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Georgia reentry: a transformation in correctional philosophy.

Early research in the late 1970s concluded that rehabilitation efforts had no appreciable effect on recidivism. These research findings fueled the "nothing works" era that brought about significant changes in how correctional treatment programs were supported and funded in the 1980s and 1990s. Politicians began to use the nothing-works findings to justify the reduced support for rehabilitation as a valid correctional strategy and to use it as a platform to initiate laws and policies that were driven by deterrence, collective incapacitation and punishment correctional philosophies.

The shift in direction to the "get tough on crime" philosophy marked an era when a significant amount of legislation was enacted that limited and restricted previously funded programs. An example of this was the Higher Education Act of 1998 that eliminated eligibility for the Pell Grant for convicted felons, thus eliminating the opportunity for such inmates to pursue a college education. Laws enacted in Georgia included those for mandatory long-minimum sentences for certain offenses (SB441), two-strikes laws that carried life without the possibility of parole (SB441) and laws that allowed juveniles charged with certain crimes to be adjudicated, sentenced and confined as adults (SB440). (1)

The early studies on rehabilitation used a narrative or qualitative review of correctional treatment programs as the method to deduce findings. As new research methods emerged, the meta-analysis approach to determine the statistical relationship--the effect size--between treatment interventions and recidivism was used to analyze the effectiveness of correctional treatment programs. These findings played an important role in challenging the nothing-works doctrine and in the development of new strategies that support principles of effective intervention.

Georgia Corrections

The continuing growth of the prison population and the expensive cost to build new prisons were the major factors that mandated new thinking and changes in the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC). During the past 10 years, Georgia has released nearly 18,000 to 19,000 offenders a year while receiving nearly 20,000 to 23,000 a year. Because this meant a consistent increase in the prison population by at least 2,000 annually, Georgia could no longer afford to do things the same way. Although Georgia's recidivism rate was about one-third when based on a three-year reconviction definition, when the definition was extended to seven years, the rate soared to two-thirds. Because approximately 95 percent of all offenders incarcerated in Georgia return to the community, the impact of incarceration on their future choices is a major concern for public safety. At the turn of the century, Georgia's new and innovative commissioner, James E. Donald, was compelled to make significant changes in the Georgia Department of Corrections. With the first priority that the department always keep good security as its uncompromised goal, it implemented the Transformation Campaign Plan to provide effective opportunities for offenders to achieve positive change and be more pro-social contributors to society.

Georgia views reentry not as a program but a correctional philosophy that should begin at presentence and be guided by offender assessment and evidence-based interventions throughout incarceration, helping make the transition from prison to the community successful. The goals of reentry continue to evolve and support the plan's mandate to:

* Increase public safety by implementing research-based interventions that increase offender capacity to remain crime free;

* Flatten the growth of the prison population by using intervention strategies that reduce recidivism;

* Implement programs that support restitution, restoration and rehabilitation based on individually assessed criminogenic risk, needs and responsivity factors; and

* Leverage information technology that is cost effective, cost efficient, reduces redundancy of information-gathering and supports Web-based data systems.

Georgia Reentry Impact Project

Georgia responded to the challenge for transformation with a comprehensive approach that addressed policy, correctional culture and offender involvement in their habilitation. Georgia participated in three national reentry initiatives, combining the initiatives into one project, the Georgia Reentry Impact Project (GRIP), to "establish effective methods that permeate all levels of affected agencies and organizations to reduce recidivism through collaborative partnerships that support offender transition to the community." It is a collaborative project of state agencies that provide supervision and services to adult offenders. GRIP is supported by the National Institute of Corrections through the Transition from Prison to Community Initiative (TPCI); the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs through the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative (SVORI); and the National Governors Association (NGA) through the Reentry Policy Academy.

The NGA Reentry Policy Academy is the Georgia reentry steering committee that comprises state agency heads that address broad cross-system issues, assure statewide support, and develop interdisciplinary offender reentry policies and programs. The TPCI is the policy and implementation committee of about 15 state-agency representatives that spent a year engaged in policy practice analysis and identification of gaps and barriers to successful reentry, ultimately producing a strategy to address needed change with 30 recommendations to the steering committee. The steering committee adopted them all. The remaining charge then was planning for implementation, actual implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The overwhelming support from the participating agencies was the first true collaboration among the agencies. Prior to this, various agencies only addressed issues that directly impacted their service population. Hannah Heck, the Office of the Governor's policy advisor for criminal justice, was the chair of the policy committee. This helped to ensure agency participation as well as executive support. Other participating state agencies and areas of interest were the:

* Georgia Department of Corrections -- corrections and probation supervision;

* State Board of Pardons and Paroles -- release decisions and community supervision;

* Office of Planning and Budget -- fiscal support;

* Criminal Justice Coordinating Council -- grant management;

* Center for Effective Public Policy -- NIC technical support and coordination;

* Department of Human Resources -- social and community service programs;

* Department of Labor -- employment;

* Department of Education -- academic education;

* Department of Technical and Adult Education -- vocational education;

* Workforce Investment Board -- job readiness and placement;

* Department of Public Health -- physical and mental health;

* Department of Community Affairs -- housing;

* Council of Superior Court Judges -- sentencing; and

* Department of Juvenile Justice -- juvenile population.

