For the last 15 years, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections – Corrections Services (Department) has been working to reduce its highest in the nation incarceration rate (per capita). According to a 2009 Pew study, 1 in 26 Louisiana adults are under correctional control, compared to 1 in 31 nationally. In 2013, Louisiana ranked 5th nationally among states in highest violent crime rate, ranked 3rd highest poverty rate, and ranked 4th lowest in percentage of adults with a high school diploma Louisiana’s incarceration rate ranks #1 in the nation per capita, 816 per 100,000 residents compared to 471 nationally, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. When only adults 18 and older are considered, this rate rises to 1072 per 100,000 in Louisiana compared with 612 nationally. As of December 31, 2015, Louisiana’s adult correctional population stood at 36,377, with 72,176 under probation and/or parole supervision.
Roughly 50% of the offender population is assigned to state correctional facilities, while the other half is assigned to local-level jails and transitional work programs. Each year, approximately 18,000 offenders release from state prisons and jails to communities across Louisiana. Many face challenges of finding a place to live, finding employment, and accessing services and programs that will assist them in successfully reintegrating into their communities.
Within five years, nearly 43% will return to prison, either for violating the conditions of their supervised release or for committing a new crime(s). The five-year recidivism rate for the total DOC population, while still high, is an improvement from the five-year recidivism rate in 2008 (48%), when the Department began focusing on standardizing and expanding reentry programming as well as utilizing evidence-based programs and policies to drive decision-making.
To make significant progress in reducing incarceration and recidivism costs (both in dollars and in negative impact to victims, communities and families), the Department had to reach state offenders on the local level who were traditionally left out of programming opportunities offered at state correctional facilities. The Department, in collaboration with Sheriffs, opened nine (9) Regional Reentry Programs to offer the Department’s Standardized Pre-Release Curriculum 2010 and Certified Treatment and Rehabilitative Programs (CTRP), which allow offenders to learn basic work readiness preparation, money management, substance abuse education and treatment, parenting, anger management and other life skills prior to discharge.
The Department has embraced the Transition from Prison to Community Model[i] recommended as an evidence-based best practice by the National Institute of Corrections. This model establishes a continuum of assessment, classification and case planning, and programs designed to address the “criminogenic risks and needs” of offenders.
“Criminogenic Risks” are those risk factors that research shows increase an offender’s likelihood of recidivating and returning to incarceration. “Criminogenic Needs” are those needs that must be addressed to mitigate this risk of recidivism. While no program, or continuum of programs, can eliminate risk or guarantee a given person will not recidivate, addressing criminogenic risks and needs is considered the best use of resources to increase the odds of success for the returning citizen.
There are three phases to the Department’s Reentry philosophy:
- Phase I – Getting Ready (Reception and Diagnostic)
The institutional phase describes the details of events and responsibilities occurring during the inmate’s imprisonment from admission until the point of eligibility for parole or release. This phase is designed to encourage and assist offenders in making positive use of their time while in custody by learning skills through education and job training programs, developing new behaviors, addressing deficiencies, and developing pro-social thinking patterns to create a positive future for themselves and their families. This phase involves the first two major decision points:
- Assessment and Classification (Risk, Need, and Responsivity): Active planning for reentry begins upon the offender’s admission through the reception and diagnostic process. All offenders entering state institutions are evaluated to determine specific needs. In order to identify the rehabilitative needs of an offender, an assessment of an offender’s risk of recidivism and “criminogenic” needs using a validated instrument must be conducted. This assessment should incorporate an identification of “responsivity” factors, which are the potential barriers to learning such as mental health issues, learning disabilities, or learning styles. This assessment provides the basis for individualized case planning to address identified needs and responsivity factors consistent with the Fundamental Principles of Evidence-Based Correctional Practice[i]. The Department implemented the Louisiana Risk/Needs Assessment in 2005 and established Reentry Accountability Plans (ReAPs) and Probation & Parole Supervision Plans as individualized case plans designed to address identified risks and needs. The assessment process also includes a thorough medical and mental health examination, educational assessment, alcohol and drug screening, social history and criminal history. Inquiries are made into the offender’s work history and identification needs. Offenders housed in local jails are screened for medical, mental health, and substance abuse issues in compliance with the Department’s Basic Jail Guidelines, but do not currently receive the same level of assessment and case planning as those entering state institutions.
