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Press Release, Recidivism

TRACKtech CEO, Michael Hirschman and a leading academic in the field of criminal justice, Joe Russo, were guests on Ryan Warner’s Colorado Public Radio (CPR) show, Colorado Matters.

 

Hirschman and Russo spoke about the pros and cons of current electronic tracking devices and how technology is changing the community corrections industry.

 

Listen to their interview and hear how TRACKtech is paving the way for positive change and reducing recidivism.

 

Colorado Matters, hosted by Ryan Warner, is CPR News’ daily interview show which focuses on the state’s people, issues and ideas.

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Recidivism

A new program in the Pinal County Jail has begun allowing inmates to use electronic tablets in an effort to reduce their likelihood of committing repeat crimes. The Sheriff’s Office is collaborating with Securus Technologies to provide this influential program, which supplied the equipment without charge. “With tablets, inmates can stay in touch with family and keep their minds preoccupied with educational and religious programming,” Sheriff Mark Lamb stated in the press release. “We expect that it will help with behavior.”

The SecureView tablets are intended to help prisoners maintain contact with their families, access the law library, apply for employment nearing their release date, and access educational and religious programming, such as books and podcasts. The tablets are incredibly intuitive and require no staff intervention. Additionally, utilizing these tablets will be instrumental in familiarizing prisoners with the technologies they will encounter after their release. The prisoners are able to message and call their loved ones through the tablets. This provides a much better opportunity to keep in touch with family and reduce the stress of life while incarcerated through the regular means of communication. Many studies show that regular communication and close relationships with loved ones while incarcerated can greatly reduce the risk of recidivism.

Games are also being introduced on the tablets, with the intent to keep inmates occupied and entertained, while reducing the likelihood that they will be disruptive and take part in arguments or fights. This is not only beneficial to the safety of the inmates but to the staff as well. 

Sheriff Mark Lamb states that they want to be the top jail in the state, or even the western region. “The community needs to see what we are providing for our inmates to help them get back on their feet to be the best citizens they can be.”

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Success Stories

Life after incarceration can be terrifying. Providing for families and acquiring necessities is extremely difficult without the proper resources, especially with a criminal history looming over your head. 76% of formerly incarcerated people believe the search for employment after being released is “very difficult or nearly impossible,” according to a study by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. After being released from incarceration, two-thirds are unemployed or underemployed, even after five years. Some very courageous and generous individuals have dedicated their lives to easing this burden, and provide valuable skills and experience to jump start the lives of these returning citizens through the culinary arts.

Drive Change has been moving towards improving the lives of troubled youth since 2014. Jordyn Lexton founded the New York City based nonprofit that hires formerly incarcerated youth and teaches them how to properly operate a food truck. They provide assistance with developing the necessary skills to retain a promising job in the culinary industry, while also offering year long paid fellowships to those ages 17 to 25. “We teach transferable skills, and social media, marketing, money management, and hospitality,” Lexton described. “Then we teach the actual application of the roles and responsibilities on the truck,” Lexton stated to Pix 11. “We believe that by having this really positive interaction at our truck, we might actually help to dispel some of the preconceived notions that people have about what is means to be formerly incarcerated.”

Café Momentum, a restaurant and culinary training facility based in Dallas, improves the lives of adolescents through a positive environment and educating at-risk youth on the extensive knowledge of culinary skills, job and life-skill training, and mentoring and support. Since June 2011, every month eight boys from the culinary program in the Youth Village work alongside a list of prominent Dallas chefs who teach them every aspect of a functioning restaurant, such as prep work, cooking, serving meals, and waiting tables. While providing knowledge in the culinary field, Café Momentum also assists these young individuals with preparing them for reintegrating into society in a safe and comfortable environment. Their goal is to teach adolescents that they no longer have to partake in the life of violence and crime that they have always known. Café Momentum provides a 12-month paid internship to individuals being released from juvenile detention. During this program, members are assigned case managers, who work with them closely to ensure they have a firm grasp of how to thrive outside of incarceration. They are taught parenting classes, financial literacy, career exploration, and are provided educational assistance. They also receive aid for issues that may be plaguing them as products of their criminal history, such as anger management, recovery from trauma, lack of parental figures, and abandonment. Upon completion of this 12-month program, successful participants are provided the opportunity to pursue a job with one of the community partners. These struggling youth, who would have most likely returned to a life of crime or toiled in unreliable employment circumstances, can now have a fulfilling career, save for their futures, and have a fresh start on the rest of their lives.

EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant, which we previously blogged about, is a fine french dining restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, that employs previously incarcerated individuals with the goal to reduce their risk of returning to prison by providing them with the training necessary to pursue and succeed in a career in the culinary field.

Providing employment in the culinary field for those who are recently released from incarceration is extremely effective in jump starting peoples futures, because these individuals are able to thrive in an environment where they can succeed purely on dedication and hard work, rather than needing years of training or degrees.

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Success Stories

Between 60%-75% of ex-offenders remain unemployed one year after their release from prison. Employment is essential in keeping someone motivated to continue their rehabilitation and become a successful and functioning member of society. Without the income from employment, the chance of returning to prison is incredibly high. A non-profit by the name of 2 Fish Home Renovations hopes to improve these chances for formerly incarcerated young adults through the renovation of houses. 

The non-profit provides possibilities for jobs and work growth for formerly imprisoned young adults in need of a second chance at life. 2 Fish has been renovating homes for two-and-a-half years, and has successfully renovated nine homes so far. They have helped people like Frank Grazier, who has been calling 2 Fish a game-changer for those in jail. “Once they give ’em a chance [to] start, to actually build things and feel good about themselves, do something about themselves, then, man…they’re on their way,” said Grazier in an interview with WDEL News. Grazier, who after the death of his wife and son, was incarcerated for three years due to a conviction from driving under the influence , could not explain how grateful he was for a fresh start. “This is, this is, like, the best opportunity ever,” he exclaimed.

2 Fish purchases distressed houses at huge discounts and refurbishes them with crews of recently released young adults. The men undergo training from experienced foremen to grow their knowledge and understanding of the skills necessary to flip houses, such as painting, decking, tiling, remodeling, cleaning, and landscaping. The knowledge gained by the prior inmates prepare them for the possibility of a prosperous career in the home remodeling and construction industry. 

Chuck Wallace, a member of 2 Fish, believes that the men who participate in this non-profit are extremely grateful for the chance to make something of themselves. “You’re just giving them an opportunity that they’ve never even had before, and, I mean, the guys we have here are grabbing the bull by the horns, and they love the opportunity,” said Wallace.

These former inmates are given a fantastic opportunity to stay productive, gain skills, and improve their lives while gaining knowledge that is essential for a successful future outside of prison. 

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Community Supervision, Public Safety

For years, the United States has struggled to provide effective support to the more than 650,000 people who return to society from prison every year. As imprisoned individuals prepare to re-enter their communities, there are many factors that determine whether they are going to build a successful life after incarceration or whether they end up back behind bars. The potential challenges for re-entry include compliance with probation requirements, gaining employment, housing security and access to behavioral health services. If we are to succeed in reducing the number of re-offenders in America, we must find ways of changing the status quo in current policies and practices and embrace emerging technologies.

Technology has the capacity to greatly affect this intractable problem of recidivism in countless ways. The benefit of technology is that it can be customized to fit countless situations. Devices that continuously monitor alcohol intake of a person have completely changed how supervisors tackle alcohol abuse with offenders. Access to internet-based applications can provide automatic updates on job opportunities, deliver therapeutic materials and assist with training skills for the offender. Case Management Systems make it easier for case workers to monitor compliance and provide rehabilitative support though a streamlined secure website. Electronic monitoring devices can be customized to fit the needs of the offender using it, such as approving certain apps, controlling internet access, and monitoring their behavior. Video conferencing and messaging can allow for constant contact with a probation officer, including after normal business hours or across distances, which would minimize conflicts between work, family, and probation obligations.

TRACKtech™ provides two options for electronic monitoring. The TRACKPhone™, which is a specialized smartphone issued to Program Members, is intended to enforce compliance for those in need of more severe supervision. It provides biometric verification, GPS tracking, and more strict compliance enforcement. TRACKphoneLite™ is a more moderate alternative in the form of a smartphone application. This application can be applied to the Program Member’s smartphone and allows location check-ins, communication with their supervising officer over video chat, calendar reminders, and community-based recovery resources. These emerging technologies have the potential to transform reentry compliance and drastically reduce recidivism.

