WASHINGTON'S OFFENDER ACCOUNTABILITY ACT.
The state of Washington's 1999 legislative session saw a significant piece of legislative passed into existence. The Offender Accountability Act (OAA) was initiated by Gov. Gary Locke (D) and eventually passed unanimously in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Ultimately, it also won the support of nearly all entities within the criminal justice system in Washington. Founded on the notion of community justice, OAA will transform the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and the way it manages offenders in the system.
Under OAA, offenders subject to supervision after release will be sentenced to terms of community custody subject to conditions set by both their counties and the DOC. Terms will apply to offenders convicted of any crime against a person, as well as violent, sex, drug and other specified crimes committed on or after July 1, 2000. Staffing increases, computer system improvements and other steps to permit OAA-mandated supervision of high-risk offenders began July 1, 1999.
Washington implemented determinant sentencing in the early 1980s with the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) which, for the most part, based sanctions on the severity of the offense and prior criminal history. The stated purpose of SRA was to ensure that "punishment for a criminal offense is proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and to the offender's criminal history." SRA was expected to "promote respect for the law by providing punishment which is just," and to see that punishment is "commensurate with that imposed for similar offenses." Since implementation, SRA has been amended often, usually to require imposition of harsher sanctions by the courts. Not surprisingly, Washington has increased its prison population significantly during the past 15 years.
Now, growing numbers of Washington legislators are concerned that continued reliance on incarceration as punishment is an expensive response to crime. Instead of focusing on "just deserts," the Legislature has found a new agenda in OAA. SRA gives token support to the notion of rehabilitation in the stated purpose of "offering the offender an opportunity to improve him or herself." OAA will breathe life into the offender change agenda by adding another purpose to sentencing: "Reducing the risk of offending by offenders in the community." Supervision in the community using all available tools, including surveillance and treatment, to mitigate risk now is an expectation.
Years of skepticism about rehabilitation as a sentencing goal have created a conflict between demands for retribution and the belief that we must try to modify the behavior of those who engage in criminal conduct. There have been pendulum-like swings from punishment to rehabilitation and back again. The rut this pendulum wore became yet another factor preventing change and a fresh approach.
So far, at least, OAA has avoided this rut by sidestepping the "what's new" school altogether. OAA responds with thoughtful attention to "what works," and that has brought focus, a sense of direction and added credibility to the DOC. The growing volume of literature that supports this effort is testimony to the resilience and creativity the corrections field is committing to this question.
CITIZEN EXPECTATIONS As we develop this more solid footing, we can ask: What do the citizens want from our system? Many polls tell us that citizens want more from the criminal justice system than it is delivering. They typically want:
* Safety from violent crime;
* Offenders to be held accountable;
* Offenders to repair the damage they have caused;
* Offenders to receive treatment that makes for safe release from incarceration; and
* Public and victim involvement in the decision-making process.
These elements are not within the core work of most correctional agencies and not within the mandates of Washington's sentencing system. Addressing these concerns means introducing a new, fundamental element into the DOC's core work -- the community. This means changing the DOC's approach from working for the community as a client to working with the community as a partner.
Community and risk mitigation are key elements of OAA. OAA requires offenders to be supervised in the community based on the risk they pose to community safety and that risk information be provided to the sentencing court if so ordered. It requires that risk be assessed using an objective instrument that is supported by research. This assessment also must take into consideration the nature of the harm done by offenders, the places and circumstances of the offender related to risk, the offenders' relationship with the victims and other information provided by the victims.
The DOC has chosen to use the Level of Service Inventory -- Revised (LSI-R) as its primary risk-assessment instrument. Community corrections officers and case management staff in Washington institutions have been trained to administer the LSI-R and are beginning to develop case management plans that focus on the dynamic risk factors it identifies.
OAA further requires that the DOC establish a systematic means of assessing offender risk to public safety while mandating that it deploys community correctional staff on "the basis of geographic areas in which offenders under department jurisdiction are located." The clear expectation is that the offender "risk set" -- individual behavior and cognitive patterns that are criminogenic -- should be identified. In addition, the DOC must identify the risk factors of the communities in which offenders are located. The purpose of this effort is to focus and align activities and resources around high-risk offenders and places.
Among the other challenges of this new sentencing/offender management system is a significant change in the way conditions of supervision are developed and imposed. Generally, conditions of supervision in the community have been established by the sentencing court with input from DOC staff. OAA allows department staff to directly impose conditions of supervision and, to some degree, modify the conditions imposed by the court. Conditions that are prohibitive and affirmative are both allowed, with the intention of impacting the "risk set" of the offender. Additionally, department staff will have some discretion in determining the period of supervision in the community. All of this is a significant change for DOC community corrections officers.
There is another major change in how corrections business will be conducted in Washington under OAA: The DOC, rather than the sentencing court, will respond to offender violation behavior. This new process will ensure more immediate and certain response to violation behaviors. It necessitates forming a cadre of hearings officers, along with appropriate procedures, to administratively respond to violation behavior. A range of sanctions may be used, but clear emphasis is placed on developing a "range of graduated sanctions." While the DOC previously has used a variety of intermediate sanctions, it now must develop more and varied options, including additional day reporting centers and halfway-back beds. This new process will ensure more immediate and certain response to violation behavior.