Of the 30 recommendations identified by the TCPI, the three core proposals were:

* Develop and implement an automated assessment instrument that identifies an offender's risk to re-offend, as well as the offender's crime-producing needs and behaviors;

* Develop a transition accountability plan driven by recommendations derived from assessment results; and

* Implement more efficient interagency electronic communications to improve continuity and accountability for offender reentry.

The automated assessment instrument will direct offender placement into evidence-based interventions. Georgia has contracted with Northpointe Inc., a nationally recognized correctional research development and consulting firm, and modified their Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) program--an automated, statistically based assessment instrument designed to assess key risk and criminogenic need factors for corrections populations. Georgia will use COMPAS as an assessment and treatment-planning instrument in all state correctional facilities and probation offices. Assessments and initial reentry case plans will be done as offenders enter the system. COMPAS is now Web-based for information sharing and use in determining offender placement, parole considerations and conditions, and case management.

The reentry case plan module of COMPAS will include reentry issues that are relevant for release planning, and offenders will actively participate in the development of their plans (which should be updated at various intervals as needed). As for interagency electronic communications, Georgia is using emerging XML technologies to develop a single depository and source for offender data that is accessible to all partnering agencies.

The GRIP policy and implementation committee developed three subcommittees to address implementation: preincarceration, incarceration and release decisionmaking, and supervision and community stakeholders. The preincarceration work group will focus on sentencing recommendations. The incarceration and release decisionmaking work group will focus on intake and assessment, case management, institutional programming, transitional planning, and parole decision-making. And the supervision and community stakeholders work group will work with community partners in long-term offender reentry issues, coordinate critical community services and interventions, and develop community partnerships that will play an active role in offender stabilization and success.

Building Offender Capacity

The Georgia DOC, in collaboration with other state agencies, has a number of reentry services that build offender capacity for successful re-integration into the community. Some of the initiatives implemented are described below.

SVORI -- Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative: A local reentry project in Savannah, Macon, Augusta and Albany that partners with local law enforcement, community- and faith-based organizations, parole, probation, juvenile justice, work force investment organizations, and labor to provide reentry assistance to residents returning to the communities from DOC transitional centers.

RPH -- Reentry Partnership Housing: A means to provide housing to DOC inmates who have been authorized for release by parole authorities but remain in prison due solely to having no residence plan. Participating housing providers are compensated for three months to provide room and board without charge to the parolee for this period. This collaboration among corrections, parole, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and community affairs has shown a cost avoidance of more than $4.4 million after placing only 300 offenders in the few months of its existence. RPH targets offenders who remain in prison after the Parole Board has authorized their release due solely to having no residential options. (2)

Corporate Take-5 Program: A program to have Georgia businesses sign up to "take 5" returning offenders as employees. Corporate partners provide a bridge for offenders to become an essential part of the work force and help provide a smooth reentry transition into the community for these men and women. And, at the same time, the DOC will be providing corporate partners with qualified, skilled workers.

PIE -- Prison Industry Enhancement: This federal prison industries program, created in 1979 to help state and local industries provide employment for inmates, affords a means for reducing inmate idleness and generates products and services while enabling inmates to make a contribution to society. PIE inmate participants pay taxes, court-ordered restitution, a portion of child support and a portion of their incarceration cost, as well as contribute to the crime victim's fund. Participants also pay into a mandatory savings account for use after release.

Faith- and Character-Based Initiatives: This program has established the statewide Faith- and Character-Based Advisory Board and is working to establish nine local advisory boards. Six facilities piloted the establishment of faith- and character-based dormitories, with an expansion of four additional sites in 2006. The goal is to have a faith- and character-based dormitory in every prison and to have a faith- and character-based prison by 2008.

In-House Transitional Centers: This program was designed to target max-outs (inmates who will serve the maximum sentence in prison) and other inmates not eligible for work release. It provides housing in specialized units designed to address the needs and risks of these offenders. There were four pilot sites in 2005, with an expansion of three additional sites in 2006.

Re-entry Handbook and Re-entry Skill-Building Curriculum: A handbook and curriculum that offenders receive prior to release addresses issues such as identification, housing, employment, transportation, money management, education, health and life skills, family and friend relationships, barriers to reentry, and living under supervision.

