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National Assembly: Drugs, Alcohol Abuse,
and the Criminal Offender
Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Community Supervision and Offender Reentry

Moderator:
Tom Williams, Director
Maryland Division of Probation and Parole
Baltimore, Maryland

Panelists:
Michael Bennett, Associate Executive Director
River Region Human Services, Inc.
Jacksonville, Florida

Richard Gebelein, Judge
Delaware Superior Court
Wilmington, Delaware

Linda Janes, Recovery Services Administrator
Ohio Division of Parole and Community Services
Columbus, Ohio

Robert Merner, Detective
Boston Police Department
West Roxbury, Massachusetts

John Befus, Director
Medical and Psychological Services
Colorado Division of Youth Corrections
Denver, Colorado
 

Summary of Proceedings

States need to establish collaborative, multidisciplinary interventions designed to help offenders establish and sustain drug-free and crime-free lifestyles when they return to their communities. Success requires early intervention, coordinated assessment and case management, involvement of families when appropriate, and targeting of scarce resources, panelists agreed.

It is crucial to identify and respond to the comprehensive needs of both the offender and his or her family at the earliest possible time. As Michael Bennett of Florida's River Region Human Services, Inc., said, "It is a tragedy to find out at the time of release that the individual has inadequate or inappropriate housing and had family issues—we need to know [about these problems] from the beginning." Bennett said his agency has worked to help put in place multiagency planning and assessment procedures that ensure early intervention.

Institutions need to make every possible effort to engage families immediately upon placing someone in a facility, said John Befus of the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections. States should establish coordinated services and active case management that begins as soon as an offender becomes involved with any of the relevant agencies or systems, said Judge Richard Gebelein of Delaware. Such cooperation can make it possible, for example, to bring to the attention of the court a dangerous situation in the home or environment in a timely fashion.

Appropriate assessments for offenders and their families should involve a wide variety of agencies. In Boston, for example, assessment involves police officers, probation officers, youth services professionals, local clergy, and various social service organizations, according to Robert Merner of the Boston Police Department.

Linda Janes of the Ohio Division of Parole and Community Services offered a two-pronged "holistic" approach to assessment. First, it is important to know the offender, his/her family, and the environment. Second, to establish appropriate lines of communication, it is important to determine if the offender, a parent, or anyone else in the household is involved with other providers, such as the welfare system, the corrections system, the health care system, and any other service organizations.

Bennett recounted his organization's experiences in building a coalition to facilitate offender reentry into the community. They experienced success by first bringing together agencies that were willing to cooperate and to use money and resources already available. "We sought out people who were passionate on [the topic of offender reentry], people who were willing to come to the table and were willing to work to get the parties there who needed to be there," Bennett said. Today this coalition has developed and implemented a comprehensive in-jail treatment program, followed by an intensively case-managed aftercare program.

Janes reiterated that services need to be selected and put in place while the offender is incarcerated. She noted that Ohio has a Community Corrections Information System, or computerized electronic tracking system, that has made it possible for different providers, both inside and outside correctional facilities, to exchange information in a timely fashion. This increases the likelihood of a smooth transition of services after the inmate leaves a facility and returns to the community. Ohio also has found it effective to use the same community-based service providers for offenders both during incarceration and after release.

In looking at the issue of whom to target for comprehensive reentry and aftercare programs, Gebelein noted that there is not enough money to provide services to all individuals. Delaware has identified two primary groups to receive these services: first-time offenders and probationers. The state created a Diversion Drug Court that facilitates drug treatment and other services for first-time offenders. For a relatively small amount of money, Gebelein said, the state has seen a big return in "not seeing those folks again."

The second group is probationers who have had trouble integrating into the community. These offenders often return to correctional facilities and have become the fastest growing population in Delaware's prisons. Services provided for this group include therapy while in prison followed by intensive aftercare services. So far, the special work done with these two groups of people has shown promising results, Gebelein said. Meanwhile, the state is trying to expand services to other populations as well.

Ohio spends a large proportion of its total criminal justice dollars on supervision and treatment of individuals who can be served outside correctional facilities—offenders who have been diverted from prison or who are on parole or probation, Janes said. As an example, she cited a new state program for minority male offenders who were being returned to prison on technical violations, about 80 percent of which relate to substance abuse.

Janes noted that the state was willing to establish the program because advocates demonstrated through research-based information that the program was needed and had the basis to succeed. Similarly, Bennett noted that groups will more readily take part in a cooperative effort when concrete, credible evidence is used to demonstrate that a particular program or approach is effective and that money is saved in the process.

Two other innovative aftercare programs, from Boston and Delaware, deal with juveniles. Boston's Operation Night Light, is aimed at helping juveniles on probation meet the terms of their probation, Merner said. The program increases the supervision of these young people, and includes evening home visits by police and probation officers. The program increased curfew compliance among participants from 17 percent in 1992 to 68 percent in 1996.

Delaware's Safe Streets program also provides increased surveillance of juvenile offenders. Gebelein noted that "you make it real" when you pick young people up after curfew, bring them before a judge the next morning, perhaps put them in jail for a day or two, and impose other punishments. The program has helped keep these young people from "hanging out on the corners."


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