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Transitions: Napa County Targets Risks, Needs and Recidivism

California’s state and local correctional agencies have been under tremendous pressure to change how we operate. With both state and local jurisdictions facing severe institutional overcrowding, high recidivism rates and major budget shortfalls, change, while it can be challenging, is inevitable.

Napa County has been a better situation than most California counties. Until the recent economic downturn our fiscal condition has been relatively sound and our jail has not experienced significant overcrowding. However, in late 2004 we began to notice that increased demand for use of our 264 jail beds had resulted in periodic overcrowding in some jail units. In 2006, the County retained outside expertise to assist with developing a master plan for our correctional system’s short- and long-term needs. We analyzed criminal justice trends, jail trends and jail capacity needs.

Among other trends, we found our county’s annual population growth would average .7 percent from 2005, but our at-risk age group (20 to 34 years old) would grow 1.4 percent annually. We found our crime indexes had climbed since early this decade, as well as our arrest rates. At the jail, we noticed admissions were rising and average length of stay had grown slightly. We also found, when we compared our data trends against six California peer counties, that our inmate mix was weighted heavily with misdemeanant offenders versus felons – our peers were diverting misdemeanants away from jail time more effectively than we were.

Napa County also determined its future jail capacity was inadequate. Depending on the projection model used, our needs were estimated to be from 325 to 375 operational capacity beds by 2015 to between 351 and 473 beds by 2025, if current trends continued. County officials calculated the cost of new jail bed construction at $105,000 to build and almost $32,000 per bed to operate, annually.

Focusing on Evidence-Based Practices
Napa County has a history of handling its correctional issues collaboratively among various groups to problem-solve around issues such as an aging jail, problematic intake issues and alternative programming. The Napa County Criminal Justice Committee, a group of stakeholders from the criminal justice community, was formed to seek improvement in the system. In addition to seeking cost-effective solutions, the committee sought to include evidence-based practices into any solution implemented so that long-term results could be maximized and public safety impacted positively. Members of the Criminal Justice Committee recognized that implementing evidence-based practices could potentially reduce the demand for costly jail beds, but agreed that cost savings should not be driving factor. Instead, the Committee agreed that the focus should be on enhancing public safety by reducing recidivism.

In the final plan, the Committee stated its goal to “operate an adult correctional system that provides for offender accountability and public health and safety, utilizing evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism and maintain appropriate level of custody and control in the most cost-effective way possible.”

After conducting an evidence-based practices assessment with The Carey Group, a criminal justice consulting firm, Napa County’s Board of Supervisors approved a plan to implement a community-based Community Corrections Service Center, intended to deliver evidence-based treatment and correctional services to carefully screened offenders. Opened in March 2009, this innovative center is open seven days a week and allows for up to 50 participants. By incorporating evidence-based practices, we sought to reduce offender risk and subsequent recidivism, which would lower the county’s long-term costs, and most importantly, reduce future crime.

The center uses eight principles of effective intervention: assessing risk and needs of participants; enhancing motivations; targeting intervention, skill training, positive reinforcement, support in the community, measuring process and delivering feedback. These principles are interdependent. For example, probationers targeted for the community portion of our day reporting program receive a tailored “dosage” of interventions, with more resources and programming delivered to high-risk offenders.

The Napa County Probation Department, which oversees the Community Corrections Service Center, selected an outside vendor, BI Incorporated, to operate the center. BI operates day reporting centers like this in more than 30 locations nationwide, including six in California. These day reporting programs are designed to cut costs and reduce chronic recidivism through intensive supervision and treatment. In addition to probationers, some pretrial defendants are referred to the Napa County center as well.

In short, the service center is a resource for the probation department to refer more challenging individuals who require intensive supervision and treatment classes to break the cycle of repeat criminal behavior. The center delivers cognitive behavioral treatment programs operating under evidence-based principles. Individuals referred to the center go through a four-phase program that lasts up to 180 days. Participants report daily at first, then less frequently as they comply with program guidelines. In addition to daily check-ins, participants are monitored closely for alcohol and drug use, meet with case managers and participate in a series of group treatment and training classes.

