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Reentry Initiatives and Models for Corrections
By Michelle Gaseau, Managing Editor
Published: 01/19/2004

Road

Prisons across the country are bursting at the seams and as a result, more and more inmates are being freed sooner to make room. But what effect does that have on the community? Will it mean a rise in crime rates and recidivism?

To prevent this, corrections agencies across the country, with the support of top state and federal leaders, are implementing plans to ensure that all offenders released from custody are as successful as they can be.

"Everyone is looking at how do you get everyone safely back into the community," said Kermit Humphries, Project Manager for the National Institute of Corrections' Transition from Prison to Community Initiative.

But not everyone is looking at the puzzle from the same perspective. In the case of the NIC, the TPCI approach is a major system change that requires involvement from the governor's office on down. In local jurisdictions, such as in New York City, the Vera Institute of Justice's Greenlight Project is focusing on the jobs angle to help offenders succeed.

But while there are different approaches, they all have similar goals: to improve the likelihood of an offender reintegrating into the community as a crime-free citizen.

"What is important is the notion that the offender doesn't just belong to corrections. He's a product of the education system, mental health system [and others]. While you may look at them as offenders in corrections, the government has to recognize that they share responsibility [of them]," said Humphries.

This is especially true after release when offenders begin to have an impact on community services and other citizens.

TPCI Promotes a Systemic Change

The NIC's TPCI was created starting in 2001 with the assistance of 35 corrections practitioners and academics who worked together to create a reentry model for offenders. The model that resulted includes functions of:

* classifying and assessing inmates,
* developing and implementing transition accountability plans,
* releasing offenders,
* providing community supervision and services,
* responding to violations of conditions of supervision,
* discharging offenders from supervision and terminating jurisdiction, and
* providing post-secondary community support and aftercare.

In addition, the model calls for members of the public, community and neighborhood organizations and criminal justice and human service agencies to all be stakeholders in how well the transition process works for offenders. And, the model stipulates that a corrections authority, releasing authority and offender supervision authority must together actively support the reforms necessary under the TPCI in order for it to succeed.

"It changes the construct from what am I doing in my chunk of the system to what do we do together. It challenges everything from turf to resources. If the construct is looking at the successful offender in the community, then you look at things differently. It is all of our jobs," said Humphries.

This notion of joining forces with different stakeholders that all touch the lives of ex-offenders is the starting point for NIC's transition model.

Agencies such as mental health, social services and employment services can all work with corrections to affect the lives of offenders once they are released from custody - and that is what the model expects.

"Functionally there are different components that do not communicate very well - so [the challenge] is how do you coordinate as a criminal justice system the activities with the ultimate goal of having a more successful offender in the community?" Humphries said.

Corrections must be the driver in this effort because it is at the point of incarceration that agencies must begin planning for release, according to Humphries.

"It is viewed as a system change project. It changes the way they do business and the way they look at the business of corrections and how [agencies] allocate resources," he said.

One of the two original jurisdictions to test the TPCI model is the Missouri Department of Corrections. This year, after the completion of a careful planning phase, the department and other reentry stakeholders in the state are poised to implement some major changes that officials hope will greatly affect recidivism.

Missouri Makes a Change

Corrections officials in Missouri were eager to test the NIC's TPCI model and to bring other state departments into the discussion of how to reduce recidivism among offenders. They began delving into this issue with technical assistance from the NIC about a year ago.

"Historically one of the shortcomings is that corrections looks at issues and challenges and tries to figure out how corrections can address those issues. But what we have run into in the last year is the factors correlated to recidivism, and the data, show these are issues that other stakeholders are very much involved with," said Tom Clements, Assistant Director of the Division of Adult Institutions for the Missouri DOC.

The DOC sees about 18,000 offenders coming into the system each year and 32 percent of them return to the system as parole violators. For corrections and other state officials, that number is significant enough to put some major elbow grease into changing the reentry process.

"From the onset, we have involved the Department of Economic Development, which provides workforce development. We're engaging them and we've been through a planning process," said Clements.

In fact, representatives from the state's Department of Mental Health, Department of Social Services, Department of Health and Senior Services and Office of State Courts Administrator are also involved in the reentry initiative and serve on its steering committee.

"What we are doing is broadening out our approach and involvement to stakeholders to reduce recidivism," said Clements.

