THE HONORABLE DEBORAH J. DANIELS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF JUSTICE PROGRAMS
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS ASSOCIATION
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2003
Good morning! I’m delighted to be here and to have this opportunity to thank you for the work you do every day to reduce recidivism and to increase the safety of our communities. At the Office of Justice Programs, we share your goal of improving public safety by helping offenders become law-abiding, productive members of our society.
I also want to commend the ICCA for your focus on learning “what works” and for advocating evidence-based practices that will have a real impact on reducing crime and improving the operations of our criminal justice system. This focus on “what works” also is a priority for OJP. That’s why we now require our grantees to collect data and participate in evaluations so that we can measure the impact of the programs we support.
One major initiative that I believe will have a significant impact on reducing recidivism and improving public safety in our nation is the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. I know that my deputy, Cheri Nolan, told you about this unprecedented collaborative effort when she spoke at your conference last year in Boston.
This morning, I’d like to bring you up to date on the progress we’ve made in working with our federal partners and with communities in every state to change the way we supervise offenders returning to our communities after incarceration.
Several years ago, we all realized that the traditional processes for supervising offenders in the community were overwhelmed and incapable of providing the kind of close supervision and coordinated services needed to protect our communities from recidivism.
More than half a million offenders return to our communities from prison every year. And the pressure to release prisoners, even violent and other serious offenders, early, is increasing. State legislative bodies, faced with difficult economic times, are looking for ways to reduce large Corrections budgets, and since they cannot control the influx of inmates into the system, they seek to speed the departure of those inmates back into society.
Unfortunately, it is the rare legislative body which crafts a careful reintegration process designed to reduce recidivism. If states fail to address this issue, comprehensively, they will be pursuing a self-defeating strategy, ultimately costing society more, in both dollars and additional victimizations.
As you know all too well, the large number of returning offenders places a tremendous burden on community corrections. Individual parole officers today often have a caseload of 70 or more. That’s more than twice the average number of cases handled in 1980. Many parolees today see their parole officer for less than 15 minutes once or twice a month. They receive no intensive supervision or services.
And, in fact, some parolees fall through the cracks of the system and are lost altogether. The Los Angeles Times reported several years ago that parole agents in California lost track of about one-fifth of their parolees. Nationwide, about 9 percent of parolees abscond from supervision.
Many other inmates return to the community without any supervision at all. Data from our Bureau of Justice Statistics show that one in 5 offenders leaves prison without any post-release supervision. Many of these offenders also leave prison without adequate treatment for their substance abuse and other serious problems.
Our National Institute of Justice reports that , in the communities they have measured, 64 percent – more than two-thirds – of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs. 70 percent of inmates in our nation’s correctional facilities have a history of drug abuse. And one in 4 convicted property and drug offenders reported to our Bureau of Justice Statistics that they had committed their crimes to get money for drugs.
A large number of offenders suffer from mental illness. At midyear 2000, BJS reported that an estimated 191,000 state prisoners, about 16 percent of all inmates, were identified as mentally ill. And we know from research, that there’s a substantial co-occurrence of substance abuse and mental illness – one problem exacerbating the other.
Many more criminal offenders are illiterate or undereducated. And despite the growth of prison industries in some states, most prisoners today come out of prison with little more than $50 and a bus ticket. They have few job skills or life skills, little education, little work experience, and little prospect of legitimate success in the community into which they return. Further, they generally return to the same environment which enabled, or encouraged, their criminal activity in the first place.
It comes as no surprise that these offenders soon return to what they know – a life of crime. Two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested for a new offense within three years of release. Ninety percent reoffend within 5 years.
Our Reentry Initiative is designed to address these problems by providing the supervision and services offenders need to make a successful transition in the community. And it involves an unprecedented collaborative approach – at the state and local levels, as well as at the federal level.
About two years ago, we began working with the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services to develop a new approach to address the problems offenders face that lead them to recurring cycles of crime and incarceration. But as we began to develop this initiative, we realized we needed to bring in other experts – in the areas of housing and education, for example. So the Reentry Initiative now involves the collaborative efforts of 11 federal agencies that are providing expertise and resources for local – and several statewide – reentry programs in all 50 states.
Last year, we awarded $100 million to help the 50 states, as well as DC and the Virgin Islands, develop comprehensive strategies to better reintegrate returning offenders into their communities. These programs involve collaborations at the state and local level among state departments of correction and a host of community-based justice, faith-based, and social service organizations. I sincerely hope that members of this organization are actively involved in these efforts in your communities, as community corrections is a vital, indispensable element of a successful re-integration process.
The collaborations must be locally driven, but they are supported with funding and other resources from the federal reentry partners – the 11 federal agencies that are participating in this unprecedented collaborative effort to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
The Reentry Initiative involves a number of core elements that are designed to address all three stages involved in returning an offender to the community. Phase I involves substance abuse treatment, education, and life skills programming for offenders while they are held in institutions. This is critical. Transition planning must begin from the time an offender enters prison, particularly for offenders who require treatment for substance abuse.
