Posts Tagged recidivism

Recidivism is Expensive, Let’s Try Something Else

Published by EducationNews.org — Trying to punish people into compliance costs a lot, and more importantly, doesn’t work.

jail

This is our third look at how Judge Pamela Williams, in her mental health court in Nova Scotia, successfully kept offenders from further contact with police, courts, and jail.  Using the CoSA model — see last week’s column — she worked with experts in different fields to figure out how to “help them out of the place that they are in,” as she put it.

Today’s question is: CoSA works, but at what cost?

To set the stage, first conjure in your mind an Excel budget sheet.  Labels at the top read: Housing, Health, Mental Health, Prison, Courts, Children Protective Services, Schools, Higher Ed, Workforce Development, and I’m sure you can think of more.  Each of these state or city public services has its own mission, and not to confuse things, each has its own huge budget spreadsheet. Hierarchies, job descriptions, and business habits are baked into those budgets, leaving little flexibility.  So as we consider another of Judge Williams’ stories illustrating her Court’s challenges, mentally map where various costs might be posted, but remember that Judge Williams herself controls only her portion of the Excel column marked “Courts.”

A woman we’ll call Rosalie was “a very complex case.”

Rosalie had limited intelligence, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.  Also, she was an unusually large woman, which added to the extent that she was hard to control at times.

Occasionally she’d sink into a depression so severe she became suicidal.  She’d sneak out of her group home and head for a particular bridge where she’d threaten to end her life.  Not that she did.  But the police couldn’t just let traffic flow by an apparent suicide in progress; they had to close the bridge.  Bridges over water, such as this one, have no side streets to which traffic can be diverted.

A competent bean-counter could probably arrive at a solid estimated cost for the small platoon of police needed to get her into an ambulance or patrol car… and the emergency efforts of the Department of Transportation, her subsequent hospitalization, public defenders, and so on.  However, it’s impossible to monetize the inconvenienced drivers who were late to appointments, no-shows at job interviews, or charged extra for late daycare pick-up.

Yes, of course they had tried to stop her.  Ferverently.  Rosalie had been in court repeatedly, jailed, on probation, back in prison — caught in an expensive, vicious cycle.  The Law could keep her locked up, but she was a wretched innocent, not a criminal deserving the punishment of prison.  The costs of punishing her into compliance were also not cheap, but more importantly, not working.

The traditional courts sent her over to Judge Williams.

Williams assembled her CoSA team of professionals, including the directors of Rosalie’s group home.  Obviously the directors had talked to the police and other agencies on her behalf.  But under what circumstances, other than a CoSA meeting at Williams’ court, would they sit down together to get it to stop?  Typically, the psychiatrist of record hardly talks to the therapist, never mind solves problems with a team that includes family and other stakeholders.  Where is the Excel column for cross-agency collaboration?

In any case, the group discovered that Rosalie absolutely treasured her home.  It was comfortable, with kind friends who took her back, fed and soothed her.  They concluded that her love of her home could be carefully deployed as leverage.  No one wants to do tough love.  But they worked with Rosalie to get a deal with her — if she did her bridge thing again, she would be banned from the home and need to live somewhere else.

Predictably, in time, it happened once more.  Williams didn’t say where Rosalie lived or for how long after her poor choice.  Wherever it was, she hated it passionately, as all had hoped.  Per prior agreement, and after a painful amount of time, she was allowed back into the home and never offended again.  It worked.

Williams says, “We have one mental-health court.  Even that court doesn’t have enough resources.  It’s expensive to restore broken people and relationships.  The people around those offenders are broken.  Victims are broken.”  Everyone involved in a crime needs the healing powers of restoration — or the problems linger, or worse, fester.

But only through sheer power of persuasion, and judicious use of scarce resources, did Judge Williams get experts from across the Excel spreadsheet to jump their column.  Who pays for that?  No group home runs on such a cushy margin, they can easily send people for team meetings.  Therapists and psychiatrists don’t work for free, so the entire spreadsheet would have to ease up so the resources are there to make up these teams.   Think of the cost savings to Police, Health, Transportation, etc.

