Thursday, December 17, 2009

Evidence-based practices described to judges at state sentencing conference

I wasn't able to take notes during Ed Latessa's lively lecture to the recent state sentencing conference for judges, DAs and probation officials sponsored by TDCJ's probation division, so I'm pleased to see they put his presentation online regarding the current state of evidence-based supervision practices:
If you're looking for a quickie update on the current state of evidence-based best practices in probation, this is an excellent starting point. He emphasizes a point that I've seen myself is a frequent source of confusion and bad outcomes in Texas: The importance of front-end assessment - then actually relying on that assessment to make decisions - in identifying what interventions are and aren't needed. Some interventions on low-risk offenders statistically increase recidivism, he said, because it causes them to associate with higher risk people which outweighs any good from the program. You get the most bang for the buck, he said, targeting treatment and intensive supervision on the highest-risk offenders, with programming narrowly targeted to focus on identified "criminogenic" (crime causing) risks.

CJAD also posted a data-filled presentation from Adam Gelb at the Pew Center on the States comparing Texas' criminal justice system with the rest of the country:
Lots of good data in this presentation covering ground that Grits frequently traverses, so those interested in how Texas stacks up nationally should give it a read. Pew gives Texas credit for charting a new course (p. 20 of the pdf), but we also clearly went much further than most other states down the road to Tuff-on-Crimelandia before we began to turn that corner.

At one in 22 adults in prison, jail, on probation or on parole, Pews says Texas ranks fourth nationally in the proportion of its population under correctional control, behind Georgia, Idaho and the District of Columbia. (One in 13 adult Georgians, believe it or not, are in prison, jail, on probation or on parole.)

The most remarkable new fact-bite for me out of Gelb's presentation were Pew's numbers on the percentage of state workers employed in corrections (page 15 of the pdf). The national average is 11%. The average in southern states is 12.1%. But in Texas, 16.9% of state employees are in corrections, and that's with TDCJ more than 1,000 guards short of full staffing! Corrections makes up 8.6% of Texas' state general funds, says Pew, compared with 6.8% on average in other states.

Both these presentations contain a lot of interesting tidbits and are well worth the few minutes it takes to read through each of them - even without the presenters' commentary, they're mostly self-explanatory.

See related Grits posts:


Texas Maverick said...

"Lakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead
horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in corrections, and in
other affairs, we often try other strategies, including the following:"
"Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position." [Texas seems to follow the last solution] The Peter Principle taken to the max.

Fab presentation but I noticed the BPP was not listed as an attendee; nor were members of the leg. Is there a way to find out if particular counties were represented - oops, I need to get off my duff and not let grits do all the work. Thanks for keeping up with everything. I will be sure my state reps. have copies of this presentation. You give me hope that there is some sanity still in this world. Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

What!! "Some interventions on low-risk offenders statistically increase recidivism." I'm so freakin tired of hearing "experts" blame the system for the actions of screwed up people. It's stupid and ridiculous!! What evidence is evidence-based practices based..lower referrals? Referrals can be lowered a variety of different reasons, none of which can be "evidenced" and the statistics surely can not be blamed on the system's actions. Are you also going to support "evidence based system failures". The system deals with screwed up people!! If a criminal makes the choice to be negatively influenced by another criminal, then it's the criminal's fault, not the system. They are likely associating with the same type people when they are not in jail. Dysfunctional people seek dysfunctional people!! It's caused by a breakdown in family values, which is never repaired...regardless of how many people try to point blame at a system that deals with screwed up people.

Texas Maverick said...

Anonymous 11:01 Perhaps you might reconsider if you read the entire presentation of both men. Behavioral intervention works and the studies show just that. Break the cycle and people change. Otherwise your taxes keep going up to pay for the increased cost of practices that don't work. I'm all for saving money AND changing lives.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Maverick: there were a few parole people there too, fwiw, including Rissie Owens who was on a panel. More judges and probation folks, though - at least among the folks I talked to.

Anon 11:01, if you'd read the presentation instead of just calling people "stupid" because you don't understand what they're saying, you'd see Latessa's EBP approach is all about changing offender behavior and getting them away from bad associations. In fact, it's narrowly focused on those goals. Based on your analysis here, you'd probably agree with much of it if you'd read and think before devolving to name calling.

Anonymous said...

I've been working in Probation for over 15 years - what Latessa presents is correct. I've seen every approach to supervision in my career - mostly poor, reactionary punishment and policies. But these strageties will only work if DAs and Judges are willing to let go and let probation Departments take the lead.

Anonymous said...

I've been in probation for 15 years as well and I'm not saying therapeutic programs are ineffective, but without punishment oriented programs, therapeutic ones don't work. There must be a balance of all available programs for all levels of offenders. Most offenders in the system go to programs because the Judge ordered it and there is a fear of incarceration, not because they want to change their screwed up lifestyles. I've never had a probationer tell me that he went to counseling because he was afraid I would send him to counseling....they go because they fear punishment oriented programs. Both styles must be used in order for the system to work.

Bert said...

Evidence-based practices are bogus. This is just a trendy way of saying "We'll spend a lot of money trying something new". NIDA and TCU do a little research, decide that something like "Cognitive Restructuring" is the next big thing, and then gets some more millions for research. What will it be next time? We already know that education and job training reduce recidivism, but many inmates spend years in prison without access to these programs. I hear it all the time. "I signed up for the program and waited for 6 months, but then they moved me to another unit where the program was not available". Everyinmate should leave prison with a GED and a trade. We already know it works.

Anonymous said...

Bert makes good sense and is probably very close to the truth of the matter. As always,follow the money and see who really reaps the benefit of the expenditure of millions of tax dollars. I would hazard a guess that more often than not it is the company/person/group/etc. that "sold" the "new" plan rather than the offender.

At the Fed Camp at Edgefield SC, for example, you can get wonderful training in filling out a McDonalds app 101 but not much else. Hell,there are no computers available there for a training program much less e-mail use.

Anonymous said...

Evidence based is the new 'buzz word' in corrections. I have always wondered who collects the evidence.

Anonymous said...

Evidenced based practices are good things. That is if the evidence they are based on is any good. There is good, no great, evidence with both juveniles and adults that indicates that when lower level offenders have extended exposure to higher level offenders is associated with increased recidivism for the lower level offender. Of course the blame goes to the offender if they recommit crimes, but if the system can decrease exposure to negative influences then the system should do so and if they don't they are to blame.

Evidence based terminology is being abused, particularly in Texas and in TYC. This whole CoNEXTions based program had virtually no empirical support with juvenile offenders and the assessment program, R-PACT has NO OUTCOME BASED EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT ITS USE. They are using this thing for sex offenders and it is worthless.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Evidence based is the new 'buzz word' in corrections."

FWIW, that's why you should read Latessa's presentation. He's actually telling you what is and isn't "evidence-based" according to the current research, and he defines his terms (including that one), which is helpful.

The term is misused, but by "misused" I mean many officials just label whatever they're doing as evidence-based instead of doing the things Latessa describes.

Anonymous said...

CoNEXTions seems to be inoffensive to some TYC students but is seen as irrelevant. It washes away as soon as he hits the streets.

Mostly CoNEXTions (and R-PACT) tie up staff time at TYC.