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The Supervision Bowl
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 09/24/2007

Community Fall is here and football season may have just begun, but for community supervision professionals the Super Bowl is coming about four months early, without all the potato chips and expensive commercials.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the federal executive branch agency that provides parole and probation services to the District of Columbia, is running its “Special Supervision Conference” from October 16th to 17th. The free conference for criminal justice professionals from around the country will include a variety of presentations on the best community supervision practices for three especially challenging types of offenders.

“Correctional agencies throughout the country are having an extraordinarily difficult time dealing with sex offenders, mentally ill offenders, and domestic violence offenders,” says CSOSA senior public affairs specialist Len Sipes.

“We’re bringing in people working in community supervision reform from around the country that are some of the best experts on the issues to give practice-oriented presentations,” Sipes says.

“We’ll be looking at community supervision for special needs offenders in terms of the many challenges supervision agencies face,” adds Catherine Terry-Crusor, a CSOSA branch chief who is planning the conference. “This includes the challenge of connecting offenders with appropriate services, appropriate tracking and monitoring for high risk offenders, and cognitive structuring to shift the behavior of the offender.”

CSOSA is expecting 800 criminal justice colleagues to attend. There will be 16 workshops on the first day and 32 on the second. Different practitioners will be coming together, including social workers, rape crisis counselors, attorneys, doctors, and more. Forensic psychologist Dr. Cindy Buckson will be running one of the mental health workshops.

“I’m going to provide a context for understanding the dynamic presentation of African- American male offenders with mental illness,” says Buckson.

Forensic psychologists often testify in court regarding criminal responsibility, which includes competency to stand trial, need for hospitalization, and level of care. “Presentation” styles of clients refer to how a client responds and behaves to the services provided while they are under community supervision.

“There’s a whole social and historical context that has to be considered as a backdrop in being able to effectively engage and treat African-American men,” explains Buckson. “Looking at the impact of institutional racism, slavery, and our very egregious history of medical experimentation, those kinds of things serve as thorns that deter folks from being amenable to treatment.”

“African-Americans are disproportionately diagnosed with the most severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia,” Buckson adds. “What goes under-recognized are anxiety disorders and mood disorders. Over-pathologizing African-American males with something like schizophrenia is a longstanding trend that we have to work against.”

Breaking down these barriers to treatment is a conference theme for all three types of offenders. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and court services officer Joyce Dasher says one of the biggest barriers to successful treatment of domestic violence offenders is a lack of awareness.

“Domestic violence something that is generally hidden,” explains Dasher, who’s also running a workshop at the conference. “There is a shame factor to it, and it’s a learned behavior that becomes intergenerational. We need more exposure surrounding domestic violence to stop it from going to generation to generation.”

For the last six months, Dasher has been leading group counseling sessions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, working with soldiers involved in domestic violence abuse.

“We’re teaching our soldiers to be violent, and yet when they come home they have to change that behavior,” Dasher explains. “It’s truly a struggle for them. When I run my groups, I like to tell them quite simply that domestic violence is when you impose your will on another person. It’s about power and control.”

“We have to get these men to figure out what are the things that are making them angry,” Dasher adds, “and what in their belief system and life experience is affecting their behavior. Domestic violence kills people, and I always make sure to touch on the lethality of it. People can only change if they want to, and I try to encourage that change.”

In addition to the clinical and counseling side of special offender treatment, the conference will also examine how research and data are a necessary complement to the best community supervision practices.

“We can use actuarial science to help determine a sex offender’s risk of recidivism,” says Sam Walker, clinical director for the DC-based Clinical and Forensic Associates . “We use the same actuarial assessment tools that have been used for years to assess risk in the insurance and medical fields.”

Walker’s workshop will discuss how the assessments take into account the static and dynamic risk factors sex offenders face.

“Static factors can’t be changed,” Walker explains, “like does the offender have a history of abuse or do they have previous convictions. I refer to dynamic factors as reciprocating and perpetuating, things like the use of alcohol, use of pornography, if an offender has terminated a relationship as a way to get more attention.”

The actuarial systems take into account hundreds of factors like these, and essentially spit out a “grand total” or score. For example, the score might indicate an offender will be likely to re-offend within five years, and the courts take this into account when deciding whether to return the offender to the community.

“There are also corrections officers that use these tools to help them interpret a new client,” Walker adds. “It’s great how all these agencies and branches of the field of criminal justice are coming together.”

“Our hope is we can provide information on the best practices in supervision,” Terry-Crusor says, “and support those individuals being supervised in the community, which will directly and indirectly support the offender’s family members and the surrounding community.”

Related Resources:

Find out how to attend the conference

More on Domestic Violence Awareness Month

See how the sex offender risk assessment works


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