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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
The National Alliance of Mental Illness Tri Cities in Washington is scheduled to host a discussion about their “Lourdes Prosecutorial Diversion” program. The program provides another option for law enforcement officers in dealing with low-level, non-violent offenders with symptoms of mental illness. It has been in effect for three years, and it identifies inmates with behavioral health conditions in Benton and Franklin County Jails, particularly where competence issues arise. The vast majority of those with mental health issues are less likely than anyone else to be violent, criminal, or dangerous. According to a study of crimes committed by those with a mental illness that was published by the American Psychological Association, only 7.5% were directly related to symptoms of a mental disorder. People with mental illnesses are not inherently prone to crime, but for those who have persistent illnesses that are chronic and have reoccurring flare ups that impact their judgement, they may do things they normally would not, such as shoplifting or trespassing.

Jail is not a place conducive to mental health treatment. The program is in effect to engage these patients with treatment so they can return to a functioning and coherent state. Upon completion of the program, which can span from six months to a year, the inmate’s charges will be dropped if they are low level crimes. The inmate will also receive resources such as housing and medical treatment.

A large majority of these inmates are charged for trespassing. Adriana Mercado, the Care Coordinator for the program, states that trespassing is very common because these individuals are symptomatic, or they haven’t been on the proper medications. “It’s really rewarding to get somebody into a home and see that change of behavior.” 50 inmates have successfully finished the program. According to Mercado, the recurrence rate has dropped substantially among these inmates.

The program collaborates with the crisis response and in-patient unit, Transitions, to determine the most suitable placement for each inmate so they can receive medication and work on becoming stable. The end goal of the program is to reduce recidivism for those who already face a very high chance of returning to prison once they are released.

Ken Hohenberg, the Police Chief of Kennewick, has stated that “from my perspective, this is not only going to be able to help keep people out of the criminal justice system that truly don’t belong there, but also provide some hope for their families and friends. We see this as the right thing to do.”
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Community Supervision

Visits between parolees and their probation officers have been an instrumental part of the criminal justice system. The goal has always been to promote rehabilitation while keeping the public safe. But is this worth the countless hours parole officers spend driving to see their clients while facing safety risks during curfew checks at night in rough neighborhoods?

Are unscheduled visits more effective? Is it more productive to have visits at home or the workplace? Are these extra lengths worth the immense caseload? With all these factors on the table, answers to these questions are critical. An insightful recent study gauged the effectiveness of these practices. The evaluation consisted of data analysis, examination of officer’s visit checklists, interviews and focus group discussions. Though the results were promising, they did not give sufficient answers to the underlying questions. It is increasingly difficult to evaluate a visit between a parolee and their officer. The results varied greatly between jurisdictions.

An online survey by the American Probation and Parole Association in accordance with community supervision authorities in Ohio and Minnesota was sent to corrections departments. An online survey was also sent to all 50 states in an attempt to get a firmer grasp on the struggles of parole meetings and their effectiveness on rehabilitation. Thankfully, field visits overall seemed to decrease recurrence. In Ohio, people who have been contacted in the field by their parole officer at least once have had a reduction of 47 percent in returning to prison within two years, and a decrease of 54 percent in returning to prison for the rest of their life.

Some of the other results from the survey between Ohio and Minnesota were concerning, however. Supervision officers stated that they preferred field contacts at the home of the offender, so that they can understand the client’s environment, but also liked visits at their place of employment as well. This was to ensure compliance with their work requirements and helps to avoid a client having to take time off work. Which is more effective? Which is less disruptive to a client’s life and routine? Unscheduled visits in Ohio were equally as effective as scheduled ones, while in Minnesota the unscheduled visits led to significant reductions in recidivism. Why such a drastic change?  In Ohio, evidence-based practices such as motivational interviews during field contacts were important for alleviating recurrence, but in Minnesota they had no impact.

There are many variables, but the results clearly show that field visits are a critical practice to reducing recidivism. More thorough programs that assist probationers and parolees while protecting the public is crucial. There are 9.3 million people on community supervision in the United States, and over 200 caseloads per officer. These numbers are overwhelming, and with the recent changes to mass incarceration, parole is becoming even more common. TRACKtech’s revolutionary app, TRACKphoneLite (TpL), has been proven to reduce caseloads for officers while streamlining critical visits. Stressful, time-consuming traveling and dangerous evening visits are a thing of the past for officers utilizing this application. With TpL’s video conferencing system, officers can be shown around the client’s home, look in their fridge, etc. while talking face to face with the client. The application also employs a check-in system, so clients can verify their location whenever requested by their officer, negating the need for curfew visits.

Visitation is not the only aspect of parole that this intuitive application assists with. It can also help to provide rehabilitative support and behavioral health assessments tailored to each specific client. TpL monitors compliance, tracks locations, and assists with remote meetings while ensuring that the public is safe. All of the information gathered is sent to TRACKcase, lessening the strain on an officer’s caseload immensely. TRACKtech’s platform enhances the capabilities of officials and agencies in implementing individualized and responsive case plans with a more expansive spectrum of data and workflow automation, connecting program members (supervised individuals) to prosocial and communal resources, satisfying criminogenic needs, and reducing the chance of recidivism. Reaching out to those on probation and parole is imperative to increasing their chances of becoming a successful citizen of their community, and TRACKtech is here to help – one future at a time.

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