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Pros Weigh Recidivism Reforms

 By Peter Rossi, STATE BILL COLORADO

DENVER — Currently, one in every 31 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional control — be it jail, prison or under supervision of parole or probation, according to the Pew Center, which bills itself as a nonpartisan fact tank that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

Colorado’s rate is even higher, with one in every 29 adults under one of those forms of correctional control.

Last week a joint Colorado House and Senate Judiciary Committee heard a presentation from criminal justice professionals from Maryland and New York on how to reduce that recidivism rate and save money.

Judith Sachwald, who has been at the forefront of Maryland’s changes in the correctional system, explained how Maryland’s recidivism rates have dropped in the past 25 years. Sachwald was previously the director of Maryland’s Division of Probation and Parole and believes in the system of Proactive Community Supervision, or PCS.

PCS applies a research-based approach to supervision identifying the needs of each individual offender.

States, Sachwald said, can save money by not incarcerating low-risk offenders. The Colorado Department of Corrections budget for 2009 is $760 million. It costs $28,759 to house a person in prison in Colorado, compared to probation costs ranging between $1,121 and $3,275.

“Prisons are costly,” Sachwald said. “I would prefer to see those dollars going into education … We must protect and preserve our prison bed space to make sure they merit the need.”

The former director said acquiring partnerships with nonprofits and faith-based organizations is essential to cutting down on recidivism.

Judith Greene, of Justice Strategies, explained the organizations recent report titled Reducing Recidivism: A Review of Effective State Initiatives, agreed with Sachwald’s ideas and said new approaches need to be taken to cut down on repeat offenders.

The report showed that traditional methods of parole and probation are not as effective as the PCS model.

“We need to find ways of reducing our reliance on correctional institutions and start reinvesting in communities,” Greene said. “Those communities are who feed the prison populations and are where they turn afterwards.”

Greene cited Kansas, Connecticut, Arizona and Maryland as examples of states that have reduced recidivism.

In Kansas, the number of parolees being returned to prison dropped from 203 a month in 2003 to 103 a month in 2007.

In Connecticut, the report indicated that “programs specifically designed to reduce technical violations for people placed under probation supervision have exceeded a 20 percent goal for reduction set by legislators.”

“We know that sanctions alone do not change behavior,” Sachwald said. “There may be a role for incarceration but along with that we need to provide some services that will prepare people to be law abiding and productive.”

 

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