"Today when I think of reentry court, I am reminded that nearly every offender sentenced to time in custody will return to the community from whence they came. And thus, every sentencing court is in fact, a reentry court, creating a pathway for the offender’s reentry into society." -Jeff Tauber

High Risk Offenders Do Better IN Half-Way Houses

THE BEST OF: The following article, initially published on April 4, 2010, makes clear the “Risk Principle”, that establishes that high risk offenders do significantly better in correctional programs than low to medium risk offenders.

 Reentry Courts, like other problem-solving courts, suffer from the reluctance of criminal justice practitioners and government leaders, to accept empirically established Evidence Based Practices. For example, some criminal justice practitioners have long been resistant to working with difficult high risk offenders that many programs are designed for, and  instead use “risk assessments” to  limit their programs to less challenging low risk offenders. Professor Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnatti, a national expert on residential correctional programs, has been at the forefront of the struggle to move criminal justice professionals and government leaders toward the adoption of Evidence Based Practices. To that end, he has written of the difficulties of changing criminal justice practices and policies  to reflect established Evidence Based Practices (see Prof. Latessa’s comments).

Now comes a  University of Cincinnati study, finding that low risk offenders have comparatively higher recidivism rates coming out of Ohio’s Residential Corrections Programs (such as half-way houses) than moderate to high risk offenders.  The new data confirms  their previous 2006 study (and the work of many other researchers). Their research reflects the well established “Risk Principle”, that offenders should be provided with supervision and treatment that are commensurate with their risk levels.

Professor Latessa points out that it is a waste of scarce resources to put low risk offenders into programs when they don’t need them, and when they would often do better and offend less at home, on probation or other limited monitoring protocols. [It should be noted that risk is not necessarily related to the seriousness of the offense committed, but the risk that the offender will reoffend].

Professor Lessora explains that  low risk offenders have the connections to home, school, job, family and friends that define them as low risk, and enterring a  residential corrections program can damage those connections, increasing their chances of reoffending.   Further, that when housed together in residential corrections programs, high risk offenders often corrupt and influence the low risk offenders, once again increasing their recidivism rate. On the other hand, the recently released data shows moderate to high risk offenders often take advantage of the services and treatment offered at residential corrections programs, significantly lowering their recidivism rates; a good reason to challenge  conventional wisdom, and carefully examining the applicability of Evidence Based Practices to your reentry court.

Systemic Approaches to Sentencing: Part 9

May 28, 2012

Evidence-Based Sentencing Systems are Cost-Effective: Part 9

The previous eight articles in this series are testimony to the potential of evidence based sentencing systems. Scientific and technological advances now make these systems cost-effective as well. The most cost intensive aspect of any evidence-based system are the court hearings for felons sentenced to local custody and/or supervision. There is a misconception, that in an evidence-based sentencing system, all felons would be seen in court on a regular basis (as most problem-solving courts tend to do). But science and technology has provided us with strategies and solutions that allow us to substantially reduce the need for additional court sessions and staff (the “Risk Principle”).

Validated risk/needs assessment tools developed over the past ten years allow us to determine a felon’s risk levels and how to best deal with the offender ( see “University of Cincinnatti Study on Risk Principle”) We now know that intensive supervision for low to medium risk offender (involving multiple appearances before the court) actually increases their levels of recidivism. In some jurisdictions, that understanding may actually reduce the total number of court appearances, as only those who have been determined to need intensive supervision and court monitoring would receive it. Felons who are traditionally “banked” as low-risk probationers would almost certainly be excluded. Those offenders who are considered medium risk offenders might be seen by the court on a very limited basis (perhaps one court appearance after beginning their jail sentence, with a second at the start of active probation supervision and a third at the completion of successful probation supervision). Depending on criminal background, history of violence, extent of imprisonment and other relevant factors, high-risk felons would be placed in an appropriate supervision and court monitoring track. (see video at bottom of article, for interview with Reentry Court judge Jeff Tauber, on the intensity of supervision and rehabilitative track required by serious and/or violent high risk parole violators)

A more universal fiscal concern relates to the over-staffing of problem-solving courts. The fact that many courts have more than a dozen employees attending staff meetings and court sessions is a major financial obstacle to the expansion of evidence-based sentencing systems (and other problem solving courts as well).  My experience as both a drug court and reentry court judge suggests problem-solving courts are often over-staffed ( see: A Minimalist Reentry Court for Recessionary Times). My Drug Court staffings in 1990 (admittedly a long time ago) had two persons present, the probation officer personally responsible for offenders to be reviewed, and myself. In a more recent experience on the Bench (2010-2011) , the San Francisco Parole Reentry Court operated with a staff of five; judge, program coordinator, case manager, defense attorney, and parole officer. It should be acknowledged that every problem-solving court has its own staffing requirements,  but the tools described above can also help keep court personnel to a minimum. The development of risk/needs assessment tools allows us to better categorize probation/parole offenders, placing them in customized court tracks, limiting the court time of program specialists, to sessions where their skills are truly needed. Similarly, technology allows us to share information and communications between program personnel and staff, limiting  the need for those present in court.

Finally, even problem-solving courts with significant operating cost, have shown themselves to be cost-effective (see California Study), substantially reducing custody and other criminal justice costs, and providing enormous savings to the community as a whole. This will undoubtedly be the case for evidence-based sentencing systems as well.

 

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