While working as a probation and parole (PNP) officer, on a dreaded “reporting day,” one of my parolees told me that I was “punishing him because he had a job.” I asked him to explain. He said that he had to miss a day of work to come complete a one-page paper (Monthly Supervision Report) and that his employer did not like him missing a day each month.
He made good points; however, his supervision level required that he report monthly. This parolee worked “turnarounds” at industrial plants that are typically 60-90 days of continuous work inside a plant. He had to overcome many hurdles and barriers to obtain this job; like securing his Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification and a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card. As his PNP officer, I worked with him over several months to obtain the TWIC card by helping him receive a waiver for his criminal background.
Reducing barriers to reentry and strengthening community supervision are goals of the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) Reforms. This is a situation where PNP, through policy, is inadvertently creating additional work for officers and a barrier for those persons who are employed. There has to be a better way!
I think we found a better way. During the 2019 Session, HCR 79 by Rep. Phillip Devillier was enacted. The resolution requests the Department of Corrections to study alternative means of supervision for persons on PNP. The recently released 2019 JRI Annual report pointed out that PNP practices should follow the key principles of supervision that have been proven through research to be “strongly associated” with reducing recidivism. These principles are: focusing resources on those most likely to offend; increasing the use of incentives to encourage positive behavior; and responding swiftly to violations. HCR 79 accomplishes two of these three principles by allowing officers more time to focus on those who pose a greater risk of recidivism and it also gives an incentive to the supervisee and the employer that encourages and supports employment. Studies show that securing employment is a critical element in reducing recidivism and protecting the public.
Stories like the one above are reasons why HCR 79 has the potential to reduce barriers to reentry and strengthen community supervision while maintaining public safety and ultimately reducing recidivism. This is not something new for community supervision. For example, Mississippi allows MS PNP to “utilize technology portals such as Skype, FaceTime or Google video chat, or any other technology portal that allows communication between the individual on parole or probation and the parole or probation officer, as applicable, to occur simultaneously in real time by voice and video in lieu of requiring a face-to-face in person meeting.”
PNP officers should have every tool available to assist those on supervision to keep our communities safe and to ensure that every effort has been made to give them an opportunity to successfully complete supervision. This is critical because for the past two years, PNP revocations have accounted for almost half of all prison admissions.
By allowing persons who are employed to report using technology readily available and accessible will allow officers to focus on those who are at a higher risk for recidivism, encourage employers to give those on supervision an opportunity to work, and allow the supervisee the opportunity to maintain employment and compliance with supervision requirements. We don’t have to change legislation to put these practices in place. PNP has been moving in the right direction and allowing this change to current policy is certainly Right on Crime!