Recidivism is absurdly expensive.  Rosalie’s trips to the bridge cost a fortune.  Stopping them, in a humane fashion, saved a lot of money for Police, Transportation, Emergency Medicine, and more, not to mention the taxpaying public.  If the real goal of Justice is to reduce recidivism, Judge Williams has excellent answers.  What we’re doing now doesn’t work for anyone.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Reducing Recidivism Requires Strong Political Will

Published by EducationNews.org — The challenge is to keep offenders from just cycling through traditional systems that don’t work.

circle

Back in the 1990s a Mennonite minister, Harry Nigh, developed a protocol for radically reducing recidivism among sex offenders.  The common assumption to this day — probably even yours — is that nothing can be done about this particularly creepy form of criminal activity.  Not true.

The Circle of Support and Accountability, or CoSA, works amazingly, as I first learned from expert Robin Wilson.  Furthermore, CoSA works so well, it’s being used to divert or re-integrate those who’ve committed all sorts of crimes.  In fact, in a recent workshop designed to scale up Restorative Justice in Vermont, the practitioner attendees talked as if it were the go-to model for virtually all social service problems.  We’ll get an example in a moment.

Know first that the CoSA research data rocks:

*  83% reduction in recidivism for sexual offenses

*  73% reduction in recidivism for all types of violent offenses

*  71% overall reduction of in all types of recidivism in comparison to matched groups of offenders who did not have a CoSA.

The model is fairly simple.  Picture an inner and an outer circle, with the “core member,” or offender, at the center.  The inner or informal circle is made up of family, friends, neighbors, fishing pals, whoever is willing to have regular, frequent contact with the person getting help.  CoSA for the sex offenders mostly uses trained volunteers, but volunteers could be added to any team if the person is very isolated.

The outer circle consists of professionals who work on the more complex barriers to success — addiction, housing, psychiatry, social services.  Here’s a graphic of the model.  Wrapping a person in structured support seems like an intuitive way of solving social problems.  Think of extended families working together to raise a particularly difficult kid.

Nathan suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome

A young man we’ll call Nathan came before Judge Pamela Williams’ mental health court in Nova Scotia.  (Last week’s column has more about her and mental health courts.)  Babies born of women who drink alcohol heavily during any part of the pregnancy can be born with conditions like hyperactivity, developmental delays, speech and language delays, and low intelligence.

Nathan could not, as Judge Williams said, “connect the dots.”  Cause and effect meant nothing to him.  Consequences were meaningless.  He’d been jailed by the traditional courts for a variety of criminal charges.  His drug involvement only increased his disruptiveness and irrationality.  His parents were at wits’ end.  Lastly, it had come to light that he was being sexually exploited by an older man.  The traditional court judges sent him over to Judge Williams, whose claim to fame was her remarkably low recidivism rate.

Judge Williams had become increasingly adept at using CoSA.

As she put it, in the Vermont workshop, the challenge was to build Nathan an “external brain.”  Parents are their children’s external brain until the kids are mature enough to make good decisions on their own.  Nathan would never make great decisions autonomously.

Over her years as a judge, Williams had collected expert collaborators into teams, one for health, one for job skills, homelessness, and so forth.  Depending on the case, the appropriate team would help her form that professional circle of experts who understood how to keep problematic people out of the courts, prisons and hospitals.  When the experts had done their assessments, Williams brought the immediate parties into her court for a restorative-justice conference — the pros, Nathan and his parents.  Together they designed a plan that could work for everyone, especially Nathan.

Nathan was far more high-maintenance than Jane, the bipolar gambling addict of last week’s story.  Unlike Jane, Nathan’s informal inner circle will always need ongoing professional support.  So the first order of business was to get him into a structured living environment capable of monitoring Nathan’s constant needs.  That allowed his previously-oppressed parents to become his fun companions on outings and visits.

Nathan’s access to the internet was supervised.  But importantly, Williams’ mental health team alerted the police to online sexual exploitation, and that led to a conversation about working with the cops on the problem.  Restorative justice uses the crime at hand to look into the future for ways to eliminate or mitigate issues the crime has revealed.  The professionals helped Nathan fill his free time with more productive activities.  Through assessments, they found that Nathan could work successfully as a flagger on road projects — work that makes him so proud that he’s highly motivated to cooperate.

Oh, you betcha.  CoSA is labor-intensive.  But it works.  Williams considers it her judicial charge and challenge to keep offenders from cycling through traditional systems that don’t work.