Volunteers and mentors: The DOC has more than 8,400 certified volunteers who provide an array of services to Georgia and the offender population. A major increase in the number of volunteers came with the recruitment of Hispanic volunteers, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous volunteers, community mentors, and faith-based partners.

New Orleans Baptist Seminary Project: The purpose of this project is to pilot an accredited college seminary degree program for eligible inmates at Phillips State Prison. The program is being sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Seminary and will award associate and bachelor's degrees.

Clinical Pastoral Education Program: This is a continuing education program for chaplains that is sponsored by the Woodruff Foundation, Emory University and the Crisis Counseling Center of Atlanta.

Grace Village: This is a transitional reentry house in Perry, Georgia, that was built by DOC offenders for returning female offenders and their children.

Prerelease Centers: The DOC recently opened seven new prerelease facilities that will house offenders who are within two to three years of their release. The centers will emphasize work as a learned behavior and programs based on assessed needs in preparation for inmate release.

Goals of Correctional Treatment

As correctional systems continue to engage in strategic planning that is performance-based and results-driven, correctional treatment program plans will need to support the major correctional goals of protecting the public, reducing recidivism and better managing limited resources. To accomplish these goals, selection and implementation of correctional reentry and treatment programs must mandate that resources are spent on evidence-based practices and followed up with measures to support their effectiveness. Goals that support building the capacity of the offender to be a productive member of his or her family and community must be a part of the strategic plan. Strategies also must be implemented to increase the community's and corrections' capacity to address offenders' needs and to identify community resources linking offenders to program services necessary for successful transition into the community. These goals require the development of collaborative partnerships that support offenders' opportunities for changing criminogenic thinking and behavior.

Overcoming Barriers

A profound and prescriptive statement by Edward Latessa and his colleagues in their article "Beyond Correctional Quackery," was that "the field of corrections will have to take seriously what it means to be a profession." (3) The authors point out Gendreau's "3 Cs" of effective correctional policies: "First, employ credentialed people; second, ensure that the agency is credentialed; and, third, base treatment decisions on credentialed knowledge [e.g., research from meta-analyses]." It is much harder to achieve evidence-based professionalism in a system that has traditionally been closed and too intertwined with politics and anecdotal beliefs about correctional effectiveness to make significant changes. It will take education, training, policy changes, public relations, selection of validated programs, measured performance, program integrity, program and staff monitoring, and evaluations, just to name a few.

The bar must be raised for correctional leaders, managers, practitioners and personnel. The basic qualifications and standards should be comparable (or even higher for correctional staff) to those for other professional organizations. This also will necessitate appropriate pay scales to attract and retain the best credentialed personnel. All staff must be educated on the principles of effective interventions, and strategic planning must be implemented to support the cultural changes. The organizational culture must learn to embrace change and become willing to cultivate systematic changes.

To support these quantitative changes, there must be a mechanism to educate legislative bodies and policymakers to ensure support in what is needed to affect measurable, effective cost-saving results. An effective tool to educate and influence public perception and political bodies is the presentation of empirical evidence and the assurance that as new strategies are funded and implemented, they will be measured, evaluated and delivered with fidelity and integrity. Other barriers that will challenge correctional administrators are staff resistance to change (e.g., "we've always done it this way"), lack of funding and internal politics. Emphasis on educating staff, the public, political bodies and other stakeholder organizations will be essential to reducing resistance to change. Strategic planning that supports the needed changes also must be developed and supported by funding sources. Changes also must be part of the vision and mission of the agency that will survive possible changes in leadership and management.

As correctional systems move forward toward becoming a profession structured on credentialed knowledge, issues that will be addressed include: broad crosssystem issues, ensuring statewide support, developing interdisciplinary policies and programs, and developing strategies for the planning, implementation and monitoring of strategic plans.


(1) SB441 is a bill enacted into law effective Jan. 1, 1995 that requires that anyone convicted of any of the seven serious violent felonies known as the "seven deadly sins" (murder or felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual batter) must serve a minimum of ten years in prison without parole. Anyone convicted of a second "deadly sin" receives a mandatory sentence of life without parole. SB440 was also enacted Jan. 1, 1995, and it gives the superior court exclusive jurisdiction over children ages 13-17 who are alleged to have committed one of the "seven deadly sins."

(2) Cost avoidance is calculated on average cost per day ($49) of incarceration for each participant beginning with the month they were eligible for release until their actual release.

(3) Latessa, E., F. Cullen and P. Gendreau. 2002. Beyond correctional quackery--Professionalism and the possibility of effective treatment. Federal Probation, 66(2):43-49.

A.J. Sabree is director of reentry services for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
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Author:Sabree, A.J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U5GA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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