(This is the ninth of 10 posts. Each is a chapter from the Building a Safe Community project I did for the county.)
The Resource Intervention Center: An innovative model for national – and local – success to stop the revolving door
In-jail alternative-to-incarceration programs are becoming increasingly common around the country as local and state criminal justice systems adopt the best practices for reducing recidivism.
Standalone facilities like Winnebago County’s Resource Intervention Center are rare, if indeed, they exist at all. Preliminary research could find nothing similar, although there are similarities to traditional day reporting centers like the one in Cook County.
The Resource Intervention Center in downtown Rockford is the only facility of its kind in Illinois. It is a one-stop center for life-changing, alternative-to-incarceration programs for moderate- and high-risk criminals on probation.
In February 2008, the center opened in the old “satellite jail,” itself the former Montgomery Ward store at 214 N. Church St., in downtown Rockford. The Resource Intervention Center programs and its bare bones staff are funded by the one percent “jail sales tax,” approved by voters in 2002.
In 2012, the Resource Intervention Center took another major step and extended its programming to connect directly with potential employers to provide jobs for successful clients. In May, the center will host its first, two-day Resource Fair. The staff has connected one-on-one with more than a dozen potential employers, some of whom have already hired Resource Intervention Center clients.
Winnebago County’s 17th Circuit Court has been in the forefront of criminal justice best practices for almost two decades as it introduced specialty courts, alternative dispute resolution and alternative-to-incarceration programs.
Championed by its chief judges, County Board Chair Scott Christiansen, the Criminal Justice Commission and the County Board over those years, alternative-to-incarceration programs inside the jail proved exceptionally effective in reducing recidivism – a leading cause of jail overcrowding and escalating crime rates.
Beginning in 2007 with the opening of the new 1,212-bed Criminal Justice Center, the county and the courts introduced evidence-based, alternative-to-incarceration programs – and when those proved effective, they created the standalone Resource Intervention Center.
The most effective in-jail programs were replicated at the center for two reasons: (1) easy access to alternative-to-incarceration programs would encourage sustained participation; and, (2) offenders on probation need the wrap-around risk and needs assessments, monitoring and customized services that create the support and structure to keep them from re-offending and returning to jail.
How the Resource Intervention Center works: The Resource Intervention Center, just half a dozen blocks from the county courthouse, offers 26 programs under a single roof.
The “single roof” concept is significant because it makes it easier – and eliminates most excuses – for clients to access services. The center is centrally located in downtown Rockford, near bus lines and within walking distance for most of its clients.
How an offender is referred to the Resource Intervention Center: The probation department or the pre-trial department refers candidates who are required to successfully complete a “readiness to change assessment.” That assessment is crucial: An offender who has no interest in changing his or her lifestyle will be unsuccessful and will inevitably re-offend.
The sophisticated assessment tools weed out most – though by no means all – of those who’d just as soon game the system.
If the offender makes it through that assessment, a probation officer is assigned to monitor the offender’s participation in the program.
Depending on the offender’s score on the readiness to change assessment, he or she immediately begins services at the center – or is required to successfully complete cognitive behavior classes before being allowed to move into the center programs.
Not everyone referred to the center makes it into the programs. In 2010, the center received funding to provide services to 710 offenders. The center completed 914 referral assessments and accepted 852.
Offenders stay in the programs at the center – if they pro-actively work at them. The staff works one-on-one with participants, and will go out of their ways to help them succeed – but they have no qualms about kicking out those who game the system or fail to show up.
“We have plenty who want in,” said one staffer during an August 2011 interview, “and who are serious about what we do. We don’t have the time or the chairs to waste on those who don’t want to change.”
The kinds of criminals who get into the Resource Intervention Center: As the in-jail alternative-to-incarceration programs serve inmates, the Resource Intervention Center serves those on probation. (The Resource Intervention Center does not serve state prison inmates who are on parole.)
Only those who are determined by the court to be at a moderate- to high-risk of committing another crime are referred to the center.
High-risk offenders referred to the center are those with arrest records that include criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Moderate-risk offenders include such charges as assault, forgery-counterfeiting, fraud, embezzlement, weapons possession, vandalism, stolen property, prostitution, sex offenses, drug abuse, gambling, offenses against family and children, driving under the influence, drunkenness, disorderly conduct.
