Alternatives to Incarceration

By Donna Rogers, Editor-in-chief
Alternatives To Incarceration
How management assessment tools can predict risk and high-tech tools can assist in managing community treatment.
DESPITE evidence that incarceration without treatment does nothing to control recidivism, the public remains skittish about releasing offenders to community programs. With 1 out of every 140 adults behind bars, the U.S. has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. It is partly the result of many years of the philosophy that we should lock ’em up and throw away the key.
But the tide is changing. At yearend 2012 there were 1.57 million prisoners in U.S. state and federal prisons, a drop of 27,400 prisoners from yearend 2011, and the third straight year the prisoner population declined in the U.S, according to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in December 2013. 

This trend is not a flash in the pan. Admissions to state and federal prisons declined by 16.3% between 2009 and 2012. In 2012, the number of admissions (609,800) was the lowest since 1999, representing a 9.2% decline  from 2011.
A percentage of these prisoners are being diverted to local corrections agencies and many are enlisted in drug treatment programs. In fact, new court commitments to state prisons for drug offenders decreased 22% between 2006 and 2011, according to the BJS.
A confluence of reasons is bringing about the change—economic woes, as well as challenges to subpar conditions being addressed by the Courts. This can save corrections departments millions. In one instance, in Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, diversion to a drug court costs $10 per day compared with $114 per day per inmate, according to an article titled Broward County’s Jail: a Population Management Study published in  American Jails (Jan./Feb. 2012).

California’s historic Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 also contributed to the change. Through this law non-serious, non-violent, non-sex registrant (non-non-non) offenders were redirected from state to local jurisdictions, while reserving state prison for those with serious or violent charges (current or prior), sex registrants, and a few other offense types. The point, according to the CDCR, was to treat offenders in their local communities. (The state is careful to point out, no inmate was released early.)

In December 2013, the first analysis of the program was released (see the full report at It compares numbers of re-offenders from the pre-realignment year with offenders from the post-realignment year.

Initial results are encouraging. Though offenders are serving less time in state prison, they are not being re-convicted at higher rates. The rate of conviction for new crimes is 20.9 percent pre-realignment and 21.0 percent post realignment.
The static nature of the numbers of offenders reconvicted of new crimes is a positive outcome as there is undoubtedly an adjustment period as the state embarks on significant changes to its criminal justice system, states CDCR, and the numbers may improve as there are still significant milestones that need to be accomplished on the part of the counties in terms of providing rehabilitative programming to parolees.

Realignment is not the only fire the California prison system has come under. On January 15, after months of extensions that failed to resolve a dispute over conditions in state prisons, a panel of federal judges has given California officials just a week to come up with plans to reduce prison overcrowding, according to an article in the Washington Post.
The judges gave Gov. Jerry Brown and attorneys representing inmates until Jan. 23 to propose plans to comply with earlier court orders to limit prison population. The plans are scheduled to go into effect on April 18. Brown has asked the judges to delay population limits for three years; his budget proposal, released a week prior, assumes a delay of at least two years. His proposed budget includes $500 million for new prison facilities aimed at reducing overcrowding in existing prisons. It also includes $200 million for programs to reduce recidivism rates, programs state lawmakers believe will hold the key to a long-term reduction in prison populations.

While treating offenders in community programs are proven to lower recidivism rates and technology such as ignition interlock devices and self-service kiosks are readily available, the public remains doubtful about releasing even low-level offenders. Perhaps they do not want to be accused of being soft on crime.
Predictive Tools

The ability to use risk assessment tools to assess risk and/or needs of offenders has a huge effect in predicting whether offenders will re-offend. A 2010 study by the Pew Center on the States titled “Risk/Needs Assessment 101: Science Reveals New Tools to Manage Offenders” states that “practitioners and researchers have identified key factors that can help predict the likelihood of an individual returning to crime, violence or drug use.
“The instruments that have been developed—and fine-tuned over time—to measure the likelihood of future criminal behavior can help officials to better identify individuals at a high risk of reoffending, while also identifying the types of supervision and services that are most likely to slow the revolving door of America’s prisons. When developed and used correctly, these risk/needs assessment tools can help criminal justice officials appropriately classify offenders and target interventions to reduce recidivism, improve public safety and cut costs.”