Ah, but at what cost?  Next week, the last column in this series will consider costs.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Treat Juvenile Crime as a Mental and Social Disease

Published by EducationNews.org — Change the way we’re having this conversation.  Focus on the crime as a symptom.

juvenile_crime

Crime among juveniles is a symptom of a problem.  Our system doesn’t question the root cause of the issue, but asks instead:  Is the kid guilty or innocent?  If guilty, what’s the punishment?

As a result, this scenario takes place all over the nation, daily:  Bust a kid and send him to prison, which makes him worse.  In time, send him back to the community that didn’t know what to do with him in the first place.  Repeat.  And according to statistics, keep repeating.

Within 5 years, 77% of released prisoners in U.S. are re-arrested.

Recidivism rates specific to juveniles are extremely hard to come by.  Some states don’t track the kids as they age and cross into the adult system.  Recidivism itself lacks a standard definition.  A large National Institute of Justice study of 30 states, though, provided the stat above.

So let’s go back to our scenario and unpack it for a closer look.  A kid 17 or younger commits a crime.  He — they’re usually “he” — vandalizes, steals, fights.  He’s caught, adjudicated and sent to a Corrections facility.  In my state, Rhode Island, the facility is called the Training School, which sounds like a dog obedience academy.

The offender spends a few days or months there, during which the long-range prospects for his mental state do no improve.  If his sentence is long enough, he learns all sorts of cool new tricks to add to his bad-kid repertoire.  Even if he only serves a few days, he still gets a reputation burnished with street cred.  Prison makes him more of a man.  Other students and younger siblings might look up to him.

In fact, a bit of juvenile detention is such a badge of honor that offenders I’ve seen wear shorts to school in zero-degree weather to show off their new fashion accessory:  an electronic ankle bracelet.  If parents and school staff thought he was a pain before his vacay in the can, now he’s untouchable.  The electronic tracker only requires him to be compliant about being in school, but he’s free to strut the hallways during class as he pleases.  School staff are torn between coaxing him into cooperation or just handing him back to the police and courts.  Odds are that he’s low-income and black or Hispanic, so Daddy’s not there to lawyer up and ship him off to boarding school to hide the shame.

Nope: he’s coming back to his family and community. But while the offender was gone, the community got nothing but a break from him and his behavior.  While some states and counties are a bit better than others, hardly anyone does much to prepare families and communities to receive back troubled kids.  No agency or public service deals with the conditions in which the trouble began, festered and grew. Almost inevitably, the cycle repeats.

The pipeline isn’t the problem; the prison is.

Prisons are easy repositories for the unwanted.  If crimes are symptomatic of mental and social illness, our response essentially damns the kid to a disease he’s left to cure on his own.  Kids who are violent might well be deranged, which is to say mentally ill, needing an intense hospital setting.  Perhaps the kid got caught up in a Fight Club street culture that is the entrance requirement to gang membership or just survival.  Street fighting is a social ill, and punishing individual kids isn’t going to heal that situation.  If anything, it makes kids meaner.

So removing the prison option and replacing it with a locked mental health facility would inevitably change the nature of the pipeline.  No one swaggers home from the hospital, locked or not.  If a kid’s impossible behavior results not in jail time but therapy, social work, and digging into the deeper issues of home and community, the pipeline itself would also take on a therapeutic rather than punitive quality.  If the pipeline focused on healing mental and social illness, it would likely keep more kids out of hospitals and prisons.  If nothing else, it would be cheaper.

The RI Training School costs $186,380 per kid, per year.

RI is above the national average, which is $148,767, but less than half than New York’s annual cost of $352,663.  Surely we could spend the money more effectively, especially by putting a good portion of it into communities that desperately need help reducing their own crime.  Parents need help long before the kid starts skipping school regularly.  Families desperately need help with mental health and addiction services, with education and job training, with residential stability.  So put that money where it can avoid or at least mitigate misery for the kid, family and community.

No kid was born with a “bad” gene.  They live in conditions that grow social weeds.  Poor kids grow up on mean streets.  Rich bad kids are nurtured in entitlement and a sense that the rules don’t apply to them.  Rich or poor, change the conditions.  Change the way we’re having this conversation.  Focus on the crime as a symptom.  Otherwise, we are living the definition of insanity.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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