The Spokane Smart Justice campaign launches on a high note with help from one of the nation’s leading experts on criminal justice reforms.
As Douglas Marlowe noted with a touch of humor last night, it’s not every day that an academic expert on criminal justice reform speaks in front of a mostly-packed theater about his work. Yet, that was the scene last night at the Bing Theater in downtown Spokane as Marlowe, a Ph.D. psychologist, lawyer, and researcher from the University of Pennsylvania launched into two hours of presentation and discussion.
Before his blunt and engaging talk, Marlowe sat down for a short interview with Tim Connor, which you can listen to on the above podcast strip.
“I can tell you that for example, drug courts, which are those court supervised programs I talked about, national data, including in your state, every one dollar invested in a drug court, you get two dollars and twenty one cent return on investment. If I could just get a quick show of hands. How many of you are getting a two hundred and twenty one percent return on your 401 ks? Now, if the programs target the right populations using the better quality programs, you can get about three dollars and thirty six cents average, for every dollar invested. These are good investments. I can’t tell you every single program what the cost benefit will be. But what I’m saying to you is, if you do this you won’t be sorry.”
An important glimpse into Marlowe’s message comes in this exchange with Spokane Superior Court Judge Harold D. Clarke III, which is transcribed below. The key reference here is the so-called “Bennett Report” produced for Spokane County by consultants David Bennett of Park City, Utah, and Donna Lattin in February 2008. You can download the full report, or read a user-friendly summary put together by CFJ attorney Julie Schaffer and volunteer attorney Mary Lou Johnson, available at the end of this post.
Judge Harold D. Clarke III: Our county, Spokane County hired a consultant, David Bennett, to review our local criminal justice system, and he and his colleague issued a report in 2008 recommending certain programs and services that could reduce the jail population here. Recognizing that elected officials have a difficult job in balancing budgets while addressing criminal justice needs, I have a couple questions for you. First of all, do you agree with the recommendations in that report, and secondly, looking at those recommendations, if they were implemented here, what results could be expected, and what is the budgetary impact?
Douglas Marlowe: “I’ve reviewed the report that Judge Clarke is referring to. And I would commend it to all of you to look at and make available to people. What this report says is that all of the things I was just talking about, in terms of the problems with our criminal justice system, apply to your jurisdiction. That somebody has come in here, done a a careful analysis and concluded that you do not have a full range of programs and services available, that you’re over-relying on jail for populations that do not require jail; that you’re not doing validated risk or needs assessments for the most part, at all; that you do not have effective pre-trial services monitoring. In other words, you’re like every other jurisdiction in the country. So, I’m not insulting anybody here. I come from Philadelphia and we make you guys look enlightened. Now the recommendations of the report are essentially not different from many of the recommendations I suggested. First of all, create a continuum of interventions—drug courts, pre-plea diversion, post-plea diversion, intermediate sanctions. Develop those programs where they don’t exist. Number two, develop a pretrial services unit to manage cases prior to disposition. Number three, use validated risk and need assessments to decide where people should go and then improve your case filing which is more of a paper-shuffling issue, but a very important one. So what I’m saying to you is that this report is accurate, it’s similar to reports that have been issued by experts all over the country, for jurisdictions all over the country, and I do recommend you do it.
Now the other question you asked is, okay, for the policy makers in the room, what kind of return on investment should we anticipate? I can only give you what the national data tells us about the effectiveness of these programs. When a community enters a new, evidence-based program, brings in a drug court, brings in an intensively supervised probation program, something like that, on average they get a ten percent reduction in crime. Crime being measure by re-arrest rates, typically how we measure it, and usually measured over two years. They say, why are you only looking at a two year period? Because two years is essentially—how do I say this nicely? If I was a legislator, and I was going to spend public dollars, I’m not going to spend them unless I’m going to see the effects during my term. Okay? And so, these are not speculative, contingent, remote things, ‘you can do this and twenty years from now your grandkids will realize effective change.’ These are twenty four month changes, ten percent reduction in re-arrest rates. If you develop a continuum of multiple programs you should expect an average of a thirty percent reduction in crime. Now, those are averages. Obviously, if the programs are no good and you’re going to have a lot of poor quality programs, then you’re going to get a five percent reduction, and if your programs are really good there are examples of fifty percent—cutting crime in half. As far as cost-benefit. It’s very hard to do cost-benefit analysis of every kind of program out there. I can tell you that for example, drug courts, which are those court supervised programs I talked about, national data, including in your state, every one dollar invested in a drug court, you get two dollars and twenty one cent return on investment. If I could just get a quick show of hands. How many of you are getting a two hundred and twenty one percent return on your 401 ks? Now, if the programs target the right populations using the better quality programs, you can get about three dollars and thirty six cents average, for every dollar invested. These are good investments. I can’t tell you every single program what the cost benefit will be. But what I’m saying to you is, if you do this you won’t be sorry.”