Two of the most commonly used tools are the LSI-R (Level of Service Inventory–Revised) and the LS/CMI (Level of Service/Case Management Inventory). These validation tools are data-driven and studies have demonstrated their ability to accurately identify offenders’ risk of reoffending.

Toronto-based MHS Inc. specializes in high-risk science. The company publishes many leading assessments in the industry, including the LSI-R and the LS/CMI, which “are considered to be the gold standard risk/needs assessments,” says Tammy Holwell, manager, Public Safety. “LS tools are the most widely used risk/needs assessments in the world. Over 14 million LS assessments have been administered since the tool was developed.”
How do they work?

These instruments are an actuarial tool that assesses dynamic risk and criminogenic need factors, and they work in conjunction with the professional judgment of a parole officer, judge or other criminal justice supervisor. Some of the risk factors they look at are education, substance abuse, social attitudes, employment, leisure and recreation, antisocial personality pattern, companions and family relationships, says Holwell. These factors are very predictive in determining if they will reoffend, she says.

Another tool is the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) instrument, a statistically based client assessment, classification, and case management system developed by the Northpointe Institute for Public Management in Traverse City, Mich. According to Tim Brennan, chief scientist, factors that drive COMPAS predictive risk scale are criminal involvement/criminal history; vocational educational problems including a history of failures; a drug problem scale, which includes arrests/convictions, prior treatments, history of failure of treatments; age at intake, age at first arrest and conviction rate.

Matching offenders to programs based on their risk levels is another key to reducing recidivism. Research has revealed that certain intensive programs work very well with high-risk offenders but actually can increase recidivism rates among low-risk offenders, according to the Pew Center report. Researchers think this counterintuitive finding may occur because mixing risk groups exposes the lower-risk offenders to the more destructive behaviors of higher-risk offenders and jeopardizes prosocial relationships and productive community engagement they may have.
How Effective are Risk Tools?

Numerous studies have demonstrated that validated risk assessments accurately differentiate between high-, medium- and low-risk offenders, according to the Pew Study. In other words, individuals classified as high risk reoffend at a higher rate than those classified as low risk.

A 2010 study by Edward J. Latessa et al. and reported by the Pew Center demonstrated the effectiveness of matching offenders to programs by risk level. The study of 44 halfway house programs in Ohio found that the programs reduced recidivism for high-risk offenders by 10 percent but increased recidivism of low-risk offenders by 2 percent.

“LS instruments are unsurpassed in their research,” Holwell says. “The LSI-R and LS/CMI are the only tools where there exists a large body of documented, replicated, peer-reviewed original studies, comparative meta-analytic reviews, and independent reviews. There is a sample of 135,000 offenders on the LS/CMI, including diverse races, both genders and offenders from institutional and community settings.”

The LS works across a range of outcomes, among them general recidivism, violent recidivism, domestic abuse, prison misconducts, including violence, and technical violations in the community. And LS tools are diverse in their application. They are suitable for use at all different points in the criminal justice system including prison intake, classification, reentry, and parole supervision.

COMPAS relies on the standard approaches to assess predictive power and accuracy, e.g., odds ratios, AUC coefficients, failure rates that show differences from low/medium and high.
The total risk score for each target offender population is first computed and ordered into statistical distributions for the total sample, or for various target groups (by gender, age groups, offense categories). These distributions are then segmented into low, medium and high by imposing cut-points on the distribution, says Northpointe’s Brennan.
AUC is a measure of “accuracy” of prediction, he continues. “This is currently the most widely used measure of predictive accuracy for risk models in criminal justice.” The company says that “good predictive models typically vary from 0.66 to 0.78. Scores of  .64 to .70 indicate moderate accuracy, scores above 0.70 are regarded as good, and until recently rarely attained. Currently the best risk assessment models in criminal justice typically range from .67 to .73, with only a few exceeding this level. Most COMPAS scores are in the 0.70 to 0.74 range.”