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Jail Overcrowding
Overcrowding is becoming a frightening dilemma for many jails. The Sarasota County Jail is no different. Building a new jail to house these excess inmates is incredibly expensive to taxpayers, costing upwards of $100 million. To ease this overcrowding, the County Sheriff’s Office is utilizing what they call a “pod” program. Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE) introduced the Addiction Recovery Program in partnership with the Salvation Army and the Sheriff’s Office in Sarasota County. These pods are intended to reduce recidivism rates while increasing an inmate’s productivity while incarcerated. All inmates in a pod are housed together. Instead of the inmates having excessive free time, they spend that time in programs, meetings, and receiving help for their various needs. The pods are completely voluntary, and any interested inmates must sign up to be included in them. There are up to 48 inmates in each pod and violence of any kind is strictly prohibited.

There are a multitude of pods in the prison, each dedicated to a specific program for rehabilitation and life skills. The addiction recovery pod has been in use for ten years, and in 2019 two new pod programs are being implemented in the jail; the care pod and the re-entry pod. The care pod is focused on providing mental health assistance. In the re-entry pod inmates will take parenting classes, learn how to search for jobs, create resumes and learn the importance of financial stability. Many of the inmates in these pods don’t know about the importance of credit scores, financing vehicles or budgeting. Without these essential skills and a secure footing in how to survive outside of prison, there is a very high risk of them reoffending. The pod program has shown to be very efficient and has changed the lives of countless inmates.
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Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

A MetroHealth initiative that supports people who have serious mental health diagnoses and criminal convictions has been making strides to help people get their lives back and stay out of prison. The Wellness Reentry Assistance Program (WRAP), which began in 2013, identifies Cuyahoga County jail inmates exhibiting serious mental health conditions and provides them health care and support. It also provides addiction care for the 30-50% of inmates who are struggling with substance abuse. 

The free program is instrumental in ensuring inmates continue to receive the help they need through re-entry. Program members learn to fill out food stamp applications and social security paperwork, receive job training, and learn how to find housing. They also are informed on how to schedule and arrange transportation to a doctor’s appointment and have their prescriptions filled. Rashell Tallen, a WRAP nurse care coordinator, explains how devastating and confusing the world can be for someone who has just been released from jail. “I see it time and time again, it’s very overwhelming for these folks. They don’t know where to start. You walk out of jail and you might have lost your apartment and all your clothes and everything. You’re just standing there on the sidewalk. Our patients know that they can come here, that we have a plan.”

This program not only helps those who are currently incarcerated, but also those who have a criminal history. The program has improved the lives of nearly 900 people since 2013. The people participating in the program are usually low-level and nonviolent offenders. Between 2015 and 2018, 214 people participating in the program were arrested and jailed half as often as before they were in the program. 

WRAP costs between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, and has garnered support from the Woodruff Foundation, the U.S Department of Justice, and the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County. The program’s founder, Ewald Horwath, has had success with the program because they do not stigmatize their program members. “We don’t view our patients primarily as offenders, even though they are in jail. We’re approaching it from the standpoint of these are people who need treatment.” And their treatment is working.

One 38-year-old mother from Parma, Shannon Kuhn, attributes her regaining control of her life and getting sober to WRAP. She was approached about the program during a 2-month period at Cuyahoga County jail over a year ago – her first time being incarcerated. Since then, her charges have been dropped and she is awaiting expungement, all because of her participation in the program. She was homeless and staying with a friend, she had lost all hope. She had never received the kind of support that she got from the program before, and it overjoyed her. “They let me know that they were going to be there for me. They have been there for me for over a year now, every step of the way with anything I needed.” Thanks to this innovative program, she now has a home, a full time job, and a car. She can live her life with her daughter, sober and brimming with ambition.

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Success Stories

In an uplifting article by the WPSD Local 6 news, a Vienna Correctional Center program by the name of Orange is the New Green, explains their efforts of preparing incarcerated people for life after prison while helping the community. It is open to inmates who have a high risk of recidivism or are veterans. During the first half of the 11-month program, prisoners complete a gardening course – including botany, fertilizer, hydroponics, irrigation systems and more.

“We take students through the University of Illinois Master Gardener curriculum. So, that takes us about six months to get through. There’s a lot of book work and a lot of lectures,” explained Nathan Ryder, Orange is the New Green’s lead instructor and coordinator. “We talk about everything from soil and how to have healthy soil out on your farm or in your garden plot, all the way up to how to grow different fruits and vegetables. We talk about lawn care and how to propagate grass. We really take them through a lot of different aspects of growing plants. It’s not just focused on flowers and vegetables.” Ryder states that once the inmates earn their master gardener certificates, they can transition into the business section of the program.

