Bar News - January 15, 2014
Criminal Law: Sullivan County’s Community Corrections Journey
By: Marc Hathaway
A Customized System for Addressing Substance Abuse and Recidivism
By December 2006, the nearly 30-year-old Sullivan County jail, which was originally designed to house 44 inmates, had an average daily population of 103 inmates, or 134 percent above capacity, with the census growing by almost 7 percent per year.
Sullivan County officials realized that overcrowding, while important, could not be effectively addressed or understood in isolation. Expanding jail capacity alone would not solve the overcrowding problem or improve public safety. Simply adding more jail space was not the answer.
Instead, Sullivan County conducted a system-wide study to identify the factors that were contributing to the increasing demand for jail space. The study found that 55 percent of inmates were high-risk offenders (using drugs or alcohol for three months or longer, with more than one relapse); 19 percent were moderate-risk offenders (using drugs for three months or longer, with a period of sobriety of at least 90 days) and 26 percent were low-risk offenders (using drugs experimentally, had used in the past, but no recent use). Nearly all inmates reported abusing more than one drug. The impact of dependency on the jail population was further evidenced by the data showing that 19 percent of the inmates incarcerated were convicted of a drug-specific offense, and for an even larger percentage of inmates, the underlying criminal behavior (primarily property crimes) could be attributed to dependency and addictive behavior.
IThe Sullivan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, made up of representatives from the court, corrections, law enforcement, the NH Public Defender program, prosecution, mental health professionals/providers, the county delegation and commissioners’ office, analyzed the system-wide study and came together to develop solutions. What emerged was a long-term approach with the goals of addressing jail overcrowding in a cost-effective manner and promoting rehabilitation of those sentenced to the jail without compromising public safety. Critical decisions made during this process included the following:
Community Corrections Center:
By the Numbers
Sullivan County: 21 percent
NH State Prison: 47 percent
Cost of new 194-bed jail: $45 million
Cost of 72-bed community corrections center: $5.4 million
Average daily jail pop. (2006): 103
Average daily jail pop. (2014): 111
• To forego building a new, traditional 194-bed correctional facility (the need projected by 2018) containing high-, medium- and minimum-security beds at a cost of $45 million;
•To update the existing jail for about $1.7 million;
•To build and attach to the existing jail a minimum-security, 72-bed community corrections center, to house inmates engaged in intensive residential treatment and/or community reentry programming, at a cost of approximately $5.4 million;
•To create a Pretrial Services Program to provide bail supervision and urine testing with the goal of reducing the need for pretrial bail orders resulting in pretrial detention of the accused;
•To put into place residential programming focused on objectively assessing the factors the offender needs to address to make successful rehabilitation and reintegration into the community more likely;
•To reintegrate offenders into the community on work-release or administrative home confinement as soon as programming and behavioral issues warranted;
•To effectively monitor the inmate population after programming and during reintegration into the community;
•To provide aftercare programming for a year in the community after residential treatment in the TRAILS program concluded.
TRAILS (Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills) is a residential treatment program run by the Sullivan County Department of Corrections and is central to the new approach. TRAILS is available to inmates sentenced to incarceration for more than six months. Key components of the program include a staff-conducted LSI-R Risk/Needs Assessment within 10 days of sentencing. Inmates, based on this assessment, are placed in either Track 1 or Track 2 of the 90-day residential treatment portion of TRAILS.
The higher intensity Track 1 provides 90 days of full-day residential programming to those inmates determine to have the highest need. This programming addresses substance abuse education and counseling, a cognitive curriculum, anger management, employment/job readiness and education. It includes family and/or parenting support groups, classes on wellness and stress management, education in transition and relapse prevention planning, and programming for inmates with co-occurring mental health conditions.
The less intensive Track 2 provides 90 days of half-day residential programming for inmates determined to be at lower risk for relapse and/or recidivism. These inmates are assigned to work details for the other half of the day.
After completing Track 1 or Track 2, inmates move to Track 3, which couples work release with continued programming at the community corrections center. Track 4 is for inmates who, based upon their performance in programming, transition to electronic monitoring, or who are released from the jail at the completion of their sentence and are on probation with a requirement of aftercare.
After-care programming is provided by the Sullivan County Department of Corrections through West Central Behavioral Health. This programming consists of three months of weekly, hour-long group meetings and weekly urine tests, followed by eight monthly meetings and urine tests. After-care is a condition of probation, and the New Hampshire Department of Corrections supplements the urine screening with its own testing.
Track 5 is a sentencing option that becomes available after the probation department files a violation of probation on an offender who has completed the TRAILS Program. When an offender is sentenced on a probation violation, he or she can be recommended for Track 5, which involves between 45 and 60 days of residential programming at the Community Corrections Center, followed by reintegration into the community on administrative home confinement. The Sullivan County TRAILS Program has, since Aug. 9, 2010, assessed 213 inmates. Of those, 210 entered TRAILS; 157 inmates entered Track 1 (121 men and 36 women) and 53 entered Track 2 (42 men and 11 women).
The Sullivan County Department of Corrections has tracked the performance of the inmates in the TRAILS program by collecting nearly 170 data points for each inmate. One of the factors tracked is recidivism, which is defined as a new incarceration. The recidivism rate for those completing TRAILS is 21 percent, which compares favorably with the 47 percent recidivism rate of the NH prison system.
The TRAILS Program has, in conjunction with other initiatives, been able to bend the trend of a rising daily population at the Sullivan County jail. As of Jan. 7, 2014, the population of the Sullivan County House of Corrections was 111 inmates, and 13 of those inmates were in the community on administrative home confinement as part of TRAILS.
While the average daily population numbers are important, it is far more important to the Sullivan County community that there is effective rehabilitation programming provided to offenders. Coupled with effective supervision, rehabilitation promotes success and dignity among offenders, and provides a cost-effective means of enhancing public safety.
Marc Hathaway has served as Sullivan County Attorney since 1987 and is a past president of the NH County Attorneys Association.