Bennett Report Summary
•What is the Bennett Report?
In 2007, David Bennett Consulting conducted a broad assessment of the local criminal justice system to lay the groundwork for Spokane County’s long-term facility and system planning. Bennett developed a report called the Spokane County Corrections Needs Assessment Master Plan Draft (the Bennett Report). The Report recommends that Spokane County adopt various systems and programs that have been proven to reduce jail populations. Implementation of the recommendations, the Report suggests could resolve Spokane County’s jail overcrowding problem and save money by diverting non-violent offenders to programs that are less expensive than jail and that reduce recidivism.
•What is contributing to the overcrowding of our jails now?
According to the Bennett Report, jail population is a function of two key factors: The number of admissions and the length of stay. Factors that influence the number of admissions to jail include: County population, availability of pre- booking alternatives, pre-trial failure to appear rate, supervision violation rate, and program effectiveness (Exec. Summary, p. 11). Factors that affect the length of stay in jail include: The availability of pre-trial release options, case processing times, and sentence alternatives (Exec. Summary, p 12). According to the Report, if the recommended measures are implemented, the jail population can be reduced significantly.
•What are some of the key recommendations of the Bennett Report?
Comprehensive Pre-Trial Services Program – The purpose of the program is to gather information about each person at the time they are booked into jail so that the remainder of the criminal justice process is tailored specifically to their unique risks and needs. Information gathered during the initial interview will:
1) Help identify candidates for diversion programs (such as drug court and mental health court);
2) inform pre-trial release type (bail, electronic home monitoring, etc);
3) determine the level and type of pre-trial supervision needed to ensure compliance with release conditions and attendance at initial court hearings (“failure to appears,” (FTA’s) result in huge costs and delays in the system);
4) support Early Case Resolution (discussed below); and,
5) ensure early and appropriate appointment of counsel (through indigency screening). Up-front risk and needs assessments will improve utilization of limited jail space. “Jail population size and jail overcrowding has been directly linked to the hours of operation of Pre-Trial programs: the more coverage the less crowded the jail.” (Ch. 4, p. 13)
Early Case Resolution (ECR) Program – The purpose of the program is to expedite the time disposition of misdemeanor and lower level felony cases (“Same Justice Sooner”). The program assigns a single judge to conduct all front-end aspects of cases (setting of bail and other conditions of pre-trial release, appointment of counsel, taking of pleas, etc), using the information gathered during the Pre-Trial Services program to guide his/her decisions. A special prosecutor and defender are also assigned to ECR and review new arrests daily. Their goal is to negotiate and resolve as many misdemeanors and lower level felonies the day following arrest. This frees up time, money, and jail beds for more serious offenders. (Ch. 4, p. 14-19)
Reduce Time to Filing – The goal should be to file all but the most complex cases within 72 hours of booking (at the time of the Report, the average was 57 days). This would require the County Prosecutor’s Office to set up time standards for filing and law enforcement to submit their reports in a timely fashion. (Ch. 4, p. 21)
Consolidate City and County Adjudication and Supervision Services – Consolidating prosecution, defense, and misdemeanor probation services between the City of Spokane and Spokane County, would allow for a coordinated and more streamlined approach to case management that would reduce costs and provide better outcomes. (Ch. 4, p. 22, 27-28)
Resolve Holds and New Charges at the Same Time – Based on the jail data used by Bennett, 38% of inmates were in “hold” status. The system should set a priority on the resolution of holds. Where there is a hold and new charges, both should be resolved at the same hearing. Where the hold refers to a case waiting transport to state prison, steps should be taken to expedite the transfer. (Ch. 4, p. 22-23)
Reduce the Number of Continuances – Stipulations by counsel as to continuances should not govern the resolution of cases. The court should control the calendar according to case management plans. (Ch. 4, p. 24)
Examine Case Attrition/Dismissal Rates – Spokane County’s high dismissal rates in both District and Superior Court should be explored. (Ch. 4, p. 24)
Develop Treatment-Based Sentence Alternatives to be used in Lieu of Jail – Reduce the reliance on jail as a sentencing option and develop and utilize alternatives. (Ch. 4, p. 25-27)
Adopt Caseload Standards – In addition to adopting caseload standards, implementing Early Case Resolution and consolidating prosecution, defense and supervision services with help reduce caseloads. (Ch. 4, p. 28)
Operate a Community Corrections Center (CCC) – A CCC would help individuals transition from jail or other supervision back into the community by providing a continuum of programs to prepare them for re-entry. Such programs would include substance abuse treatment, cognitive skills classes, employment testing, job search assistance, life skills and parenting classes, etc. (Ch. 4, p. 28-29)
