(This is the second of 10 posts. Each is a chapter from the Building a Safe Community project I did for the county.)
The Executive Summary: 10 observations, key points and trends
1. There are significant points of agreement among criminal justice experts and practitioners:
- A. Reducing recidivism – slowing down the revolving jail doors – is an important key to creating a safer community;
- B. Alternative programs that treat or work with the “whole” person reduce recidivism and are significantly less expensive than incarceration;
- C. Incarceration alone increases recidivism;
- D. Specialty courts, such as drug court, mental health court and domestic violence court, are effective in managing court caseload and ensuring appropriate sentencing;
- E. Aggressive community law enforcement, prosecution and defense are integral to creating both the reality of and perception of a safe community;
- F. We can no longer afford – if, indeed, we ever could – the costs of building, maintaining and staffing jails and prisons to house inmates, only to have them return again and again because they cannot function outside a cell.
2. Hours of interviews show this critical point clearly: Developing the required multi-faceted, multi-discipline approaches that reduce the rate at which offenders return to jail is a shared goal in Winnebago County – despite headline-making conflicts. And, there are qualified, experienced professionals throughout the system who know what to do, are doing it well and stand ready to do more.
In a subject as complex as this one, in which solutions are challenging and priorities difficult to set, it is not surprising that there was no shortage of disagreement. Despite the expected dissonance, the commitment to ensure the partnership’s success was evident.
3. There are multiple reasons for the escalating jail population, not all of them related to an increase in the number of crimes committed.
Winnebago County with the city of Rockford at its center is an urban metropolitan area – and no matter how it’s positioned, that means higher crime rates than in its suburban or rural neighbors.
Contributing to the growing Winnebago County jail population are more aggressive and effective policing on the streets, particularly in drug-related arrests; mandatory sentencing requirements; high bail coupled with decreased ability to pay; and, the State’s Attorney’s determination to prosecute offenders rather than plea bargain, which results in more offenders in jail awaiting trial.
4. Reducing recidivism is national standard for achieving a safe community and there are no either-or approaches. Reducing recidivism requires combining aggressive law enforcement, efficient court processes and alternative programs. It’s about locking up the right offenders forever and ensuring the rest don’t come back again.
5. Better than the national expectations: Winnebago County’s three-year results outperform national statistics.
National research indicates that “strong implementation of evidence-based practices and programs can reduce recidivism rates by 50 percent … (and that if 41) … states could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10 percent, they could save $645 million in averted prison costs in one year alone … and the drop in recidivism would mean fewer victims of crime.”
The same Pew Center study continues: “Research shows that the largest reductions in recidivism are realized when evidence-based programs and practices are implemented in prisons and govern the supervision of probationers and parolees in the community post-release.”
6. With three years of experience behind it, the Resource Intervention Center data is clear: As effective as the in-jail alternative programs are, RIC results are better still. And, both get significantly better results than any other type of program.
7. Those who believe the system is broken point to crimes committed by those on probation; to stunning increases in jail population, to a sluggish court system and to the county’s rankings on various “top 10-style” lists of high crime locations.
The facts point to a different reality in Winnebago County. Overall crime is down, recidivism is down and jail capacity is about what was projected when the jail was opened in 2007.
Indeed, the increased jail population – from about 400 per day prior to 2007 to just under 1000 per day now – is more the result of successful and aggressive policing practices and the bottleneck between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the courts as it is the result of increased crime on local streets.
8. Specific controls and priorities: Despite conversation to the contrary, Winnebago County has implemented strong controls over its alternative programs and appropriations from the jail sales tax revenues. Each year, as it became more experienced with the national best practices that get proven results, the county has refined and toughened those criteria. No results, no evidence-based proof? No funding. Those criteria include:
A. Targeted populations:
(1) Winnebago County adult offenders on probation with a moderate- to high-risk of reoffending. Low-risk offenders and programs for them are no longer included or funded.
Why this is important: Low-risk offenders are more likely to reoffend if they participate in alternative programs. Low-risk offenders are better served through deferred prosecution programs or diversion programs.
(2) In-jail offenders with moderate- to high-risk of reoffending and who are expected to be incarcerated long enough to complete the treatment or continue the treatment after being released.
Why this is important: Successfully completing alternative treatment programs takes weeks or months. Many inmates are released or transferred to the state Department of Corrections. If there are no follow-up programs available or if they do not access them, these inmates do not benefit from the programs – and use services that should be used for inmates with a greater potential for successful completion.
B. Prioritized programming: Agencies must use evidence-based programming and “readiness to change” theories in providing one or more of the following types of programming: (1) cognitive behavior therapy; (2) dual diagnosis treatment of substance abuse and mental illness; (3) drug and alcohol treatment; (4) anger and abusive behavior programs that focus on self-control; (5) education tied to job skills and job placement; (6) programs that strengthen the family by reducing violence, teaching parenting skills, reducing abuse of illegal substances, and providing comprehensive services to families.
Why this is important: There are many worthy and supportive agencies, faith-based initiatives and self-improvement programs that do not meet the stiff, formal and evidenced-based processes required for each of those six priorities. By adhering to the nationally recognized standards for statistical proof and professionally directed outcomes, Winnebago County ensures funding is allocated appropriately and that only results-oriented programming is in place.
C. Evaluation: Any agency seeking new jail tax funding – or asking for continued funding – must implement an evidence-based evaluation plan and provide the data to evaluators.
Why this is important: Accountability, both for how money is spent and how successfully it is spent.
9. The Resource Intervention Center is in high demand by offenders and by probation officers and court services that refer offenders. The organizations and agencies that provide services at the center filled 120 percent of their funded slots with participants in treatment, a higher fill rate than that of the in-jail programs (89 percent) and the community-based programs (84 percent.)
10. What comes next? Over the past three years, Winnebago County made significant strides to bring nationally recognized best practices into its alternative-to-incarceration programs. The significant declines in the recidivism rates at the Resource Intervention Center and in the jail programs demonstrate the effectiveness of those improvements. The Office of Court Services, county administrators and program directors, as well as the 17th Judicial Circuit Court judges are shaping funding and programs for 2012 with these recommendations in mind:
- A. Allocate jail sales tax funding exclusively to evidence-based programs that directly affect expected results
- B. Allocate jail sales tax funding to the most-needed programs: readiness to change; dual diagnosis; and, substance dependency
- C. Improve the intake needs and risk assessment process to improve identification of potential participants most likely to succeed and the completion rates of inmates participating in the in-jail alternative programs.
- D. Expand programming at the Resource Intervention Center by adding mental health treatment, including dual diagnosis treatment for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders
- E. Focus educational programming on employable job skills and assist participants in finding employment.
1. The report: How it came about and what I did
2. Executive summary: My ten conclusions and observations from the report
3. An overview: Among the dissonance, agreement
4. The past 40 years: Changes on the national level
5. Winnebago County criminal justice system: From command-and-control to wrap-around-services
6. Crime in Winnebago County
7. The impact of the one-cent public safety sales tax
8. Alternative to incarceration: Better results. Lower costs
9. The Resource Intervention Center: A 21st century model
10. A week at the RIC