Observations Do drug and other specialty courts reduce recidivism? President Trump Wants Drug Courts-Do They Work? Like evaluations of programs for serious offenders, outcomes for drug, mental health, and veteran’s courts are limited to small decreases in recidivism. For many, the focus is on low-level, low-risk offenders who may not need intensive treatment. Author Leonard […]
Pennsylvania corrections chief John Wetzel launched the two-day Washington meeting with an appeal to legislators, corrections administrators, police chiefs and health officials to work together on evidence-based solutions. Another speaker said the White House would back unspecified reforms.
To many Americans, “criminal justice reform” means addressing two prominent challenges: reining in abusive police officers or cutting prison populations.
This week, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators brought teams from all 50 states to Washington, D.C., to underline the fact that reform means much more than that.
In opening remarks Monday to the two-day “50-State Summit on Public Safety,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel called on fellow justice officials to abandon the “stovepipe approach” of handling issues in isolated silos of the justice system and seek cooperation with experts in other areas.
Wetzel’s remarks set the tone for the meeting, which was aimed at presenting officials in each state with a detailed analysis of their crime issues, including trends in arrests, recidivism and “behavioral health,” and help them come up with evidence-based solutions.
Summit attendees include all state prison directors, 41 state legislators, 35 state behavioral health directors, 15 police chiefs, and 12 sheriffs.
A major theme that surfaced early in the session is that issues often labelled as “criminal justice” problems, such as mental illness and addiction, can be handled just as well by public health authorities.
“Mental health needs are overwhelming the criminal justice system,” warned Fred Osher of the state government group, who presided over a panel on “Growing Crises.”
“Crime in the U.S. often is described only in terms of national trends, while in reality, the problem differs greatly among states and localities. For example, the violent crime rate nationally is much lower than it was in the 1990s, but 18 states have reported rising violence totals in recent years.”
A panel of three police chiefs, Renee Hall of Dallas, J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md., and Anthony Campbell of New Haven, Ct., discussed a range of approaches being tried in their areas, including more police involvement with schools, and programs to help chronic criminals get jobs.
Hall said police “are not social workers,” but they still believe in forging partnerships with businesses and outside the justice system to help reduce repeat criminality.
In fact, recidivism is another major topic of discussion at the summit, particularly trying to reduce repeated crime among people on probation, a topic not often discussed at such conferences.
Critics often point to the U.S. prison and jail population that tops 2 million, but it’s often overlooked that more than twice as many are on probation or parole.
Repeat crime among those released from prison is 40 percent or more in many states, depending on how it’s measured. The fact that more than 4.6 million people were on probation or parole as of 2015 means that even the lower repeat-crime rate among those convicts mean many more total “recidivism events” by probationers every year, said the Council of State Governments’ Andy Barbee.
Criminologist Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati told the conference that too many probation and parole officers act like “referees” whose main job is to determine whether probationers and parolees have violated rules and should be sent back to custody.
Instead, he argued, they should be trained more as “coaches” to take active steps that would prevent those on their caseloads from reoffending.
Bryan Collier, criminal justice director in Texas, and Kathy Waters, probation director for the Arizona Supreme Court, described how their states have used variations on that approach to reduce the totals of people whose probation and parole has been revoked in recent years. Such offenders have accounted for a large percentage of new prison admittees in many states.
The conference heard about a new “Face to Face” program sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in which public officials are encouraged to meet directly with convicts to hear about their challenges in getting job training or education behind bars.
Attendees were shown a video of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visiting prisons. The effort is a bipartisan one. Participants so far include Reynolds, a Republican, along with Republican governors of Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada, and Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, and North Carolina.
One governor who has criminal justice reform high on the agenda is Republican Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a businessman who made a featured appearance at the summit on Monday.
Bevin has backed reforms including easier expungement of some criminal records by former inmates and “banning the box” to bar state officials from asking applicants about their criminal pasts.
He also has started pilot programs in seven adult and juvenile corrections facilities to improve job training for inmates, and is working to remove prohibitions on former convicts’ obtaining state licenses for many occupations.
Bevin took part in a recent White House meeting with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to discuss potential justice reforms on the federal level.
The governor said he came away “very confident” that the White House will back reform measures, although he didn’t specify which ones.