Low-risk offenders are not generally referred to alternative-to-incarceration programs because research has definitively demonstrated that low risk offenders who participate in such services actually increase their rates of reoffending instead of deterring them from engaging in future criminal behavior. Criminal justice experts generally recommend evidence-based or promising deferral or diversion programs for first-timers or low-risk offenders to avoid this possibility.
The Resource Intervention Center consolidates its programming into three primary components. These three are the jail sales tax funded programs. There are additional programs at the Resource Intervention Center that are not funded by the jail sales tax.
The three primary components include:
- Outpatient substance abuse treatment, including individual and group counseling, case management and urinalysis monitoring. The center uses the nationally recognized Matrix Model of Outpatient Alcohol and Drug Program, which allows formal tracking, monitoring and evidence-based assessments. Remedies, formerly known as PHASE/WAVE, provides the programs and staffing.
- Partner Abuse Intervention Program (PAIP) for men referred through the judicial system and includes intake and orientation, group and individual counseling in accountability, conflict resolution and anger management. Remedies also provides the programs and staffing for PAIP.
- Education through Rock Valley College, including Adult Basic Education (ABE) and GED classes for high school equivalency diplomas; and job skills classes for job readiness, manufacturing skills and computer skills. Called the Higher Education Alliance of the Rock River Region (HEARRR), this component focuses on education and job skills. The job skills curriculum includes job readiness, manufacturing skills and computer skills.
The county partners with community not-for-profits and religious organizations for additional community-based programs. These programs include such agencies and organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous, Reformers Unanimous, and the extensive Rockford REACHOUT Jail Ministry. They currently receive no jail tax funding, though some did receive jail tax grants in past years.
The Resource Intervention Center staff includes professional staff from the partner organizations (and paid by those organizations), as well as a county-paid staff that includes licensed clinical social workers, an executive director, professional administrative staff and adult probation officers.
Among them, they share office space and they coordinate and customize client services.
“When I have a client who needs mental health or substance abuse intervention, I can just walk down the hall,” said one RIC probation officer interviewed in August 2011. “I don’t have to hope I can find a service in the community – and then hope my client will find a way to get there.”
Why the Resource Intervention Center works: The hallmark of the Resource Intervention Center – and, its supporters say, the main reason for its success – is the centralized, one-stop approach that ensures “wrap-around” services, risk and needs assessments, customized intervention and treatment, support, counseling, and education – and close, accountability-driven monitoring and mentoring by probation officers.
This is not, said participants in dozens of interviews in August 2011, a “soft on crime” approach. As one offender said “anyone who thinks this is easy ought to come down here and try it. Nobody is being soft on me. You got to want to change and change is hard.”
In September 2011, Winnebago County released the results of its three-year, evidence-based research.
Those results, researched and analyzed by the University of Illinois, will shape the county’s future decisions on program funding, staffing requirement, results expected from community partners and allocation of funding from under-performing programs and agencies to those with proven track records.
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.
A chance for a job: The Resource Intervention Center staff knows community leaders will measure its success by whether center clients get – and hold – jobs.
In May 2012, the center will host a two-day Resource Fair for the first time. Day one, which is expected to draw up to 500 participants, will include workshops on resume writing, public speaking, selecting appropriate work clothes and hair and makeup makeovers.
The goal is simple: Help clients prepare for a successful job interview. Day one is open to those 18 and over who are on probation whether or not they are center clients.
Day two, which is by invitation only, is designed for actual interviews with prospective employers. Only those with no pending cases, a clean drug screen and a completed GED or high school diploma are eligible for an invitation to return for day two.
Though there is no guarantee of available positions, day two may be the first time many clients have interviewed. Success for many simply will be completing this first step toward employment.
But Resource Intervention Center administrators are confident some jobs could be forthcoming.
Partners in the May Resource Fair read like a who’s who of successful Rockford organizations: EIGERlabs’ TechWorks, Rockford Career College, Rasmussen College, Rockford College, Youthbuild, Educators of Beauty, and Rock Valley College, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association, the Restaurant Association, NCO Group Inc., and Rock River Training Corporation, Society for Human Resource Management and Goodwill.
