II. A Moment of Opportunity--Grounds for Optimism

Plenty of doubts and uncertainties were put on the table, as participants canvassed the reasons why community corrections is vulnerable at this moment, but the conversation was punctuated with strong arguments for optimism--opportunity was in the air. Grounds for optimism and descriptions of the opportunity were embedded in the personal experiences participants recounted, some of which we will simply quote. There were many descriptions of managerial, political, and substantive successes, but the optimists implicitly and expressly acknowledged a few important contextual developments which reveal and shape the strategic opportunity they see.

First, demand is high. While the public may lack confidence in probation and parole, in many places, the public needs effective community supervision of the millions of offenders in their midst who, unsupervised, pose public safety threats. And the public knows it. The demand rises almost by necessity from the routine operations of the criminal justice system. The majority of offenders cannot be imprisoned at sentencing--if only because there cannot be enough cells--and almost all who are imprisoned must in time be discharged. Expecting public safety gains or not, 48 of the 50 states do not return inmates to the community without parole or another form of correctional supervision. So the flow of offenders needing supervision--from the sentencing courts and prisons, to the community corrections agencies--is staggering, particularly in light of the limited resources available to manage the risks they represent. But, as Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson hinted when she opened this conversation, threats to public safety arise most obviously from the offenders in our midst--not from those who are presently incarcerated. In this sense, parole and probation orders are expressions of demand--demand for a kind of correctional supervision in the community which actually advances the community's interest in public safety there. Few public or private enterprises enjoy such a predictable, high and rising demand for the service in which they enjoy a monopoly interest. In this respect, overwhelming caseloads evidence unflagging demand for the very things the participants in this conversation want to produce.

Second, the competition is weak. On the surface, public demand for imprisonment is insatiable. That may be less because the public has confidence that ever more imprisonment will enhance its safety than because it knows of little else on which it can rely to hold offenders accountable for past conduct and to prevent them from causing future harm. But the public is not unaware that those who are imprisoned are returned in a condition not much improved from the one that led to their imprisonment. Ironically, the more use is made of imprisonment--the competing penal measure--the greater the demand for community corrections. This is because, after a brief respite, each additional prisoner returns, very much in need of effective correctional supervision--and because a failure to supervise them effectively upon their return substantially undermines any lasting public safety benefit the public gets from imprisoning offenders in the first place. Prisons, numerous though they are, lack the physical capacity to assure public safety and are located, not in the community where the threats to public safety arise, but in facilities far removed in time and place from the actual threats to public safety. Community corrections is simply in an extraordinarily good strategic position.

Third, the re-engineering underway in other parts of the criminal justice system is generating opportunities and useful lessons for probation and parole. "Community policing" and "problem-oriented policing" have transformed operations in a number of major police departments, positioning them to engage communities in new ways, to create and maintain public safety. It was clear from our conversation that many in community corrections are close observers of these developments in policing, and are deploying correctional personnel and resources to take advantage of those lessons and of the new police practices. Not only have a number of community corrections agencies explicitly adopted problem-solving and community-engaging approaches developed by police departments, they have discovered that these developments in policing make partnerships with police plausible--and in some circumstances more effective than the autonomous activity of each. Similar opportunities are presented by the community-engaging and problem-solving activities increasingly found in other elements of the criminal justice system: drug courts, community prosecution, and the bundle of initiatives generally identified as "community justice." In all of these developments, the strategic idea is to bring to bear on public safety problems bottom-up forces that more powerfully shape public safety than the criminal justice system acting alone. While these innovations are not always well-defined, and while their specifics are enormously various, they afford additional grounds for optimism in probation and parole--about the potential gains of focusing on and engaging communities as well as individual offenders, and about communities' willingness to be engaged.

In our conversation, far more descriptions of innovative approaches to community corrections were offered than we can sketch here: community and restorative justice programs in Oregon; juvenile court interventions in Detroit; imaginative deployments of an influx of new community corrections agents in North Carolina; operation Nightlight in Boston; active partnerships between community corrections and neighborhoods in New York, in Wisconsin and elsewhere--each of which plausibly claims to be advancing public safety.

