Guiding Individuals with Community Corrections
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Guiding Individuals with Community Corrections

By Maureen Anderson, Probation/Pretrial Manager, Prince William County Government

Maureen Anderson, Probation/Pretrial Manager, Prince William County Government

Imagine being involved in the legal system for the first time. You are unfamiliar with the process and scared of what lies ahead. You nervously appear at your court hearing. By the time the judge has finished speaking, you have been given paperwork instructing you to report to pretrial or probation. Before you can ask any questions, the next case is called.

The court experience can be overwhelming for anyone, and community corrections agencies are here to provide clients with the support and guidance they need during supervision to aid in their success.

The court refers clients to community corrections agencies by placing them on either pretrial or probation supervision. Pretrial supervision is designed to aid the courts in the initial processing of defendants, reduce jail overcrowding, and uphold public safety. Probation provides supervision and services primarily to clients for post-adjudication. Failure to comply with conditions may put clients at risk of having their bail revoked, their suspended jail sentence imposed. If a withholding of guilt has been deferred, they may even be found guilty of the underlying charge.

According to research from The Pew Charitable Trusts, as of 2016, about 4.5 million people in the United States were on community supervision. Community corrections use evidence-based practices and risk reduction to improve criminal justice outcomes. Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) relies on over thirty years of research to define what works with criminal justice clients. EBP strategies include utilizing risk assessments, cognitive-behavioral interventions, and the use of incentives and sanctions for behavior.

Risk assessments are used nationwide. While the instruments may vary, they are all validated and composed of factors that predict the risk of recidivism. Pretrial officers utilize a risk assessment to make bond recommendations. Virginia utilizes the Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (VPRAI). Probation officers conduct risk and need assessments to make referrals to appropriate services. Virginia Probation Officers use the Modified Offenders Screening Tool (MOST) and Offenders Screening Tool (OST). The results of the MOST determine if further assessment is needed, OST identities in which criminogenic needs should be prioritized during supervision. The VPRAI, MOST, and OST all aid in determining the supervision level of clients and the frequency of contacts with their Pretrial or Probation Officer.

"The primary objective of community corrections agencies is to assist in contributing to safer communities by using effective and efficient evidence-based assessment and interventions"

Research has shown that community corrections professionals have the potential to impact recidivism through interactions with clients. Officers use a cognitive approach while working with clients on supervision. This is accomplished by meeting clients where they are and utilizing skills and tools to address their behavior. The cognitive approach helps clients recognize thoughts and feelings that trigger their behavior. Changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors ultimately change outcomes.

Community corrections agencies continuously implement new risk reduction and evidence-based practices to improve criminal justice outcomes. Some of the new initiatives include:

• Effective Practices In Correctional Settings (EPICS) originally developed by Dr. Paula Smith and Christopher T. Lowenkamp. EPICS is a set of skills designed to increase motivation and maximize behavior change.

• The Administrative Response Matrix (ARM) is a tool that aids in providing positive incentives to clients as well as ensures swift, certain, and fair responses to violations. The tool builds upon the concepts of graduated sanctions by using a pre-approved matrix of client behaviors matched with rewards and sanctions based on the client’s supervision level.

• Conducting office contacts through Skype.

• Sending court date reminders via text messages through texting systems.

• Referring clients to Cognitive Behavior Groups.

• Diverting mentally ill to secure drop off facilities in lieu of arrest so they can be evaluated.

•  Referring clients with opiate additions to Peer Navigator so that they can receive substance abuse treatment once they are released back into the community.

• Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT) to help individuals with opiate addictions transition to maintaining sobriety once they are released.

• Collaborating with stakeholders to build upon re-entry efforts for inmates still incarcerated to prepare them for their release, and they continue to collaborate when clients are released into the community.

The primary objective of community corrections agencies is to assist in contributing to safer communities by using effective and efficient evidence-based assessments and interventions. The Virginia local probation recidivism rate was 11%, and the local pretrial recidivism rate was 7% for FY 2019.

Community corrections are an ever-evolving field that will continue to implement new initiatives as they become available to provide clients with tools and resources to improve outcomes.

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