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A Capital strategy, Part II - Making reductions in re-arrests possible
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 06/18/2007

Birds sunrise Editor’s note: Last week columnist Len Sipes explained how the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency manages Washington, DC’s violent drug abusers by detailing the agency’s drug unit teams and the offenders they handle. This week he continues to review CSOSA’s program along with the Reentry and Sanctions Center.

Every offender brings an array of issues; housing, health care, jobs and substance abuse are just the tip of the iceberg. According to DOJ research, a significant number of offender claim they have been subjected to child abuse and neglect or mental health problems.

While most of us can be compared to a glass that is 70 or 80 percent full, many criminal offenders are people whose glasses are perpetually 30 percent full. Addressing the needs of housing and providing job opportunities or drug counseling increases the fullness of the glass. The issue confounding criminologists, though, is defining the point at which a combination of supervision and services tips the scales so offenders begin to overcome their difficulties.

“To overcome those problems, you have to screen, assess and plan to restructure the person,” says CSOSA Branch Chief for substance abuse, mental health and traffic-alcohol teams, DeAndro Baker.

The process begins with comprehensive evaluation of the offender’s background. CSOSA has teams of specialists who perform evaluations on substance abuse, mental, educational or criminal histories. Offenders in need are then placed in specialized programs as appropriate.

According to Baker, effective supervision of these offenders begins with identifying their crisis points. The unit not only focuses on substance abuse but also on the many issues offenders face. Relapse and problems are expected, but a variety of sanctions and interventions are in place to deal with anticipated problems.

“We teach them how to deal with the endless triggers of negative behavior in their lives,” says Cassandra Brown, a 15-year CSOSA community supervision veteran. “Through individual and group counseling, we role play these triggers for violence and drugs and teach them that there are better ways to conduct their lives. They need to understand the triggers and how to govern themselves.”

Baker runs group counseling sessions and provides individual assistance with a psychologist, a licensed counselor and supervisors. They assist with the “heavy duty co-occurring” cases. Community supervision officers can also run groups to constantly reinforce the lessons of role-play and “trigger” management.

Modalities used in groups can include cognitive therapy under a variety of guises, including psycho educational classes with names like “Thinking for a Change” or “Reality Therapy.” Strategies are chosen to fit the lifestyle and background of the offender. However, Baker insists that there is nothing “cookie-cutter” in their approach.

“The assessments tell us what the person needs, and we build a case management strategy that evokes change,” he states. “Basically, it all comes down to understanding stages of change, criminological identifiers, anti-social thinking, environmental triggers, pro-social modeling, interventions, structure, and what the offender can do about them.”

Strict supervision is crucial. The units constantly interact with the offender within the office and out in the community. The drug units, drug testing professionals and sanctions teams within CSOSA can come into contact with the offender as many as six times each week. The Drug Court side of the program (for probationers) ensures that offenders are before the judge as needed.

Staff will not hesitate to start the process that may return or place a person in prison. Yet, they are equally adamant in believing that offenders can be taught to successfully deal with the addictions and other challenges their lives.

Making reductions in re-arrests possible

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics findings, 67 percent of all those released from prison commit felonies and serious misdemeanors within three years of release. Many commit multiple serious crimes. The lesson of this and other research is that future criminality is probable.

CSOSA has a new and important tool to help interrupt the cycle of substance abuse and crime. The Reentry and Sanctions Center (RSC), which opened in the spring of 2006, is a 100-bed residential facility that provides 28 days of intensive assessment, pre-treatment programming, and case planning for offenders with long histories of drug abuse and crime. The RSC expands CSOSA strategies, and increases the probability that at least some of these offenders will escape the revolving door for good.

The SAINT parole team supervises offenders graduating from the RSC. Prior to the RSC’s opening, CSOSA operated a smaller program, the Assessment and Orientation Center, which was partially funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. Studies by the University of Maryland’s Institute for Behavior and Health found that offenders completing the Assessment and Orientation Center program were significantly less likely to be arrested after the program.

A 2001 study indicated that all HIDTA program participants (from programs in other locations) experienced a 47 percent decrease in arrest rate. RSC graduates supervised by the drug units experienced a 35 percent decrease. Considering their drug, criminal and social histories, this success seems nothing short of remarkable.

“If we can achieve these results with a very difficult population, it’s clear that, given the resources, parole and probation agencies throughout the country can do a better job of supervision,” says Thomas Williams, Associate Director of Community Supervision Services. “We can protect the public and reduce future criminality. Our experience can help.”

Len Sipes is the Senior Public Affairs Specialist at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, DC. For more information about his organization, contact him at 202.220.5616 or leonard.sipes@csosa.gov

Related resources:

CSOSA podcasts about the work they do

The High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program: An Overview

Other articles by Len Sipes:

A Capital strategy, 6/11/07

So you want to podcast? 5/22/07

Media relations and community corrections, 1/22/07


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