Reduce Recidivism with the Right Assessment Tools

Maryellen Hess Cameron

Maryellen Hess Cameron spent over 25 years as the Executive Director of non-profit agencies in the social....

Inmates in any kind of detention may experience a wide range of emotions about their release. After only one year of incarceration they may already have lost their sense of how to cope with the outside world. They often face confusion and anxiety about what life will be like. There are practical obstacles as well. They are likely to know life will be harder as an ex-offender. It will be harder to get a job, and thus harder to establish a stable life. 

Statistically, nearly half of them are likely to return to incarceration within one year. Recidivism means an individual has returned to criminal behavior. Research from the Council of State Governments (CSG) shows that you, as a case manager, will be most effective in preventing recidivism by focusing intensive supervision and treatment on the people who are most likely to reoffend. Although we may expect more positive outcomes by serving low-level offenders, the opposite is true. Intensive programming for people at a low risk of reoffending is counterproductive, and often increases their likelihood of reoffending. This perspective leads you to the highest need individuals.

Casebook provides a set of tools to record the information you collect during initial screening. It allows you to assess risk factors for re-offending, and to assess their more practical needs, such as housing and income. The software offers the flexibility to set up the file to suit reentry programs and to add in specific eligibility factors for your desired outcomes. When a client is screened into the program you can access more extensive Casebook functions. 

Setting Up the Initial File

Inquiries about programs may come directly from inmates, or as a recommendation from law enforcement, courts and other service providers working with them. You will have to determine whether they are eligible for the services that your agency provides. You can set up the file to record the information you need in this phase, from the initial referral through the assessment to the final decision about eligibility.

Casebook Intake’s virtual front desk is a powerful tool that provides flexibility in documenting that first contact with a referral. It presents a choice of fields suited to collect demographics, need assessments and input from others – the information you need to determine eligibility for your agency’s programs. This might include:

  • Client profile with demographics 
  • Documented source of referral and agency’s basis for it
  • Documented history of involvement with law enforcement and justice system
  • History of services such as mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment disorders, etc.

Implementing the CSG Best Practices adds another level of eligibility screening. You will interview inmates and collect documentation that helps you understand whether they engage in criminal thinking. If so, it’s a risk factor you will address in service planning. You can set up notes to record how offenders fare on the ten factors as a preliminary step for service planning after the eligibility phase is complete.

Best Practices and Eligibility

Eligibility factors might be items on a checklist; things such as income, mental or physical disabilities, geography,  and housing status are a few examples of relevant factors. They are also fairly straightforward.  These are important to long-term stability, without a doubt. But an ex-offender’s way of thinking may be even more important. This is the difference between those who are more likely to reoffend and those who aren’t.

If you want to follow the CSG recommendations, how do you determine which offenders are more likely to reoffend? The Criminal Thinking Therapy Resource Site defines ten common errors of criminal thinking. Higher scores on these risk factors will help you identify the target population. It provides strategies for each factor that case managers can use to help the offender make corrective changes in their thinking and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.

Taking “criminal thinking” factors into account can’t replace other technical eligibility requirements set by your funding sources or agency policies. However, you can screen people in or out of your programs using both sets of elements.  Casebook allows you to set up the fields you need to track needed eligibility information. You can go beyond simple checklist items with the software’s features for integrating notes, attachments and forms for your use during and after screening. 

 Pre-Release Eligibility Review

The Transition from Jail to Community Initiative (TJC) created a jail-to-community transition model with strategies for case managers serving the reentry population. It recommends a triage process for case managers and detention facility personnel to use collaboratively to separate the clients who are most likely to reoffend  from those who are not. 

A triage matrix includes a client’s 

  • Offense type 
  • Length of stay
  • Disposition status (sentenced or pretrial)

You can set these up as new fields in Casebook files, or as notes. Later, during the service planning phase, you can build on this information to create the appropriate treatment strategy for each type of client.

As with all types of social services the most direct way to capture relevant information happens by interviewing clients. When you request information from other sources, it will arrive in a variety of formats, Casebook has multiple options to add the information to the file without manual entry. For example, when nonprofit providers or public agencies send you information via email it can go into the file immediately as a note. You can add supplemental documentation using attachments and forms. You no longer have to switch between the digital file and hard copies of other documents in the file cabinet. 

Once you have collected all of this data in one place it simplifies your review and decision-making about an individual’s eligibility. If the data leads you to screen out an individual you will have a documented decision trail. This is particularly useful if you have funding sources that ask you to report on people you screen out as well as those you screen in. It is a simple process to close out the case when you no longer need the file.

Moving Forward With Eligible Individuals

Case managers serving ex-offenders succeed when their clients achieve stable lives in the community, without a return to the criminal justice system and incarceration. Screening for the risk factors of criminal thinking errors requires a specialized approach, considering elements that are not typical eligibility factors. 

The flexibility in Casebook gives you the ability to go beyond a set of predetermined fields that limit what information you may add so that you can set up your process for individuals reentering society. It gives you and your colleagues the tools you need for delivering this vital service to your clients and the community.

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