Offenders referred to the Community Corrections Service Center undergo an extensive assessment upon entering the program, a tool that helps drive specific treatment and activities while in the program. Once enrolled at the center, they are held strictly accountable and are expected to display positive behaviors. Failure to comply with center rules and guidelines result in increased sanctions such as tighter curfews, more frequent visits to the center, additional classes or a return to incarceration, if necessary.

Program participants are monitored closely for substance abuse, a common problem for many offenders. For example, each time a participant reports to the center, he or she must submit to a breathalyzer test. In addition, clients submit to random urine screens to test for drug use multiple times monthly. This is an intensive approach, but it works to stabilize individuals transitioning to the community, while revamping their values and patterns of behavior and thinking over time.

A key element of the center includes use of Moral Reconation Therapy, a widely used cognitive behavioral therapy program and one of only six registered interventions applied successfully in correctional settings to treat mental health and substance abuse issues. MRT, developed by Gregory Little, Ed.D., and Kenneth Robinson, Ed.D., is one of the most researched cognitive skill building programs in corrections. MRT’s core premise is improving decision-making skills, an essential component of breaking patterns of criminal thinking and repeat criminal activity.

Participants attend a series of other classes to stabilize their transition to the community, including substance abuse education and treatment, adult basic education and GED preparation, life skills, parent and family classes, anger management, employment skills building and aftercare.

In-Jail Services Lead up to Community Services
In addition but closely related to the Community Corrections Service Center is our in-jail transition program. This program is designed for inmates within the jail to receive much of the same treatment and training that they will receive when they are released to probation and supervision through the service center. The goal is to introduce treatment and training to facilitate a successful transition to life at home, continue programming at the community-based service center, and maximize the impact of programs delivered. Fifty inmate slots are open for these services also. While identifying and incorporating inmates into the program proved a challenge early in the program implementation due to many factors, such as logistical challenges of group therapy classes for mixed offender classes, the hope is that this program will reach its target enrollment in the next year.

An important element of the in-jail treatment and training program is the connection it allows us to the Community Corrections Service Center. When individuals in the community-based element are non-compliant, they receive additional sanctions up to and including a short stay back in jail. If they are returned to the jail, they will still receive services and are required to work, so program continuity is maintained and results enhanced.

By entering the in-jail segment of Napa County’s treatment and training program, inmates can reduce time in jail if they successfully complete certain levels of the program and transition to the Community Corrections Service Center. This incentive has worked, as more inmates are asking to participate—a win-win-win for taxpayers, program participants and their families, and the local criminal justice system.

In both components of our reentry transition strategy — the in-jail and community service center treatment and training — program participants are held accountable for their compliance to program guidelines. Consequences are clear and firmly applied, as are rewards for positive compliance.

The County’s commitment to the success of this supervision, treatment and training effort is significant in time, money and resources, but our Board of Supervisors and management team believe it will pay dividends for citizens in the future. Participants are being assessed, both as they enter the program and as they exit, for levels of risk for criminal activity, a predictor of a person’s likelihood to recidivate. The County has established an aggressive goal to reduce recidivism by 30 percent through the use of the in-jail programming and the Community Corrections Service Center. We have committed resources to measuring and evaluating outcomes over time to determine if this goal is achieved. We have also committed to paying close attention to both internal and external research to introduce program elements that are supported by best research evidence.

In time, the County will still want to expand its jail capacity, but the Criminal Justice Committee estimates it can expand to a lower capacity level—366 beds—by 2025 by implementing these alternatives to detention and reducing the flow of returning probation violators. This will save the County more than $10 million in new construction costs alone at today’s building fees. Many millions more will be avoided in operational costs each year, also.

By addressing our challenges with evidence-based practices and programs, we at Napa County hope to save taxpayers future costs, reduce the need for more jail capacity, and begin to tackle one of the key issues that led to jail overcrowding in the first place – high recidivism. The upside for our residents? We will retain jail beds for serious offenders and enhance public safety.

About the Author
Mary Butler has been chief probation officer with Napa County since 2002. She previously led the Adult Mental Health Services and Child Welfare divisions of the Health and Human Services Department before spending five years managing the entire mental health division and child protective services. Butler is a licensed marriage-family therapist and holds a master’s degree in counseling from Sonoma State University.

Originally at - Correctional News