Does parole and probation research show declines in arrests and reincarceration?
What Works in Parole and Probation?
Third in a series of articles on parole and probation research and practice.
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.
We previously critiqued a study by the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice as an example as to why clear guidance as to parole and probation policy is so hard to come by. It was funded by the US Department of Justice.
We used the research (and the new one below on the Minnesota Comprehensive Offender Reentry Plan) as springboards for a larger discussion on parole and probation.
Many reporters, citizens or policymakers are surprised to discover that there is a lack of clarity as to any aspect as to what works in the criminal justice system. We don’t have a clear understanding as to what works as to crime control or law enforcement. Why would it be any different for parole and probation?
It’s important to understand that the vast majority of people (five of seven million) caught up in the criminal justice system are on parole and probation, not in prison or jail. If we are going to “win” the war on crime, the principle focus has to be on this population, yet the majority of dollars for research and initiatives goes elsewhere.
Some suggest that parole and probation is an inexpensive method for processing millions of criminal offenders and that cost efficiency is the primary focus of community supervision.
The Previously Reviewed Florida Study Indicates Reduced Recidivism
Findings indicate that inmates released to any form of post-prison supervision are approximately 11-20% less likely to be arrested for any crime (felony or misdemeanor, excluding technical violations of supervision) and 30-44% less likely to be convicted for a felony offense after release from incarceration.
Before You Begin Your Celebration, the Study also States
However, these positive findings are mitigated by the negative effects of supervision on arrest for a felony and return to prison. Those with any term of post-prison supervision are 7-20% more likely to be arrested for a felony and 67-360% more likely to be returned to prison after release from incarceration than those with no supervision to follow.
How can you be 7-20% more likely to be arrested for a felony and 30-44% less likely to be convicted of a felony offense?
How can you be 67-360% more likely to be returned to prison after being 11-20% less likely to be arrested for any crime?
See http://www.crimeinamerica.net/2016/08/29/what-works-in-parole-and-probation/ for our answers and observations.
Minnesota Comprehensive Offender Reentry Plan
The Minnesota program significantly reduced recidivism as measured by rearrest, reconviction, technical violation revocation, and reincarceration for any reason, but had no significant impact on new offense reincarceration.
How is it possible to reduce rearrest, revocations, technical violation revocations and reincarceration for any reason yet the program had no significant impact on reincarceration for new offenses?
If successful on so many outcomes, why was the program discontinued?
If you are sending the same number of people to prison for new offenses, then it indicates that people in the program are committing new and serious crimes at the same rate as the comparison group. They may be arrested for fewer non-serious crimes, and prosecutors may be applying leniency, and you may be employing intermediate sanctions (i.e., curfews rather than incarceration), but you simply can’t ignore new higher level crimes.
Parole and probation agencies are trying new techniques and partnering with other members of the criminal justice system. Providing new services and methods is wonderful, but fewer failures for the things we can control (i.e., not jailing for technical violations) are going to be an inevitable part of the effort (Minnesota lowered the risk of technical violations by 25 percent).
If the program was successful for a variety of outcomes, and it wasn’t continued, (we assume it was based the lack of a significant impact on incarceration), it implies that the program was not saving the state of Minnesota enough money. For many observers of parole and probation programs, it’s the monetary savings to states hammered by the recession that drive correctional policy. Participating lowered the risk of reincarceration for any reason (i.e., technical violations) 24 percent , but new serious crimes committed by participants (and the costs to law enforcement, jails and prosecutors) may have outweighed those savings.
We note that our observations are based solely on our experiences within the criminal justice system. We have no direct knowledge of the program beyond the Department of Justice report in CrimeSolutions.gov. But somewhere along the line, someone has to explain to reporters, policymakers and the public why programs designed to improve parole and probation operations have poor results or were discontinued.
What Works in Parole and Probation?
For reporters, policymakers and the general public, the results of parole and probation research seem to create more confusion than clarity. An example is revocations to prison for technical violations. Some (most?) governors have told their corrections chiefs to hold the line on their budgets, which means fewer people returning to prison for technical violations, which means taking more risks with people on supervision.
A key to understanding how the criminal justice system operates is that most agencies are overwhelmed (i.e., why we have plea-bargaining). Parole and probation “works” because it holds offenders to some degree of accountability. Crime control (whatever that means) seems to be secondary.
The consensus of many in parole and probation seems to be a reliance on programs to deal with individual needs (i.e., substance abuse, mental health, employment) backed by supervision, but the federal government and states simply will not provide the funds to meaningfully implement interventions. These efforts have some success with small reductions in recidivism, commonly ten percent or less. Some programs show no reductions in recidivism. A few seem to create more recidivism.
Others believe that swift and certain sanctions for bad behavior (Project Hope [article forthcoming] and GPS-satellite tracking supervision [also forthcoming] ) are more effective; research states that these programs reduce crime, technical violations, and returns to prison. The research indicates better results than programs targeting individual needs.
The field is packed with people who want a kinder, gentler approach to help offenders overcome their personal difficulties. Whether that philosophy is best for the individuals involved or society in general is open to question. At this point, the question remains unanswered with any sense of clarity.
But we can do both. We can provide the programs most offenders need and, at the same time, hold them accountable through swift and certain sanctions. The problem is that government and allies simply will not (cannot?) fund comprehensive programming for those on parole and probation.
The ratios of parole and probation agents to the offenders they supervise can be one for every 100-150 offenders (we’ve seen larger ratios). How can you provide the services or enforcement necessary when ratios are so large?
Parole and probation needs research and a laser focus as to what works. Parole and probation needs national standards and funding to accomplish them.
Minnesota Comprehensive Offender Reentry Plan (MCORP)
The Minnesota Comprehensive Offender Reentry Program (MCORP) was a case management program implemented in seven different correctional institutions across Minnesota. The program connected caseworkers in prisons with supervision agents in the communities to which participants return upon release from prison. Participants worked with their prison caseworkers and community supervision agents to develop strategies to prevent recidivism through motivational interviewing and SMART (Small, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) planning strategies. This connection between caseworkers was meant to bridge the gap between prison and release. Additionally, the program aimed to strengthen the relationship between incarcerated individuals and their caseworkers by limiting caseload sizes.
MCORP created a collaborative relationship between institutional caseworkers and supervision agents in the community. The program included continuous and dynamic case planning/management that lasted from the time individuals were incarcerated until they were released into the community. Specifically, MCORP addressed the following three phases surrounding reentry: institutional, transitional, and community reintegration.
Caseworkers and supervision agents implemented motivational interviewing and SMART planning strategies in conjunction with the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) risk/needs assessment tool to create a transition accountability plan (TAP), which was a guide that outlined participants’ goals while they were incarcerated. Institutional caseworkers included participants’ community supervision agents in the case planning as soon as possible, ensuring continuity during participants’ transition from the institution to the community.
To enhance service delivery and improve the transition process, MCORP supervision agents were given smaller caseloads and practiced “inreach,” which they conducted by contacting their clients while they are still incarcerated. Community supervision agents used both the LSI-R and in-person meetings with their incarcerated clients to determine their specific strengths and needs. Supervision agents also connected MCORP participants with services and resources related to employment, vocational training, education, housing, chemical health, mentoring, faith-based programming, and income support.
MCORP was a pilot project and is no longer operational.
Revocation (Technical Violations)-Participants in MCORP were also significantly less likely to receive a revocation for a technical violation, compared with the control group. Specifically, participating in MCORP lowered the risk of a technical violation revocation by 25 percent.
Reincarceration (New Offense)-There were no significant differences between the MCORP group and control group regarding reincarceration for a new offense.
Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net
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