To summarize all that testimony here would render it lifeless. Instead, we set out in some detail the edited remarks of three unambivalent optimists. First, Mark Carey describes how, in the face of declining resources and rising caseloads, Dakota County, Minnesota, manages substantial new engagements with victims and with communities. Then, Norman Helber detailed the benefits he sees flowing from a style of community-oriented, place-based offender supervision he has been able to develop in various neighborhoods of Phoenix, Arizona. Gerald Hinzman then mapped the complex ways in which his Correctional Services Department in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, now relates to the public it serves.


We're a very fast growing county: Our offender population [14,000] is growing by 14 percent a year…. Our budget and staff is increasing by about 8 percent a year. So, since 1991 when I arrived in that county, we have been losing 6•percent a year. That's why we've reorganized four times since 1991….

We had a very interesting dialogue with staff when we had budget cuts last year…. I came in with a bag of Legos, and I built up three towers. Tower 1 was made of red Legos; it was this high. Tower 2 was yellow; it was about half that size. And tower3 was green and barely rose above the surface. What I said is: "These are the resources we're allocating in the department. That red tower is for offender services. We are almost all offender services. Fortunately, through our restorative justice initiative, we've built up Victim Services. It's about half as tall. And, finally, the community, which is our third customer, is barely a blip on our screen." The budget cut discussion resulted in staff saying things like: "I think we ought to move some of those blocks out of Victims Services and put them on the offenders' side, because we're not doing a good enough job with them." Others said, "No, we gotta balance this out." It was a very interesting discussion [until] I shoved all those Legos into a garbage can and presented a new model--a square that had all three colors sprinkled through it. And that was the message to them… we have three customers, and everybody in this agency is required to come up with case plans for supervision of offenders that have outcomes related all three customers--offender, victim, and community. So, each case plan drives that home. [It has to] ask three questions: "What are you, the offender, going to do to reduce the possibility of committing new crime? Second question: What are you, the offender, going to do to restore your crime victim? And the third one is: What are you, the offender, going to do to give back and involve the community?"

Sprinkled throughout this construct, then, are restorative and community justice initiatives. There's a bunch of them. I'll only mention three.

One is community conferencing: This is where we have very significantly involved the victim and the community--ranging from victim/offender dialogue to family group conferencing to circle sentencing, which has … involved citizens to a degree that I've never seen people involved before, where they're actually deciding, with the judge's participation, what the sentencing should be for felons in their community.

The second major one is school-based probation, which has had tremendous influence in our partnerships with both the schools and the community. And the third is our law enforcement initiative, where we're teaming with law enforcement to address the needs of the top 30 high-risk kids in the community.

So, the construct is there for managing [14,000] offenders, and sprinkled throughout are the restorative and community justice initiatives that are formulated through the case plans and programming.


About five years ago, I was seated around a table [with] a lot of bureaucrats from various government [agencies] dealing with justice, and a lot of citizens, and the topic was … crime. The sheriff wanted to talk about the need for additional [jail] capacity…. The prosecutor talked about how they should address the crime du•jour, whatever that was five years ago. And I spoke about the need to get community buy-in on what we were then calling "intermediate sanctions." Seated next to me was a woman who said, "I'm so disturbed at what I've heard from all of you. You don't get the point. You don't see what crime is all about. I want you to talk about how I can go to the mall at night and shop and walk to my car without getting mugged." And this … said to me that … probation just wasn't touching the community.

[A little later] we wanted to have a probation presence in Garfield. A building was available, and a politician from the City of Phoenix said, "I won't stand in your way of moving into that building as long as every citizen in the Garfield neighborhood wants you there. But if there's one that doesn't, you're not moving there--I got news for you." That forced us to meet with the community leadership of Garfield … a whole series of public meetings. At the last, we were talking about community service, how we were using the people we had on probation to help them beautify their neighborhood and make improvements. And a little old lady put up her hand and said, "You've got all these people and they're all on probation and they're willing to work for our neighborhood--I appreciate that. There's a lot of gang trouble and there's a lot of drug problems and there's a lot of cleanup they could do in here. But do you think you could have them on Saturday mornings take us for walks? Because it's too dangerous to walk around this neighborhood anymore." And I thought … wonderful! And we did that.

