Conservatives Latch onto Prison Reform

march 13th

The results are in, the ride over. The only thing that liberals and conservatives appear to agree on is prison reform. It’s hard to argue the issue when everyone has adopted one side of the argument. As commented on in this website many a time, everyone is for prison reform these days, with hardly a squeak from prison guard unions or District Attorneys’ offices. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “Conservatives latch onto prison reform” describes the depth of the adoption of criminal justice reform by conservative leaders and advocacy groups.

What that means to those who have fought for reform for a very long time, is that the stars are aligned in the heavens, and it’s time to push hard for real prison reform. That means, not only returning prisoners to their communities with alternative community-based sentences, but keeping offenders out of prison in the first place, with Pre-Entry Courts that provide an alternative to prison. Reentry courts, for returning high risk offenders, will clearly  be a part of that reform package.

Yes, it’s time to demand reform, but it must be effective reform. If we mess this up, we could be waiting a very long time before we have another oppotunity. Everyone seems to favor alternatives to prison, but little is said of what alternatives we speak, their efficacy, or cost-effectiveness. Our greatest fear shouldn’t be that we will send prisoners home to poorly funded prison alternatives and find they don’t work. One thing worse that underfunding prison alternatives, is building a criminal justice system on the rotting structure of the exisiting one. Clearly reform needs to be built from the ground up, rather than funding existing programs that have never proven their worth, or worse, been found to be counter-productive. Reform has to be built on sound scientific evidence, based on decades of unassailable research, and memorialized in such publications as the Center for Effective Public Policy’s “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices” (see Cont: Evidence Based Practices Point the Way).

Cont: Evidence-Based Practices Point the Way

March 8th: Part II

The most succinct definition, taken from perhaps the best and most cogent publication on “Evidence Based Practices (EBP) in the Reentry Field, is as follows, ” Evidence Based Practices: The application of empirical research to professional practice” (p.7). This is an important definition to keep in mind, because it opens the door to  new concepts and applications, based on scientific research that will enhance, ground, and even empower your reentry court (or other reentry program).

The monograph from which the definition is taken, written by Mark Carey and Frank Domurad of the Carey Group, and described in an earlier post, deserves a second reference. “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices (Revised, January 2010), published by the Center for Effective Public Policy, under a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, is the best publication I have found on the application of EBP to Prisoner Reentry. As opposed to the many conceptual and intellectual descriptions of what EBP is or may be, this document breaks the concepts down to their basic elements (and can be read in  less than an hour). Though part of an eleven “coaching packet” series, put out by the Center for Effective Public Policy, in my opinion this monograph is the most useful and grounded of the series. (The following eight principles are fully described on pages 10-16 of the monograph)

Eight Evidence-Based Principles for Effective Interventions

1. Assess actuarial risk/needs.

2. Enhance intrinsic motivation.

3. Target Interventions.

a. Risk Principle: Prioritize supervision and treatment resources for higher risk offenders.

b. Need Principle: Target interventions to criminogenic needs.

c. Responsivity Principle: Be responsive to temperament, learning style, motivation, culture,

and gender when assigning offenders to programs.

d. Dosage: Structure 40-70% of high-risk offenders’ time for 3-9 months.

e. Treatment: Integrate treatment into sentence/sanction requirements.

4. Skill train with directed practice (use cognitive behavioral treatment methods).

5. Increase positive reinforcement.

6. Engage ongoing support in natural communities.

7. Measure relevant processes/practices.

8. Provide measurement feedback.

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