The departments formed the steering committee to outline the major goals and strategies of the initiative and the steps that it would take, such as establishing transition accountability plans for offenders upon entry into the system and formalizing connections for offenders with services prior to release.

For example, workforce development staff now come into the institutions to identify and assess inmates and link them to employment and training before they leave the system and the Department of Mental Health has made changes so that offenders with substance abuse problems, before they go home, will have aftercare treatment in place and will  know exactly who they are going to see.

Clements said that the departments also began looking at services already rendered to the ex-offender population in the community to truly understand how much overlap there was between the departments.

The Department of Mental Health, for example, found that 46 percent of high-risk parolees were receiving DMH services, but information about common clientele was not being shared among the departments.

The reentry initiative aimed to fix that too.

Clements said one area that the team has looked at is the secondary client to the ex-offender. In the social services realm, for example, when a person comes to prison, his family may need financial support for the children and could become a DSS client. In addition, there are issues that DSS will want to address when the offender comes home.

"One thing that has been compelling is a greater recognition that children with an incarcerated parent have a much greater likelihood of being incarcerated themselves. A national study said they are seven times more likely," he said. "We're trying to do things that will help the offender and do things that will help prevent the child from coming to prison. That's an investment in public safety 10 years down the road."

The strategies mapped out by the steering committee are more than just lofty goals, the team has worked hard to make some significant changes, and more are on the way, without requesting additional budget dollars.

Since the initiative follows a case management approach, the DOC needs employees to fill this role inside the institution. One way the DOC hopes to increase the number of staff dedicated to this aspect of reentry is utilizing a serious and violent offender "Going Home" grant from the federal Office of Justice Programs. The DOC hopes to be able to create reentry specialist positions with the grant.

Additionally, the DOC hopes to combine its report-writing efforts into a sharable format that can be utilized in reentry planning. Clements explained that reports are written and information is gathered in a pre-sentence investigation, in a diagnostic report at reception and in a pre-hearing report before an offender meets with the parole board. The DOC wants to see how those reports overlap and utilize that information for reentry purposes.

The DOC has also established transitional housing units at the facilities for men and women who are within six months of release. In these units there will be more of a concentration of wrap-around services to help them enter the community again with connections.

"Workforce development people, for example, will come in to do training and workshops. It integrates with the transition accountability plan and having the units helps us to make use of and focus our limited resources," Clements said.

Clements said difficult budget times might be a deterrent for agencies to bite off a major systems change such as the reentry initiative, but it can also be an opportunity for agencies take a thorough look at its programming and eliminate those programs that are not working-leaving funds available for other initiatives.

"We have taken the perspective of using the resources smarter by assessing programs and looking at results. That seems to resonate with the other departments as well. They are really pressed to show there are tangible outcomes from the resources they receive," Clements said.

While Missouri plans to implement many of its reentry strategies by the summer, other states are just beginning to understand the impact of reentry services.

The National Governors' Association has created a policy academy to educate states on the issue and urge them to develop and implement reentry strategies.

States Study Reentry

The Prisoner Reentry State Policy Academy is a new program launched last year by the NGA specifically to help governors and other state policymakers understand the impact of reentry on their states.

The program is supported by several federal agencies and offices including the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health and Centers for Disease Control.

"The goal is to help governors take a strategic look at what prisoner reentry looks like in their state with the goal of implementing good plans for reducing recidivism and managing this with the added goal of creating strong families, strong workforce systems, strong communities and promoting strong public safety," said Thomas MacLellan of the NGA.

MacLellan said the NGA, after a competitive application process, selected seven states to take part in the policy academy. Each state had to put together a team of representatives from the governor's office and other disciplines to take a deeper look at reentry.

Over the last several months, representatives from the seven states, Georgia, Idaho, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Michigan, Massachusetts and Virginia, have met in workshops discussing the issue of reentry and challenges states may face in implementing strategies for reducing recidivism with practitioner faculty.

"One of the strengths of the academy is it is driven by state needs and state interests. It's a technical assistance model, but it is not prescriptive in terms of expecting X, Y or Z to happen," said MacLellan. "Some of what you'll see is improved partnerships between prisons and health care systems."