- Reentry Programming: Program assignments are recommended to reduce risk, address criminogenic needs, and build on strengths. Program participation assists offenders in making positive use of their time while in custody by learning skills through education and job training programs, developing new behaviors, addressing future deficiencies and developing pro-social thinking patterns to create a positive future for themselves and their families. The Reentry Committee, comprising staff across various disciplines (Classification, mental health, medical, education, and security) at each institution reviews and initiates reentry planning for offenders entering their facility. Offenders are assigned to programs based on their assessed risk level, medical or mental health needs and length of sentence. Institutional Staff prepare an individualized Reentry Accountability Plan (ReAP), which identifies the needs of an offender in the following areas: classification, job assignment, education, vocational, identification, therapeutic programs, medical and mental health, faith-based programming, victim awareness, family support and stabilization. These plans are updated periodically to ensure the offender is completing the goals envisioned for him or her and to make planning adjustments as circumstances warrant. Prior to release, offenders are provided with an intensive period of preparation, including release preparation programming.
- Phase II – Going Home (Institution):
The transitional phase begins before the offender’s target release date. In this phase, highly specific re-entry plans are created. Within three years of an offender’s discharge date, the Transition Specialist and Reentry Committee review the ReAP and prepare the offender to complete programs recommended in the ReAP and enter the Department’s Pre-Release Program. Every eligible offender releasing from a state prison, Regional Reentry Program, or a local jail Pre-Release Program participates in the Standardized Pre-Release Curriculum 2010, which is a complete reentry program addressing topics such as work readiness and employment preparation, money management and victim awareness to name a few. A major part of the Department’s reentry curriculum calls for offenders to have identification, social security cards and birth certificates upon release all of which increase their chances of being ready for employment right away. During this period, the Transition Specialist begins assembling at least two forms of identification to support the offender’s release. If necessary, a replacement birth certificate and/or Social Security card is requested. When the offender is within six months of release, or as part of completing the DPS&C’s Standardized Pre-Release Curriculum 2010, a Louisiana State Identification Card is created through a MOA with the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles utilizing these other forms of identification. Additionally, if eligible, an offender within three years of release may be directed into a Transitional Work Program (TWP) (formerly work release) following completion of the pre-release curriculum.
- Phase III – Staying Home (Probation and Parole/Community Corrections)
The community phase begins the moment the offender is released from prison and continues until he/she is discharged from community supervision. In this final phase, it is imperative that offenders receive support in their transition into the community and help in remaining as productive “returning citizens”. This is accomplished by monitoring their behavior, identifying and referring them to community programs and developing and growing partnerships with volunteer groups, local law enforcement, faith-based groups and other community and service providers that can assist the returning citizens in maintaining stability.
- SUPERVISION & SERVICES: It is imperative that returning citizens receive support in their transition into the community and help in remaining as productive citizens. This is accomplished by providing flexible and firm supervision, identifying and referring returning citizens to community programs, and developing partnerships with volunteers groups, local law enforcement, faith-based groups and other community and service providers that can assist them in maintaining stability.
- REVOCATION DECISION MAKING: The Division of Probation & Parole has implemented a Performance Grid that offers structured, graduated responses to violations of supervision conditions. Additionally, the Department offers a range of Alternative to Incarceration Programs for offenders that commit major technical violations.
- DISCHARGE & AFTERCARE: As the returning citizen nears the completion of his or her sentence, it is important to identify community stake holders to assume responsibility for helping the returning citizens to achieve case plan goals and continue to make positive, pro-social decisions.