Story No. 3 involves the Coronado neighborhood, nearby. Moved in there about three years ago. [W]e met again with all the community leadership and said, "What can we do in this neighborhood?" I was moving three probation officers in there … and they started working on things I never would have thought of in my life were things the community was concerned about, [like] the speed of cars going down back alleys between the rows of houses--a danger for their children. Well, now we've completely rebuilt the Coronado Neighborhood Association headquarters, re-roofed it, painted it, gave them a landscape that gave something they were really proud of in that neighborhood. And when the probationers were all done [with that] work, the president of the Neighborhood Association invited all those people on probation over to her home for a cookout…. A year later, about a month ago, my wife and I were at a charity event•and were getting ready to leave and a woman approached me and said, "You're the chief probation officer, aren't you?" And I said yes and she said, "Well, you probably don't remember me. We met at this meeting" And she said, "I just want to tell you about the three probation officers you have in this Coronado neighborhood"--and she preceded to name them, which I couldn't do. She named them, and she said, "Let me tell you about what they're doing and what they have done… You know, our neighborhood association met just a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about the impact the probation department has had in this community. It came down to this: If we had to lose one or the other, we would rather keep the probation department and lose the police." And I thought, it's kinda gone full circle.


One of our neighborhoods was really distressed about some crime issues and … asked a lot of politicians to come out. It was a half-hour news special on all our television stations. The politicians were in the front row and then they had a bunch of bleacher bums like myself sitting behind them, looking like we were supporting them, and they talked…. [But] afterward some people from the neighborhood approached [me] and asked what Corrections could do to help them. And so we made a commitment [and] we created a neighborhood survey that we distributed through the water bill for all of Cedar Rapids, asking what their key issues were. We were looking for drugs, gangs, public safety … and they certainly were in the top 10. But No.•1 was: "There's not enough day care in our neighborhoods." No. 2 was: "Can somebody please help us raise our children? We're hardworking and our children are alone at night, latch-key kids coming home from school, there's gangs out here and we don't want them to get involved. Can anybody develop a program for these children after school?" So, we started filling some of those voids through a nonprofit foundation we created…. [L]ater, as community policing was catching on in our communities, the neighbors came to us and said, "Gary, why aren't you involved in this? Your probation officers on the street have more impact than the cops do--because you know who all these guys are and we know that, and they're afraid. So, why aren't you involved in this?" So, we didn't have to ask for permission to get involved--the community came to us….

Now we have … seven or eight very active advisory boards from the community for our broad-scope efforts, with … participation from victims and from the community [to help us] introduce offenders into … pro-social support systems in the neighborhoods they came out of, to make them citizens of that community. If we fail to do that, they're going to come right back through our system.

[We have] our partnerships between community corrections and law enforcement, and a special corrections unit of police reserve officers actually working for us … doing surveillance and furlough checks. [But we also] have a community office, which we call a Family Resource Center, where human services, child protective services, victim support services, anti-violence groups, us, and the police are all co-located and providing holistic services. We have Byrne grants: one is for the collaboration between us and the law enforcement people; and the other is for the collaboration we have with a group of nonprofits where we identify families that are really dysfunctional, when we have somebody in that family under supervision, and then we develop holistic and wrap-around services for that entire family to deal with them at one time. Our private nonprofit foundation that gives us another way to deliver services using private money as well as public, and sometimes we match those together.

Finally, we have entered into a partnership with some private and some not-for-profit organizations to create another 501(c)(3) organization, as the umbrella organization, so we can share resources across jurisdiction boundaries, both private and public sectors. I think that [unless] you collaborate and build partnerships that are lasting, they can be very fragile, sometimes depending on one person within an agency to continue them. I think there needs to be a good foundation.

The significance of these accounts of innovation and optimism was given powerful emphasis by Mario Paparozzi, President of the American Probation and Parole Association, when he contrasted them with the style of community corrections supervision he encountered early in career:

My caseload was 6 blocks of high-rise housing projects. My colleague had the rest of the block, and we were good--we won Parole Officer of the Year. We'd go out at 6:30 in the morning when everybody was asleep and just do a ton of home visits and make our "contact standards." I wasn't doing good supervision. I wasn't doing something valued by the community. But if a case went bad, they could pull my book and say "well, he not only met his contact standards, he exceeded them."

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