Posted on February 23, 2017 21:01
The Coalition for Teens and Young Adults invited a speaker “working on the front lines” for its Thursday night meeting.
Community Corrections Director Amber Finnegan led an hour-long presentation as part of the group’s efforts to learn more about the agencies and services related to criminal justice and substance abuse.
Finnegan, who attended the last Coalition meeting, said she returned to expand on Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde’s presentation on evidence-based decision making.
Finnegan, who has led the corrections program since bringing it to Jefferson County in 2010, also reminded the audience of about 30 what community corrections does.
“I think it is important that we all kind of know what’s going on within our community,” Finnegan said. “There are a lot of agencies and a lot of people that are really actively trying to combat a very difficult problem that we have here.”
Community corrections programs are intended to keep people out of jail by having alternatives such as work release, home detention and electronic monitoring. The programs also offer skills for re-entry into the outside world for people who are sent to jail or prison.
Individuals working with Finnegan’s staff of 16 are sentenced to the program by the courts, often as a condition of their probation.
About 380 people are currently involved in community corrections, with 75 of them pretrial or not yet receiving services.
The evidence-based decision making initiative, she said, is taking a new approach to just about everything the criminal justice system handles.
The initiative was developed in 2008 by the National Institute of Corrections as a framework to find best practices serving every step of the criminal justice system.
“I think we all kind of know that our country is in need of some kind of criminal justice reform. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world – we have the highest incarceration rate,” Finnegan said.
“I think I’ve heard the saying ‘you can’t incarcerate your way out of a drug addiction.’ We cannot continue to incarcerate these people that have drug problems.”
The initiative will focus on collecting data that shows what programs are actually working. Methods to support the initiative go all the way down to law enforcement using objective criteria to decide between arrest and citation, to prosecutors and judges sentencing, and jail release and finally, the county deciding on which programs to fund.
Jefferson County is one of six in the state, and 21 in the nation, chosen for the NIC evidence-based pilot program.
“So what we’re doing here is a big deal,” Finnegan said.
In the past two years, that program has shifted into the implementation phase to begin making changes and seeing what works. A partnership with the Center of Effective Public Policy will allow them to better collect and analyze data for the pilot.
To begin implementing change, pretrial misconduct and jail transitional services were chosen as “change targets.”
In the pretrial realm, the initiative team is working on getting people assessed more quickly after they’ve been arrested. These risk assessments would help decide who actually needs to be jailed, considering the likelihood that they will return for a court date or commit another crime.
In the jail, the focus has turned to connecting offenders with transitional services when they prepare to leave and with more contact during their stay. For example, a Lifesprings therapist now visits the jail for about 20 hours each week. That therapist can then connect those individuals to other services after their release.
On the teams considering these changes and studying what changes may work are the sheriff, police chief, judges, prosecutor, defense counsel, mental health representatives, probation officers and victim advocates.
“Everybody works in their own little silo, so we’re trying to remove those silos and have everybody knowing what everybody else is doing.”
Successes may not be as visible to the community, Finnegan said, but solid data can be used to demonstrate results.
“We’re trying to improve the problem that we know we have. So we know that there are certain issues with how people are sentenced or how people are supervised... You don’t see change overnight, but that’s another part of collecting data.”
For the second half of her presentation, Finnegan spoke about continuing grant-funded work with the Jefferson County Adult Treatment team (JCATT), or as she’s come to refer to it, the “treatment train.”
What some knew as the continuum of care is now being referred to as a train. Each car of the train represents a service provided.
“You can’t just treat the addiction. You have to treat the cognitive distortions...the family...the school..the employment. There’s a whole realm to make that person healthy again.”
People sent to community corrections get on that train and hopefully find a network of support before getting off. Finnegan said she calls River Valley Resources “the caboose” of that train with many of the other “cars” housed at the Clearinghouse facility on Second Street – just next door to community corrections offices.
Of those people in the community corrections program, Finnegan said about 93 percent are on that train.
Much like the evidence-based decision making initiative, the JCATT is still in its infancy. As the train enters its fifth year of grant funding, it’s still too early to report numbers of actual success.
Still, Finnegan believes it’s working and vital to the community. Again, gathering thorough data will take time.
As the need for similar programs that connect people to programs that relate to substance abuse, it’s possible the JCATT could lose its funding to other programs including a detox facility in Indianapolis.
Currently, the program receives $500,000 in funding through the state’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction.
“There’s going to be a time where funding is going to be an issue,” Finnegan said when asked how the community could support the treatment train. “Getting support for that locally is going to be a task in its own.”
To learn more about the program, visit www.jeffersoncommunitycorrections.com.
The next meeting of the Coalition for Teens and Young Adults is set for 6 p.m., March 29, at City Hall.