From those academy sessions, participants will create a state action plan to address the issues that intersect with a reentry strategy, such as determining which offenders are at high risk for recidivism, clarifying agency responsibilities, identifying new funding opportunities, forming linkages with such efforts as fatherhood initiatives and identifying strategies to increase ex-offenders' access to employment opportunities, mental health treatment, housing services and substance abuse treatment.

Although the outcomes from the policy academy will not be realized until later this year or next year, MacLellan expects that states will approach the issue in a variety of ways - all with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism.

"I think it will be a mixed bag, depending on the state or the key issue. The reality is no one is going to get any more resources, so how to you maximize what you have?" said MacLellan.

Despite the dim financial outlook for states and municipalities, this year plenty of officials are taking a long, hard look at how they can make reforms to improve reentry outcomes among offenders.

In New York City, for example, officials are taking a stab at improving reentry outcomes for offenders at Rikers Island, even when their length of stay is a matter of days or weeks.

Project Greenlight Prepares Jail Offenders

The Vera Institute of Justice first began Project Greenlight as a pre-release program to serve those offenders in the New York State Department of Correctional Services that return to New York City.

To start off on the right foot, the organization initially conducted a study to assess what the main barriers were for the offenders and found that New York City had plenty of services for ex-offenders, but not enough preparation prior to leaving the system to know how to access those services.

"We started to think along those lines," said Marta Nelson, of the Vera Institute of Justice, about the pilot project.

The program that resulted from this research brought offenders from upstate New York to a facility in New York City as they neared their release date so they could re-connect with family members and the community and begin to link with community organizations.

In addition, the project brought officials from the Department of Correctional Services and parole together to share resources and then work with inmates on their release plan.

"We did it as a demonstration project with a whole variety of components including cognitive behavior classes, job readiness classes, family sessions, and housing assistance coordination," said Nelson.

This initial project, which is still ongoing at the New York City-based prison where it began, was the impetus for a new version of Project Greenlight that has begun at the New York City Department of Corrections. There officials were interested in re-directing programming funds towards reentry and discharge planning.

Nelson said the department recently entered into a project with the New York City-based Center for Employment Opportunities to help match offenders to work after release.

"On the day they are released, instead of being dropped at 3 a.m. in Queensboro Plaza [in New York City], they would get on a bus and go to work," said Nelson. "This is a big effort. The goal is to reach 5,000 people in a year [among] the sentenced population."

Nelson said the goal is also ambitious considering that few offenders stay very long inside the jails walls and on average are released within a matter of days.

To address these barriers, Project Greenlight staff are working with NYC corrections officials to put systems in place to allow for discharge planning so that offenders can be linked to employment very quickly.

"What we have been helping with is creating ways to gather essential information about people as soon as they enter the system," said Nelson.

Nelson the project organizers started with the identification documents that the offenders would need to secure employment. Before this reentry effort, none of the identification needed such as social security card or basic identifications cards were tracked at intake. Now, according to Nelson, the process has officers catalog the types of identification the offenders have on them at intake.

"This can be used by an employer who needs a proof of identity," she said.

Another related initiative is to have jail officials work with the offenders' families to obtain the right types of identification as well as issuing agencies, such as the Bureau of Vital Statistics for birth certificates, to speed up the process.

Nelson said the NYC DOC has even created drop off areas for families to bring identification for incarcerated family members and provided them with a fax number where they can send copies.

Another initiative related to gathering assessment information is the creation of a new intake form. The intake form is being administered by officers at the moment the offenders are in custody and asks basic questions about employment, housing, family composition and prior substance abuse.

"That information will get to the discharge planners quickly," said Nelson.

Nelson added that the leadership at the department from the director down to the wardens is behind the effort. "They make presentations and then follow up from there. The jail is very enthusiastic about this," said Nelson.

This is exactly what an initiative like this needs.

As jail systems like New York City's or even cash-strapped state DOCs take the leap to improve reentry processes, the hope is that both offenders and the systems they come from will benefit. And ultimately recidivism rates will drop as offenders become more successful.

Resources:

For more information on New York City's program, visit www.ceoworks.org

Or the Vera Institute of Justice at http://www.vera.org/project/project1_1.asp?section_id=3&project_id=46&archive=NO

For information about the Missouri DOC's reentry initiative call Tom Clements at 573-751-2389.

For information about the NIC's model visit the website http://www.nicic.org/Resources/Topics/TransitionFromPrison.aspx



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