they’ve been able to do so well, learn new skills, integrate those new skills into their job, and demonstrate competence in these new skills. And that’s a challenging and, for many people, a threatening type of change to have to go through.

Len Sipes: I did two radio shows yesterday. One with the American Probation and Parole Association, and one with our personnel here and in terms of the National Parole and Probation Officers’ Week – and one of the things we discussed with the folks here at my agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the Pre-trial Services Division, was that the difficulty of walking that fine line because they carry badges, they are law enforcement officers, not only in name but in terms of job description, but at the same time, they are trying to help people achieve programmatic assistance for the mental health programs that are complying with the stipulations of these programs, getting involved with substance abuse, helping them in terms of employment opportunities. And that’s a very fine line to walk because, on one side, you’re there to help them and on one side, you can put them back in prison very easily.

Bill Burrell: Yes. That is a difficult balance to maintain – a fine line to walk, as you said. But I think that’s the essence of the job of the probation and parole officer and, from my experience, that’s what excited me about the field when I first learned about it back in college. It made me want to be a probation officer. If you’re just carrying out the law enforcement or the surveillance and monitoring functions and then locking people up when they violate the conditions, there’s not a lot of satisfaction in that to me. I think the satisfaction comes from working with offenders, identifying their problems, their deficits, the areas where they need assistance, working with them to develop plans and goals, engage them in services to address their problems, and then helping them get on the road, so to speak, to pro-social life in the community as productive citizens.

Len Sipes: And I think you’re hitting the very essence of the discussion because, once again, we go back to the concept of evidence-base. From my discussion with my people this morning, what is the prescriptive package that tells us exactly what works in terms of employing an individual? And I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this series of shows because, yes, I agree with you. That is a huge part of what it is we do. It may be the principal thing that we end up doing. If we can turn tax burdens into taxpayers, if we can turn people not in connection with their kids to supporting their kids and being good moms and being good dads, that’s a wonderful thing. The question becomes what’s the best way of doing it? And I think that’s why we’re doing the series of shows with you.

Bill Burrell: Yes. Well, one thing to remember about this work is that while there are principles that we can apply across the board to offenders, each individual offender is a little bit different. And they’re at different places, in terms of their level of motivation to change. They may be not interested in that at all. They may be struggling and looking for some help and, if we can tap into that, then the change-process will go that much more quickly. So the probation parole officer has to look at each client fresh and figure out where they are, what are their problems, what are their strengths, what are their limitations, where do they need help? And begin to work with them in a way that they begin to build an inter-personal relationship where the offender understands that the officer – while they do have the authority of the court to make the offender do some things that they may not want to do – they’re also interested and share the offender’s desire to change and achieve the goals that even offenders have. So in some sense, we can have a set of principles and guidelines for working with offenders, but it’s the application of those,

Len Sipes: Correct.

Bill Burrell: ,on individual offender basis on a day-to-day supervision case load, that’s the challenge for the officers. So they’ve got to learn new strategies and techniques, master them, and then apply them on an individual basis. And I think, that’s where the,

Len Sipes: The rubber meets the road.

Bill Burrell: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay. But I think, not to beat the dead horse, but I think people want to do that. They simply need to know how to do it, the best way of doing it, the California experience where so many, what they were offered in lieu of incarceration of going to direct treatment and huge numbers didn’t show up and huge numbers didn’t complete. My frustration from that is not the fact that it didn’t seem to work so much that it is what lessons can we learn, for the rest of us, in terms of doing it better? So from our failures, we learn and from our successes we learn.

Bill Burrell: Yes. And I think that the California – what you’re talking about there is the Proposition 36 initiative, I think there’s a real danger to trying to do that sort of fundamental change on such a large scale that by itself is a whole separate case. If you look at what Maryland did, they started with four of their offices. One of the people who’s getting a lot of attention these days is a judge from Hawaii, Steve Alm,

Len Sipes: Yes.

Bill Burrell: ,who developed the Hawaii HOPE model and, what he says to people who’re interested in replicating it is he says start small. And I think that’s excellent advice. Start small with one officer, one case load, figure out how it fits into your organization, make the small changes as you need to, and then move on to another officer, another case load or whatever and build on those successes. Don’t try to do the entire state of California or the entire state of Maryland, or any state for that matter, all at once.