“For about six weeks, they learn marketplace literacy skills, basically how businesses and consumers interact with each other. Then, we take that, and they write their own business plans. So hopefully, if they get out of here and they want to be an entrepreneur, they want to employ themselves, they’ll already have that business plan written. And they can take it out in the real world and get financing for that,” said Ryder.

Many inmates are enjoying the program. Robert Parker says that it gives him a sense of achievement, and that he turned a bad situation into something positive while learning a new trade. He believes that the program really involves teamwork. They help each other repot plants or answer each other’s questions. “We’ve got a really good teacher, but it’s more like a community. It’s like a little brotherhood huddle.”

Philip McDowell, another inmate participating in the program, says he is excited to take what he’s learned in the program and apply it to a new job outside prison. “I want to give myself the most opportunity. In this instance, I think that by doing this I’ve learned several things, even about greenhouse operations, irrigation systems, and pesticide applicators. These are all the things that are incorporated into this class above and beyond just growing a particular plant,” said McDowell. He also agrees that the program involves teamwork, and really improves social skills. “It is some teamwork and how to get along with other people. Because obviously we’re not social being in here for so long. I’m just trying to give myself the biggest leg up to try to get something going on for myself.”

The Vienna Correctional Center partnered with Shawnee Resource Conservancy and Development and with the University of Illinois Extension to make this program possible. This is the second year for Orange is the New Green and they are thriving. Classes include about 40 inmates and they have plans to continue classes next year. Most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs the prisoners are growing will be delivered to the dietary department for food preparations at the prison. The rest is donated to local food pantries.

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Recidivism

The latest Bureau of Justice Statistics recidivism study found that within five years 77 percent of almost 70,000 prisoners released from 30 states have been convicted of new crimes. Prison efficiency is frequently measured by the rate of re-offense by those released into the community. The relatively high recidivism rate observed among prisoners demonstrates the ineffectiveness of current US prison systems. Not only have punitive policies been largely ineffective, they have also been wasteful and expensive. But can we diminish the costs of incarceration while also increasing the efficiency at which we prevent recidivism?

From the 1970s to the mid-2000s, prison population boomed, not only through more punitive sentences but also an increase in crime rates and, perhaps most notably, government expenditure. Punitive approaches have historically rarely achieved positive results in corrections. These approaches tend to not reduce recurrence, because they do not address the reasons why the individuals who have are released fail to transition from prison to their community. With an effective program in place, prisoners willing to participate, will lead to less recurrence and reduce both the use and costs of imprisonment.

Before evidence-based decision making and practices, those who were incarcerated had scarce access to resources necessary for their rehabilitation, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), treatment of substance abuse and dependency, sex offender treatment, education, employment programming and social support intervention. These practices have been proven to be highly effective and give the most value for our investment when applied as a system.  Therefore, it is important to incorporate and apply these programs by helping prisoners manage their needs through existing resources and support systems, ultimately reducing recidivism.

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Recidivism

The dilemma of recurrence is a complex but urgent one. Not only have many people who leave prison lost valuable years of their life, most have little to no support to fulfill their basic needs upon reentry. Those who want to make a better life, often lack the tools to do so. A new community and law enforcement project in Shelby, North Carolina, seeks to help their citizens regain a fulfilling and successful life outside bars.

In the next five years, an average of 76% of Cleveland County individuals who commit a crime and are sent to prison will reoffend. In one year, half of them usually reoffend, according to Katie Munger, the head of the RESET program. RESET Coordinator, Christy Dunbar, will assist 10 to 15 people chosen by the parole officials and other agencies through an application process. Her goal is to guide and assist with finding anything they need from drug rehab to work clothes. RESET hopes to establish a mentorship after a year between the first group who has successfully completed the program with those who have just been released.

RESET has already begun the process of evaluating previous inmates in order to see who is a good fit for the program. More than two dozen community agency representatives have offered their assistance in the program. Each community outlet can help with an issue that a person is struggling with after their release, such as substance abuse, job training, or social skills. Together, these community outlets could collectively help a person with all the barriers they are facing in re-entering their community.

While RESET aims to support individuals during the reentry process, recidivism is a huge problem that cannot be tackled alone. TRACKTech could be utilized to automate the distribution of more rehabilitation resources and our intuitive “pattern of life” data can be used to provide more accurate and streamlined information to assist with evaluating a program member’s progress on successful reentry into their community.

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