New Jersey Reentry Services Commission: Barriers, Best Practices, and Action Items for Improving Reentry Services
Expand Swift, Certain, and Fair
Barriers to Reentry
Nationally, over 75 percent of parolees are rearrested within five years of release. Violations present severe barriers to transitioning back into the community; these violations are fairly common as about one-third of those on parole and probation violate the terms of their supervision. These high failure rates prevent individuals from fully integrating and forming lasting routines upon release from incarceration.
Additionally, as many drug convictions result in probation, probation departments are often overwhelmed with tremendous caseloads. As an alternative to consistently sanctioning violations, such as failed drug tests or missed probation appointments, probation officers and courts often allow repeat violations to go unsanctioned. A system that enforces consistent and swift punishments with fair sanctions more effectively induces behavioral changes and promotes successful reintegration.
Best Practices and Models
The theory of Swift, Certain, and Fair (SCF) for opioid-involved individuals focuses on immediate sanctions following the violation, consistency, and predictability of the consequences of a violation through a clearly-defined contract of expectations and punishments, and the avoidance of harsh punishment that impedes employment and reintegration upon recovery. This methodology is cost-effective as the supervision structure is less intense for the most compliant individuals and more intense for those with more violations; therefore, resources are allocated to individuals with the most need. Additionally, increasing the effectiveness of community supervision could decrease prison intakes by 30 to 40 percent by reducing technical parole violations.
Washington, D.C. conducted an experiment testing the three methods of drug use intervention programs. First, Washington D.C. tested a standard docket acted as the control and continued to intervene in its routine manner using twice-weekly drug tests and judicial monitoring. Second, the city treatment docket used a comprehensive treatment program that provided community programs to build self-esteem and skillsets. Finally, it instituted a sanctions docket intervened with a SCF approach that penalized failed drug tests using a swift and certain approach and encouraged offenders to enter treatment. The study found that participants in the sanction docket were significantly less likely than those on the standard docket to be re-arrested in the one year following the intervention program. These participants were less likely to use drugs upon pretrial release and in the year following sentencing. Participants reported that agreeing to consequences and expectations in advance provided a feeling of control. Overall, the decrease in arrests of those in the sanctions docket resulted in a savings of $2 for every $1 spent on program funding and a total net benefit of $713,570. When SCF was implemented in Maryland, it calculated a return between $2.30 and $5.70 for every dollar in program costs.
HOPE, a large-scale SCF program in Hawaii, touted significant improvements. The program involves regular random drug test and swift delivery of sanctions. Offenders receive notification of sanctions within days of the violation; jail terms do not exceed three days. Approximately 50 percent of the participants never received a sanction as they never violated after their initial warning hearing. The program is responsible for a reduction of failed drug tests of over 80 percent. Other states implemented programs modeled in SCF methodology reported similar successful results: Alaska’s PACE program saw a 48 percent decrease in failed or missed drug tests and Washington State’s WISP program saw a 70 percent reduction in positive drug tests and, despite utilizing jail time as a sanction, the amount of jail time dropped by 63 percent.
The Commission recommends expanding New Jersey’s use of Swift, Certain, and Fair methodology in drug courts for opioid involved individuals.
Swift, Certain, and Fair
The United States Department of Justice implemented a pilot program in partnership with the State Parole Board and New Jersey Reentry Corporation, known as Swift, Certain, and Fair (SCF). It is a team-based approach to addiction recovery. From day one, each man and woman understands the consequences of reusing, but each is given a clear, workable and individualized plan to stay drug-free.
Each re-entry participant, in collaboration with Community Behavioral Health Clinics, has access to 12 to 18 months of psychiatric care for mental health and behavioral treatment, medication assistance treatment, and a continuum of care from detox to Intensive Outpatient to outpatient care, and ongoing medical care. Participants are paired with a peer recovery specialist with firsthand experience dealing with a substance use disorder. If a participant reuses drugs there is swift penalty—perhaps a weekend in jail for the first violation, but not a return to a lengthy prison term of incarceration.
But it doesn’t end there. Recovery specialists, who have been in recovery for years, coordinate high-touch care with a team that includes parole officers, while NJRC provides intensive services that include counseling with social workers, job training and placement, legal assistance, and referrals to housing programs. Trauma is addressed. Individualized plans are developed. Each person is given time to heal and an opportunity to succeed. Communication is a priority and the team is in weekly contact with each participant. And not surprising, there is even an app to allow each person to participate in and take control of their recovery. The results are impressive: since January 2019, out of 44 participants only two have had his or her parole revoked.
SCF is the direction in which New Jersey needs to go. It is a great addition to a wide range of criminal justice reforms that make New Jersey a leader in combating the systemic problems of addiction treatment and reincarceration.