Len Sipes: And I think that that could change however, and I agree with you, don’t try to do the entire state; but we could be taking on larger areas of responsibility. We could be taking on larger initiatives and not necessarily start small, but start somewhere in the middle, if we had this overall precise guidelines that come from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, if we had that sort of precise guidance, in every part of what it is that we’re trying to do. Anywhere from the enforcement side to the assistance side, there’s got to be, I think you’re saying and what the practitioners that I talk to are saying is that there simply has to be a better prescriptive plan in terms of how to do what it is that we do.

Bill Burrell: Yes. And with that good plan, again we get back again to the question of implementation, I’m not intimately familiar with the California Prop 13 experience, but what the results suggest to me is that the program was not well implemented. If you’re going to offer or require substance abuse treatment for offenders as a condition of their release or condition of their court order, somebody has to ensure that those people go to the programs and engage in the programs and are actively participating. With our offender population, we cannot count on them if we go, “You need to go to ACME drug treatment,” and expect that they’re going to go.

Len Sipes: Right.

Bill Burrell: So, we’ve got to make sure that the model that’s suggested as in the Prop 36 experience is actually implemented on the ground. So they’re ordered to go to treatment, they actually go, they get enrolled, they start going to their treatment sessions. If they don’t then a probation or parole officer is on the case quickly, holds them accountable, gets them back engaged in the program, and if they are consistently unwilling to go, refusing, then they have to go back to court. And that’s part of the job of the probation officer, knowing what your folks are up to. That’s one of the reasons why large case loads are so problematic.

Len Sipes: Agreed. Totally.

Bill Burrell: Even 50 people, it’s hard to know what they’re all up to.

Len Sipes: And considering that a lot of states are carrying way more than 50. We, at the Court Services of Offender Supervision Agency, carry a case load of 50 to 1. If you take a look at our inactives, the ratio is much lower. But there are states out there that are carrying a 100 to 1, 150 to 1, 200 to 1. And you’re not going to do a good job. I mean, I think most practitioners would agree – you’re not going to do a great job with 200 to 1 case load ratios.

Bill Burrell: Well, one technique I like to use – and I talk to people about case load size- I said, “Okay, imagine or take this exercise: so you have a case load of 50. Sit down and take a piece of paper, write down 50 of your friends, relatives, acquaintances and tell me what they’re doing right now.”

Len Sipes: Right. That’s a great,

Bill Burrell: Even a couple.

Len Sipes: That’s a great analysis. That really is.

Bill Burrell: And then that’s with 50. Now, imagine 100, 150, 200. As you said, there are places in this country, unfortunately, where funding is not there to even have a caseload of 100, which most people would agree is on the far side of manageable.

Len Sipes: And depending upon what you’re doing, 25 could be on the far side of manageable, depending upon the seriousness of the case load. I mean, you could be having a sex offender case load and I think 25 to 1 would be the outward limit of what you could do with that particular case load.

Bill Burrell: Exactly.

Len Sipes: Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve talking to Bill Burrell. Bill served 19 years as Chief of Adult Probation Services for the state of New Jersey, was at Temple from 2002, 2007. He is the chairman of the editorial committee for Perspectives and he’s on the board of APPA and he is involved in Community Corrections Report. I want to bring Bill back for a third show and we’ve never had anybody for three shows, Bill, but I’d like to bring you back next time to continue this discussion in terms of what works throughout the country. What I would like to do next time is to take a look at cognitive behavioral therapy – what is that? What does that mean? And where did that evidence come from because, again, we probably have 20 years, 30 years of research development on cognitive behavioral therapy. So, in some areas, we have great documentation and in some areas we’re just beginning. So I think that’s the show that we’d like to do next time around. You can email Bill at William.burrell@comcast.net. Ladies and gentlemen, we really appreciate all of the letters, all of the calls, all of the interaction, all of the criticisms – we’ll take them all and we respond to each and every one of them. Contact me directly: leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or comment in the comments box under D.C. Public Safety Radio Television Blogs and Transcripts and please, everybody, have yourselves a very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Meta terms: Evidence-based, what works, corrections, jail, prison, prerelease, employment, crime, criminals, criminal justice, prison, incarceration, parole, probation

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