Much effort has gone into conceptualizing Washington's new corrections business. So, what might this new community-focused system look like? One way to guess is to contrast this system with the "offender-focused" system Washington has had in place for the past 15 years. Figure 1 contrasts these systems across six dimensions.
OAA spells out what the DOC is required to do with a fair amount of clarity. It must respond to the offender "risk set," which includes the dynamic risk factors of offenders as well as community risk factors. Obviously, the DOC cannot do this alone. To be successful, it not only must change the way it deploys its own resources, but must engage the resources of the broader community, both formally and informally. Partnerships with agencies such as law enforcement and social services are obvious choices. Far more elusive, however, is the necessity to engage informal networks of family, friends, neighbors and employers -- the natural guardians who impact offender, victim and "place."
In the future, the DOC's work will be in the community and with the community. It must accept this new identity, as must its many community partners. The task is monumental -- not only must the DOC see itself differently, it must be seen differently. What were assets in the past -- anonymity and impenetrability -- must change. The DOC must redefine its resources and capacities as it redefines its work.
Robert Moore is legislation project manager for the Washington Department of Corrections. Cheryl Brown Young, Ph.D., is director of the Performance Institute of the Washington Department of Corrections.
COMPARISON OF COMMUNITY SUPERVISION UNDER SRA AND OFFENDER ACCOUNTABILITY ACT OFFENDER-FOCUSED SYSTEM COMMUNITY-FOCUSED SYSTEM (SRA) (OFFENDER ACCOUNTABILITY) I.OFFENDER CASE PLANNING: I.OFFENDER CASE PLANNING: For offenders sentenced to a period Plan is based on risk assessment during of time in DOC facility, perison presentence process or at intake. staff develop a plan typically focused Initial prison plan, for offenders at prison adjustment. sentenced to a period of time in a DOC Community corrections officer develops facility, focused on dynamic risk a factors, community plan when offender is i.e., offender characteristics that returned to are community from prison or jail or amenable to change (e.g., cirminal directly after thinking sentencing if incarceration is not patterns, addictive behavior). part of the sentence. The majority of case planning activities Community plan is primarily focused on both in the institution and in the ensuring that conditions of community are focused on dynamic supervision risk factors are monitored and enforced. and developed with citizen participation. Goal is compliance with plan as a Goal is reduction of risk as a vehicle vehicle for reducing offense behavior. for reducing offense behavior. II.OFFENDER SUPERVISION: II.OFFENDER SUPERVISION: Activities revolve primarily around Activities revolve around offender the offender contacts and his or her compliance or lack of within the community. Supervision is compliance with conditions of expanded by supervision. collaboration/partnership with Level of supervision and length of community members, law enforcement, supervision is and other determined by crime and other static agencies and significant others factors (community (e.g., age, criminal history). supervision groups). Monitoring involves contact with the Content of supervision is determined offender, by "risk both in office and at home. set" (i.e., offender characteristics, relationships, place). Some collateral contacts (e.g., Length of supervision determined by employer) occur. the court, Offender change programs (e.g., but may be modified by community cognitive change, supervision victim awareness) are primarily used group based on risk/needs of as sanctions. offender. Community corrections officer is Conditions of supervision determined primary by court, agent of supervision. but may be enhanced by community supervision group to mitigate risk posed by offender. Offender change programs are key component of case plan. The community supervision group identifies the "risk set." III.RESPONDING TO OFFENDER III.RESPONDING TO OFFENDER VIOLATIONS: VIOLATIONS: Community supervision offenders The community supervision group brought assesses the back before the court. "risk set" and intervences in an effort to Some intermediate sanctions used, but prevent violations. incarceration is primary violation An administrative DOC process promotes response. certainty and immediacy. A range of intermediate sanctions is available. IV.COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS OFFICER IV.COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS OFFICER PERFORMANCE FOCUS: PERFORMANCE FOCUS: Supervision of offenders is Supervision of offenders is quantitatively qualitatively measured measured: Completion of contacts. through indicators that document a community Timely submission of reprots and presence and effectiveness of plan. Examples computer entries include: Collection of legal financial Community contacts obligations (e.g., restitution) Reduction of risk factors on LSI Collaborative case plan devleopment with community supervisory groups Assessments of offender compliance with conditions of supervision and successful plan implementation V.LOCATION OF STAFF: V.LOCATION OF STAFF: Community corrections officer in Colocated with law enforcement and/or single-unit other community or multiple-unit field office organizations in neighborhood centrally locations. located in geographic catchment Deployment or resources is driven by areas. neighborhood risk/need and offender concentration. VI. ROLE OF COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS VI. ROLE OF COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS OFFICERS IN COMMUNITY: OFFICERS IN COMMUNITY: Information-gathering Resource for information Protect offender confidentiality Community catalyst Supervision of caseload Collaborative supervision Offender-centered Community at center