Phase II of the Reentry Initiative focuses on the transition phase, providing close supervision, continuing treatment, and individualized services offenders need as they reenter the community. And Phase III establishes networks of agencies and individuals in the community who can assist offenders in remaining law-abiding, productive citizens.
Although each program involves these core components, the Reentry Initiative is designed so that each jurisdiction can tailor its program to meet local needs and to take advantage of local resources. In addition, each program can pull from the myriad resources of the participating federal agencies needed to carry out the individualized transition plans that are developed for each offender.
These plans outline services such as substance abuse treatment, job placement, housing assistance, and family counseling. At the same time, strict monitoring takes place, including electronic monitoring and periodic drug testing.
I’ve been very impressed with the commitment of our federal agency partners to making the Reentry Initiative a success. For example, the Department of Labor recently asked my staff to work with them so that they can steer at least some of the approximately $50 million in job training grants DOL makes every year to young offenders who are participating in reentry programs.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – or SAMHSA – recently made an additional $8 million available to our reentry grantees for substance abuse treatment and mental health services. This is on top of the $70 million SAMHSA originally committed to the Reentry Initiative.
And because housing is such a problematic issue for offenders, OJP’s Executive Office for Weed and Seed is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop a guide that can serve as a road map to help community and faith-based organizations identify abandoned properties, and then work with owners and local officials to transfer these properties to nonprofit groups that will renovate them for use as transitional housing for offenders.
Our objective here is two-fold: to provide critically needed housing for offenders, while, at the same time, helping to reinvigorate declining neighborhoods.
HUD also has expanded its Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program to help communities provide housing for offenders with HIV or AIDS who are leaving criminal justice system supervision. In addition, HUD has developed Web-based training and a training guide, and is working on a Web forum to share information and solutions in providing post-release housing and other services for offenders.
We’re reaching out to new partners, as well. For example, with funding from HHS, we’re working with the National Governors Association to encourage the formation of more statewide reentry efforts.
The governors of seven states – Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia – are forming state Reentry Task Forces that will develop effective prisoner reentry strategies and improve pre- and post-release services. Their goal is to reduce the law enforcement and correctional costs that result from crime and, in turn, reduce the strains on struggling state budgets. And one thing they know is that the surest path to failure is to continue to do things the old way: to fail to work collaboratively among the courts, corrections, parole, community corrections, drug treatment and job training providers — and to think that any one agency that comes into contact with offenders can make a real difference without the others. Sometimes, this will require moribund, isolated bureaucracies to change the way they do business.
We’ll continue to work with our federal and other partners to identify and fill gaps in services needed by returning offenders. And we’ll keep you posted on these and other developments on our Reentry Initiative Web site at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/reentry.
I’m particularly anxious to get a look at the data that’s being collected under the national reentry evaluation. We intend that all of these reentry projects will build knowledge of what works best regarding the effective reentry of serious and violent offenders. For that reason, we are supporting a national evaluation of the Reentry Initiative to provide sound data on what is an effective reentry tool – and what is not.
As we measure the success of the customized efforts developed in various communities, we can determine what combinations of interventions work best to turn former felons into drug-free, productive members of society. So last May, we awarded almost $2 million to the Research Triangle Institute to measure the costs and impacts of the state and local reentry programs supported under the Reentry Initiative. They’ve just started their work, but we hope to see some preliminary data sometime next year.
While we’re waiting for national evaluation results, we do have data from at least one reentry initiative that shows the remarkable effectiveness of this approach. The Fort Wayne/Allen County, Indiana, controlled reentry program is a national model whose efforts have already made an impact. During the first 22 months of its operation, only 12.5 percent of the 200 violent offenders who came through the program committed another offense, compared to a 67 percent recidivism rate before the program.
This dramatic drop in re-offending has paid off in two ways. The community has been saved the costs associated with investigating and prosecuting these new offenses, and – the real payoff – its citizens are safer. Fewer crimes mean fewer victims. And Fort Wayne accomplished this by leveraging already available resources at the local level – not with additional federal grant money.
The Ft. Wayne program is now working with the Indiana Department of Correction and Marion County to implement a reentry program that serves offenders released into Weed and Seed neighborhoods. This allows the reentry initiative to build on the law enforcement and human services networks that have already been established through Weed and Seed, a community-based strategy to drive out crime and rehabilitate high-crime neighborhoods.
The Ft. Wayne program also is a shining example of how reentry programs are combining local initiatives with federal resources to design and implement reentry strategies tailored to local needs. I encourage you to look for ways your community corrections efforts can be enhanced through collaboration, organizational change, and the implementation of evidence-based practices such as reentry.
Thank you for inviting me here today. The work you are doing is critical to the rehabilitation of offenders and the consequently improved safety of our communities. We at the Department of Justice look forward to continuing to work with you toward that end.