If the rest of the criminal justice system could get on board with evidence-based practice and sentencing guidelines, we'd likely see a drastic reduction in our incarceration rates and far more people with substance abuse issues making it successfully in the community.
November 22, 2011 at 12:47 PM EST
The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy recognizes that many individuals who use drugs become involved in the criminal justice system. This is also the case in Maricopa County, Arizona. The most recent Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network (AARIN) Annual Adult Report, which provides data on arrestees in Maricopa County, indicates that in the 30 days prior to arrest 56% used marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin.
Many of the principles identified in the Strategy that are intended to break the drugs and crime cycle are being implemented in Maricopa County by the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department. Below are some accomplishments and ongoing projects focused on assisting offenders.
- Evidence-Based Practices (EBP) - The department is committed to using evidence-based practices (EBP) in its supervision strategies and has translated EBP into practical approaches that probation officers can incorporate into their daily supervision practices, such as using validated risk and needs assessments and reassessments to develop probationer case plans. Individuals with drug abuse disorders are referred to drug court or other relevant treatment programs.
- Reentry - In January 2010, through a federal stimulus grant, the department implemented a Prison Reentry Unit, changing the way released offenders are supervised. A key priority is ensuring these offenders report to the probation department following their release from the Arizona Department of Corrections. In the first year, over 1200 offenders received services from the unit. The rate of offenders failing to report to probation following release from prison dropped from 23% to 2.3% with the grant. In addition, the rate of petitions to terminate probation and return the offender to the Department of Corrections (called “petitions to revoke”) filed in the first twelve months after release dropped from 10.1% to 4.9% with the program, and the rate of new felony arrests dropped from 13.8% to 10.8% with the program.
- Earned Time Credit (ETC) - Effective January 1, 2009, the State of Arizona implemented Earned Time Credit (ETC), providing eligible offenders the opportunity to earn 20 days of credit for every 30 days they comply with their court-ordered financial obligations, community restitution hours and are making progress towards their case plan goals. In the short-term, it is anticipated that this legislation will reduce the length of time on probation while increasing the likelihood of successful completion of probation. In the long term, we expect that the likelihood of recidivism will be reduced following termination from probation.
- Probation Outcomes - While evaluations of the effectiveness of these initiatives are ongoing, we have seen positive results. Crime reduction is a key goal in the department’s strategic plan and is measured through three main results: successful completion of probation, termination of probation and returning to the Department of Corrections, and new felony sentences. From FY2008 to FY2011, the percentage of offenders successfully completing probation increased from 66% to 80.3%; the percentage of offenders returned to the Department of Corrections decreased from 28% to 18.4%, and the percentage of offenders with new felony sentences decreased from 8.0% to 4.9%. How does this affect public safety? In FY2011, an additional 1,340 offenders successfully completed probation, 1,601 fewer offenders were returned to the Department of Corrections, and 885 fewer offenders were sentenced for new felony offenses.
These results are encouraging. It suggests that offenders can be effectively supervised in the community without negatively affecting public safety. And we can break the cycle of drugs, crime and incarceration.
Barbara Broderick is Chief Probation Officer at the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department