The Odds Ratio indicates relative separation of failure rates across the “risk levels,” i.e., low, medium and high failure levels. Predictive outcome studies of COMPAS show that inmates classified into the high risk on the COMPAS Recidivism Risk Scale have an odds of arrest approximately six times the odds of those in the low level of the scale (using a three years time at risk).
In also providing evidence for accuracy, MHS’s Holwell references a 2010 Canadian study called “Strategic Training Initiative in Community Supervision” (STICS), which is a job training program for probation officers to help them apply the risk–need–responsivity (RNR) model with probationers to reduce recidivism. It was implemented in three Canadian provinces.
Holwell notes the authors of this study sought to measure the impact of training probation officers in the RNR model using the LS tool. “The RNR model has been influential in our understanding of ‘what works,’” she says. “The study found a two-year reconviction rate with a 15% difference favoring the clients of the officers trained in RNR principles through the LS tools.”

Using the Northpointe tool, says Brennan, multiple validation studies indicated that COMPAS has good predictive accuracy. “The strength of support for COMPAS predictive accuracy across multiple studies and follow-up periods typically has impressive AUC values ranging from 0.68 to 0.75, with most above .70. (Flipping a coin or random choices would produce an AUC of .50.).”

He furthers that several external researchers unaffiliated with Northpointe have conducted case studies and have demonstrated the predictive validation of COMPAS (New York DOC Research department—AUC = .72; California CDCR—AUC = .70; Florida State University-Broward County indicated that COMPAS had “high levels of accuracy in predicting general recidivism, violence, and failure to appear for court." The Broward County study also indicated “substantial” savings in multiple millions of dollars when using COMPAS to facilitate diversion from jail to community programs.
A Good Guide
Risk/needs assessments cannot predict an individual’s behavior with absolute precision, cautions the Pew Center report. Inevitably there will be lower-risk offenders who reoffend and higher-risk offenders who do not reoffend. However, it continues, “objective tools more accurately predict behavior than subjective assessments by individuals, making them critically important in helping agencies to classify and manage groups of offenders.”
In addition, the report notes, “risk/needs assessments can help guide decisions, but they should not be dispositive. These tools serve as an anchor for decision-making, but professional discretion remains a critical component.”
Risk assessment tools should “inform the decision,” says Holwell.

Finally, states the report, “there is no one-size-fits-all risk assessment tool. Agencies frequently employ multiple tools to inform decision-making at points throughout the criminal justice process, and significant attention must be dedicated to ensuring that the appropriate instruments are selected or developed.”

Risk assessment tools have been proven to go a long way in assessing which offenders have a greater chance of reoffending. Sometimes, concludes Holwell, the public likes “the idea of getting tough on crime, but there’s a large body of research that shows it’s better to be smart on crime. Research has shown punishment without treatment actually has no effect on reoffending. You’re just burning your tax dollars.” 


Breath Testers
The Intoximeter Alco-Sensor line of alcohol breath testing instruments are reported to be the industry standard; the U.S. Bureau of Prisons have selected them as their products of choice.  The Alco-Sensor FST is relied upon by all statewide 24/7 sobriety programs. This handheld, evidential-grade device features a patented rear facing design. This, combined with the accuracy and recovery time of the instrument, makes it a leading handheld EBT in the market. 

Ignition interlock devices
Intoxalock Legacy utilizes fuel cell technology that ensures a high level of accuracy and precision. Intoxalock Legacy Plus takes that technology and incorporates a high resolution camera to meet local and state requirements. Intoxalock eLERT combines real-time reporting and photo technology to meet the most rigorous local and state requirements.
1.888.283.5899 or

Offender Services Kiosk
The Centurion Kiosk System developed by Sentinel Offender Services provides an interactive and automated solution for offender check-ins and collections. The advanced functionality enables offenders to check in, make payments, update demographic information and compliance status, and receive messages from program administrators. All kiosks are integrated into Sentinel’s own proprietary centralized CMS through its frame relay network accessing and updating client information in real-time. Connection to its wide area network allows multiple kiosks to communicate simultaneously. 
1.800.589.6003 x1040, or