CMIT Hosts National Parole Board Training

Representatives from paroling authorities across the nation participated in a training at CMIT.
Representatives from paroling authorities across the nation participated in a training at CMIT.

Parole board members from across the country gathered at Sam Houston State University to learn more about offenders with mental health and substance abuse issues.

The Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) hosted the seminar presented by the National Parole Resource Center (NPRC), involving 36 representatives of paroling authorities from Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The program was convened and moderated by NPRC Director Peggy Burke and included an overview of the challenges and barriers of working with these populations, particularly within the correctional system. The event provided an overview of research-based practices, and participants discussed how this information might assist in making individual case decisions and how it could help to share overall policies by parole authorities.

The training was lead by Peggy Burke of the National Parole Resource Center.
The training was lead by Peggy Burke of the National Parole Resource Center.
“We hope our members gain a better understanding of how and what they can do to impact the success rate of offenders with mental health problems or substance abuse issues,” said Keith Hardison, Chief Administrative Officer for the Association of Paroling Authorities (APAI) International – a partner in the National Parole Resource Center.

Research shows that offenders in prisons and jails have significantly higher rates of mental health issues than the general population. While 5 percent of the general population suffers from serious mental illness, a study in New York and Maryland jails found 17 percent of inmates had serious mental health disorders. Three-quarters of those offenders also had co-occurring substance abuse disorders.

“There is an overrepresentation of people with mental health and substance abuse issues in the correctional system,” said Dr. Fred Osher, Director of Health Services and Systems Policy for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, who spoke at the seminar. “There are three to five times the rate of mental health disorders and four to eight times the rate of substance abuse disorders in our jails and prisons.”

Dr. Fred Osher discussed the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in jails.
Dr. Fred Osher discussed the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in jails.
The problem is compounded because of higher arrest rates due to limited access to health care, a low utilization of evidence-based practices, longer prison stays, higher recidivism rates and more risk factors for committing crime.

But while correctional facilities experience higher rates of mental disorders among offenders, the majority of those individuals end up in jails or prisons for reasons unrelated to their mental illnesses, said Dr. Osher. However, once they enter the criminal justice system, they have a much harder time exiting it, he added.

With shrinking state budgets, many parole agencies are faced with how to address these populations as part of their mandate to keep the community safe and to reduce recidivism among offenders. Participating parole board members shared information on the challenges presented by this population, and on innovative and promising approaches that they were implementing in their own jurisdictions.

Parole board members work together on solutions.
Parole board members work together on solutions.
The NPRC, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, was created to support paroling authorities across the country and to provide information, training and technical assistance to support their mission, increasing public safety and reducing recidivism.

the seminar faculty outlined the following as emerging best practices for paroling authorities – and discussed how each might be interpreted in dealing with offenders with mental health and substance use disorders.

  • Use empirically-based assessment tools to measure risks for committing new crime and to identify behavioral health issues. While specialized mental health assessments are particularly important with this population, empirical assessments of risk to reoffend remain equally important.
  • Develop evidence-based policies, practices and tools to address the goals that each paroling authority is mandated to pursue—which typically include assuring even-handed punishment, protecting victims, and protecting community safety.
  • Develop partnerships with correctional institutions, agencies involved with community supervision, and other state-level and community stakeholders.
  • Use their decision-making authority to focus institutional and community resources on the criminogenic needs of medium and high risk offenders.
  • Consider for release at the earliest stage possible – in light of statutes and other sentencing interests – offenders assessed as low risk.
  • Use parole interviews, hearings and reviews as an opportunity to enhance offender motivation to change—particularly to encourage participating in risk reduction programming.
  • Fashion conditions to minimize requirements for low risk offenders.
  • Develop policy-driven, graduated responses to parole violations.<./li>
  • Support parole members by providing opportunities to strengthen and develop good decision-making practices.

  • Develop and strengthen agency level capacity for the development of strong policies and performance measures.

Doug Dretke, Executive Director of CMIT, praised the parole board members for their participation in the session.

“The work you do is so, so important,” Dretke said. “Studies show that those that go back to the community under parole supervision are more successful than those who don't."

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