RD386 - Statewide Community-Based Corrections System Status Report FY2021
During FY2021, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has continued to apply evidence-based practices towards its community corrections supervision strategies and programs. For the fifth straight year, the DOC leads the nation with having the lowest, or second lowest recidivism rate, with a current recidivism rate of 23.9%. This is a testament to the agency’s commitment to improving long-term public safety by successfully reintegrating productive citizens to our communities and effectively supervising parolees and probationers through a culture of respect, accountability, and ethical behavior.
• During FY2021, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s Emergency Orders have required major operational changes for community corrections. DOC set a high standard in complying with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) guidance, and adapted its supervision techniques to ensure the welfare of our staff and probationers/parolees remained at the forefront. While some services were suspended due to safety precautions, the Department has utilized many innovative ways to safely administer community supervision. This includes electronic methods of conducting case openings and contacts with probationers/parolees, using drive-by methods for home contacts, and providing programming and mental health consults through tele-therapy applications. Officers donned full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for GPS installation and when administering drug tests.
• Throughout the pandemic, the Department has continued to provide programmatic services at the Community Corrections Alternative Program (CCAP) facilities. The programs offer a sentencing alternative to Circuit Courts for probationers who need intensive substance abuse treatment within the structure of a DOC operated community residential facility. Services in the CCAP operated utilizing social distancing and masks with a high level of sanitation and COVID-19 testing. Intake to the CCAP facilities was slowed to allow for smaller incoming groups of probationers to be quarantined as a prevention measure before being mainstreamed into programming.
• DOC continues to make great strides towards reducing the number of homeless releases from prison. This includes collaborating on community housing placements for those individuals with complex health care needs through regular contact with local social services agencies, the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS), local community services boards, local non-profit organizations, nursing homes and housing providers.
• DOC’s sex offender containment model of community supervision has operated effectively and provided intensive GPS supervision, polygraph examinations and treatment services to sex offenders, including the supervision of Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) conditional release cases from the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation (VCBR) on behalf of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).
• The six cognitive behavioral counselor positions provided to community corrections as a pilot program have demonstrated significant success. Data shows these positions produced an increase in programmatic services at all six pilot districts while allowing probation officers to focus more on field supervision. The pilot is a model that should be replicated at all probation and parole districts.
• DOC has expanded the use of evidence-based interventions with medium to high-risk probation cases by training and coaching staff on the effective use of core correctional practices using the EPICS II research based model. It has now become an established business practice in community corrections.
• DOC continues to improve the consistency of its probation and parole districts through the implementation of Operational Assessment Reviews conducted by teams of staff from other probation and parole districts. The review examines policy compliance, probationer/parolee contacts, case-plan driven supervision and the use of evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism.
• DOC continues to operate Learning Teams in all community corrections units whereby staff meet together in small groups twice per month and utilize dialogue practices to resolve concerns, advance teamwork, create improved operations and better their intervention skills with probationers/parolees. The Learning Teams were suspended during some of the fiscal year due to the pandemic but resumed in the second quarter by leveraging virtual communications.
• Probationers just released from prison are provided with brief cognitive-behavioral peer support groups to follow up prison treatment. These groups provide guidance during the critical period immediately following release. During FY 2020 due to COVID-19, many of these groups were suspended and some were continued using virtual platforms.
• DOC continues to operate the Federal Fidelity Bonding Program for all justice-involved persons in Virginia to assist with employability. Expansion of bonding efforts include additional educational materials such as posters and videos that are available in all Probation and Parole districts to better inform probationers/parolees about the Virginia Bonding Program.
• Chief Probation Officers actively participate as co-conveners of Local Reentry Councils in most localities in Virginia, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) or other non-profit organizations. Some of the councils have been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19.
• DOC’s Voice Verification Biometrics Unit for low-level supervision continues to operate successfully. The recidivism data shows over-supervision of these cases not only does not reduce recidivism, but also can actually have an adverse reaction causing it to rise. Probationers/parolees are monitored through the use of biometric surveillance for voice, facial, and location verification, as well as routine automated interviews.
• In conjunction with the DBHDS and local Community Services Boards, the DOC offers a piloted medically assisted treatment (MAT) program for individuals reentering the community after completing substance use disorder treatment in prison or in a CCAP facility. The program operates in conjunction with counseling and provides Vivitrol to volunteering individuals to support their desistance from opiate use after release. The initial dose is provided within the correctional facility, with MAT services provided after release by the local Community Services Boards. The pilot program is offered to program participants released to high opiate use areas of Richmond, Norfolk and southwest Virginia (Tazewell).
• The State Opioid Response (SOR) grant funds a Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS) initiative that has been launched within the DOC. The funding allows for individuals with lived experience in recovery, as well as the criminal justice system, to complete the 72 hour DBHDS Peer Recovery Specialist Training and serve as a PRS. PRS groups support the ongoing needs of individuals with a diagnosis of opioid dependence, stimulant dependence or who have experienced an overdose.
In addition to sizable accomplishments, many challenges remain. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to require the Department to re-envision how all services are provided and establish a “new normal" going forward. The agency will continue to be innovative while putting the welfare of all probationers/parolees and staff as a first priority.
• Probation and parole districts continue to be confronted with large workloads, limiting the time and services that can be provided to probationers/parolees.
• Vacancies among probation officers is a critical issue that is reaching crisis proportions in some districts. Low compensation and heavy workloads make it difficult for DOC to attract and retain employees in the overall economy where many other options are available.
• Too many people still enter the community from prison without housing. Housing is particularly challenging for those with sexual and violent offenses. There is also a critical housing need for individuals who need assisted living, nursing home and/or geriatric care.
• Many individuals are released to state probation supervision from local jails without receiving proper reentry preparation, medication or housing planning. Many community service boards do not provide mental health treatment to certain types of probationers/parolees, such as those convicted of sex offenses or murder, contributing to a higher public risk and recidivism rate for released persons with mental health needs.
• Although criminal thinking is identified as the primary driver of recidivism, and research strongly supports cognitive-behavioral programs as an effective intervention, DOC is not funded to provide programming for the over 30,000 probationers/parolees with this need.
• The rising number of cases placed on GPS and the increased number of individuals with an identified gang affiliation require more intensive probation supervision at a time when probation/parole officer caseloads are already stretched.
• Substance use disorder continues to be rampant among probationers/parolees and community resources for treatment, particularly residential treatment and MAT, are extremely limited. Services in rural areas are also very limited.
With its many successes and despite the challenges, DOC is committed to creating lasting public safety by preparing probationers/parolees to reintegrate into law-abiding lives after their community supervision period is completed. The Department continues to see significant benefits from its organizational development and application of evidence-based business practices to create a learning organization with the culture to sustain both staff and probationer/parolee growth. By following evidence-based practices, the DOC will continue to:
• Identify probationer/parolee risks and needs and give priority to those who pose the greatest risk to public safety;
• Develop and update case plans that address identified risks and needs;
• Utilize research based services to respond to individual needs and reduce the risk of recidivism as resources allow;
• Quickly and appropriately respond to compliance and non-compliance with proportionate incentives and sanctions;
• Continue to evaluate our supervision practices and services and seek ways to improve our operations to achieve our goal of creating lasting public safety.