The task force coordinating the Resource Fair is focusing its attention on drawing in small businesses and small manufacturers as potential employers. Although there are limited federal or state laws limiting the hiring of people with criminal records, many national or multinational corporations have policies that prohibit such hiring.
It is up to the task force and center administrators to convince local employers with the power to make such decisions that they can – and should – consider hiring qualified staffers despite their criminal records. They are reaching out to churches, as well, asking for contacts and assistance in spreading the word.
It not an easy sell and the center is pragmatic in its approach. “We have a vested interest,” said one, “in ensuring that our people are prepared to enter the work place and to meet the expectations of these employers, who, admittedly, are taking a chance.”
The approach is as much, if not more, about tugging on the heartstrings, convincing potential employers to do the right thing, to take the risk that can make a difference – and to be willing to try it again when it fails.
It does fail. If getting the first job is tough work, ensuring that the new employee shows up on time the first – and tenth – day is more so. While center administrators couldn’t estimate their success record (the employment component of the program is too new), they know the hard-core people on probation won’t get to the next step of interviewing. “We’ll get 30 to sign up,” said one, “and 15 will show up.”
Despite the obstacles, the center staff faces them with enthusiasm. Theirs is a determination that springs from the belief that if they can help even one criminal go from incarceration to sustained employment, they have made a difference for that individual, their family and friends – and the community.
Gainful, sustained employment for its clients has been a center goal since the beginning. There were two obstacles.
First, the center opened just as the Rock River Valley tumbled into the Great Recession, which drove the local unemployment rate to almost 20 percent. Jobs for workers with strong, experienced resumes were scarce at best. Jobs for workers with criminal records – even workers with education and skills – didn’t exist.
But, even if the jobs were available, the Resource Intervention Center faces a second, perhaps even more daunting, obstacle: Many, if not most, of its clients have no idea how to show up for work. Bluntly, the culture for many, if not most, center clients is one of entitlement: I exist; therefore, you owe me a job. That will be for some an insurmountable obstacle.
That obstacle is one, however, the Resource Intervention Center is determined to overcome. The staff knows the community will not consider the center’s work successful unless it does.
Traditional employers and employees share a basic contract: a day’s pay for a day’s work.
Here’s the job. You have the education, skills and experience to do it. You come to work on time. You dress appropriately. You get along with other workers and your boss. You get the job done, preferably according to our expectations. You do this everyday forever. In turn, you get paid, and if you’re lucky, you get benefits and eventually a promotion.
It’s a contract so culturally universal that employers and employees take it for granted. That simple contract is unfamiliar territory for most Resource Intervention Center clients. It’s not that they can’t or won’t work; it’s that they have no culture of working.
“Everyone wants us to get these people jobs,” said one center administrator. “We’d like to do that, too. It’s important for a lot of reasons. But before we can get them a job, we have to teach them how. What most people take for granted, our clients are learning for the first time. They have to be employable.”
The center’s efforts to change the entitlement culture start with a no-nonsense approach to the basics.
Job readiness classes start with “thinking your way to employment.” And that means rooting out that sense of entitlement, or responding indignantly to being told what to do in the workplace. Street-thinking, said one administrator bluntly, doesn’t work on the job. Clients must move from thinking they “have to” work, to wanting to work.
Then comes the computer skills assessment. Just being able to complete an online application form is new territory for many center clients.
Presenting oneself – seeing themselves as employers see them – is a significant learning curve for many clients. They must learn how to dress. Write a cover letter and resume – and learn how to explain the “missing years” that may have been lost to substance abuse, mental health issues, incarceration. Carry on a job interview conversation.
And, over and over again, the mantra that they must show up for work on time, everyday, do the job and get along with others.
The Rock River Valley economy has improved just enough to give center administrators hope that there might be jobs available over the next year. The center’s successful track record over the past three years adds to the optimism that 2012 is a good time to extend the Resource Intervention Center’s programs to include an aggressive, community-based employment effort. The May Resource Fair is the first major, public way to start.
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
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