Bevin said he was not confident that Congress would agree, although he praised several Republicans, including his state’s Sen. Rand Paul, for joining the reform movement.
After the summit, the U.S. Justice Department will offer “technical assistance” to as many as 25 states to pursue reform measures.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center will issue a report in January with its detailed state crime and justice findings.
The summit is being funded by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Tow Foundation.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Observations Electronic monitoring data on reductions of technical violations and returns to prison indicate the possibility of a more effective and humane way to supervise high-risk offenders. But the only effective way for that to happen is to staff a real-time, 24-365 operation where there are experts to evaluate the data points and to come […]
Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Article Three […]
Observations I’m suggesting that we focus almost exclusively on mental health and the co-occurring issue of substance abuse. With budget limitations, we can’t be all things to all people. Are we at the point where we need to completely rethink our approach to programs for offenders? Little will happen until we stabilize people in need. […]
Observations Has “nothing works” been replaced by “nothing works well?” With new data from the Department of Justice regarding a signature program, it seems that rehabilitation or reentry programs for offenders are on life support. Are we misleading the American public about the impact of rehabilitation programs? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of […]
Observations So the bottom line is that we can “manage” the probation population by limiting interactions. But unlike the advocates, I’m not going to tell you that it’s without a risk to public safety. The bottom line is that people caught up in criminal activity tend to continue their offending. The American criminal justice system […]
Observation Ban the box isn’t working, but few want to train offenders for employment self-sufficiency or issue them certificates of rehabilitation. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s […]
Observation Most of the data is not encouraging, indicating that we have a long way to go as to effective offender rehabilitation. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department […]
A three-year study of participants in a Florida mental health court—the longest of its kind—found “significantly” lower re-arrest rates among individuals who completed the program of community-based treatment and counseling.
A three-year study of participants in one Florida mental health court program found that the rate of recidivism dropped “significantly” after they successfully completed the course of treatment mandated by the court as an alternative to jail time.
According to the authors of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) study, their findings, which represent the longest period of examination of mental health court outcomes of any previously published study, demonstrates that alternative courts can end the “revolving door” which cycles many mentally troubled individuals between jail and the streets.
“The ‘revolving door’ has been exhaustive of institutional resources, resulting in such a poor system of treatment that many argue that the system …treats offenders with mental health challenges to the extent that recidivism is inevitable,” wrote the study authors, Julie Costopoulos of FIT’s School of Psychology; and Bethany Wellman, a doctoral student at the school.
Their study of 118 participants in a Florida mental health court, which was not named, found that three months after release, 90% were not rearrested. After six months, 81% remained free of any charges; and three years after release, 54% had not recidivated.
Just as significantly, the authors found that those participants who were re-arrested were picked up usually for much lesser offenses than those which originally landed them in trouble with the law.
The authors claimed the study provided additional evidence that the targeted community-based treatment mandated by the mental health court helped participating individuals develop the skills and confidence to overcome their illness to the extent they could avoid repeated involvement with the justice system.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics study cited by the authors found that 55% percent of male inmates and 73 % of female inmates in the U.S. were mentally ill, with 23% of those mentally troubled individuals experiencing incarceration three or more times.
With the phase-out of many mandated mental health commitments to state hospitals and similar facilities for the justice-involved over the last decades, criminal justice experts say jails and prisons are now effectively the largest treatment facilities for mental health in the U.S.
Mental health courts are among several court-based innovations aimed at providing alternatives to imprisonment for first-time or nonviolent offenders. The first mental health court was established in Broward County,Florida in 1997. But their numbers still remain comparatively low; as of 2016, there were some 300 such courts around the country, many of them funded under the 2002 federal Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project.
The FIT authors say their study should add more weight to arguments that alternative treatment for mentally ill offenders is cost-effective, and benefits both individuals and public safety.
“Jail doesn’t stop crimes by the mentally ill,” Costopoulos said in an interview published soon after the study.
The complete study, “The Effectiveness of One Mental Health Court: Overcoming Criminal History,” was published June 21 online in the Psychological Injury and Law journal. It is available for purchase here, but journalists who would like a copy should contact TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie at Victoria@thecrimereport.org
Readers’ comments are welcome.