Expand Work Release - Low-risk offenders and other offenders transitioning from jail back into the community should be enrolled in work release, where they work during the day and return to the CCC for lock-down at night. While enrolled, they can be participating in treatment, skills classes and receiving job search assistance. Eligibility for work release should not be conditioned on an offender’s ability to pay a weekly fee for the program. (Ch. 4, p. 29-30)
Make Work Crew a Non-Custodial Alternative – Low-risk offenders should be able to substitute 8 hours on a work crew for 1 day in custody, and live at home while satisfying their obligation to the court and community. Electronic Home Monitoring could be employed for those in need of additional supervision. (Ch. 4, p. 30)
Develop a Continuum of Programs to transition people from Jail, to a CCC, to re-entry – Programs to address the risk factors associated with criminality are necessary to reduce recidivism (addiction, mental illness, criminal thinking, unemployment, etc). Individual case plans should be developed at the beginning to target individual needs and risks, and programs should be available during all phases of the system (including jail). “The goal is to begin to view jail as the gateway to the community.” (Ch. 4, p. 30-38)
End the Jail Booking Exclusion Practice – At the time of the Report, particular offenses did not qualify for booking when the jail was full. The Report recommends ending this practice and instead managing jail population by implementing the recommendations in the Report, such as Pre-Trial Services, Early Case Resolution, non-jail alternatives, etc. (Ch. 4, p. 36-37)
Strengthen Mental Health Services - This includes: Having clinical staff available during the jail booking process to identify and care for the mentally ill; providing in-custody mental health services; helping mentally ill inmates plan for discharge by helping them set up benefits, housing, ongoing treatment, etc; educating first responders about identifying mental illness and responding appropriately; continuing to update and integrate databases that store information about individuals who have had contact with mental health services; expanding the Therapeutic Mental Health Court; and, providing a 24/7 crisis center where law enforcement can take mentally ill offenders as an alternative to jail. (Ch. 4, p. 39-44)
Community Supervision and Treatment Programs – Consolidate municipal and county misdemeanor probation; coordinate with DOC in terms of information sharing and sharing one case plan; use risk assessments to guide the intensity of supervision (this will reduce violations and better utilize resources); reduce caseloads (risk assessments will help better allocate resources); ensure that sanctions for probation violations occur immediately after the violation (the quicker the sanction, the more likely to change behavior); subsidize treatment; strengthen DV and DUI treatment; address treatment program quality and increase availability; expand drug court; expand and support the Detox program. (Ch. 4, p. 44-59)
Information Systems –Track each area of the criminal justice system to monitor system workloads, trends, and outcomes. This data will inform decisions about needed system changes. (Ch. 4, p. 59-60)
How important are the Report’s recommendations?
The Report advises that “new beds alone cannot solve a county’s overcrowding problem.” (Exe. Summary, p. 2). Bennett stresses that if the recommendations of the Report are not adopted then the County will need increasing numbers of jail beds.
“Left uncontrolled, the present correctional populations will continue to grow, filling and overfilling whatever facilities are constructed in response to such growth, leaving Spokane County with no alternatives for managing the jail population other than simply building new facilities every few years in response to new overcrowding.” (Ch. 3, p. 19).
The Report notes that, “[s]ome of the recommendations require an investment in both time and money, but can be viewed as a “pay me now or pay me later” proposition. This is because the implementation of these recommendations will result in the more efficient management of existing resources, thereby delaying the day when the county needs to start planning again for more jail beds.” (Exe. Summary, p. 21).
How many correctional beds does the Report forecast as needed by 2035?
The Report forecasts that in 2035, the County will need 1590 jail beds, assuming that the Spokane County Jail is properly utilized today and that the Jail will be utilized at the same rate in the future. The Report states, however, that neither assumption is likely true. (Ch. 3, p. 13) Varying predicted length of stay, admission rates, and accounting for peak utilization and classification of inmates, the Report alternatively forecasts a need for 1752 to 2603 beds. (Ch. 3, p. 17). If length of stay can be reduced by “additional pre- or post-trial intermediate sanctions” (Ch. 3, p. 13) or the admission rate reduced by pre-admission alternatives, then the number of needed beds can be reduced.
The Report also forecasts a need for a 300-350 bed Community Corrections Center. (Ch. 3, p. 18; Chap. 4, p. 36). It is noted that Geiger was supposed to function as a Community Corrections Center, but instead has been used for “holding those prisoners for whom the jail has no room.” (Ch. 3, p. 18).
“The Jail and Community Corrections Center should be planned together. The two should be considered a part of a single continuum of custody to community resources. Having both facilities provides a jurisdiction with increased flexibility to manage its inmate population, while providing the offender a graduated reentry to the community.” (Exe. Summary, p. 19).