Board of Pardons and Paroles
|State of Georgia|
From the 1998 annual report
Results-driven parole supervision protects the community
Parole supervision is making a quantum leap into the new century. With tougher parole standards, enhanced surveillance techniques, stronger community alliances, and expanding electronic communication between law-enforcement agencies, Georgia's parole supervision provides structure and control unimaginable even a decade ago. The agency has created a results-driven model for parole supervision which simultaneously places more responsibility on the parolee while supplying him with more life-coping skills. The new methodology is based on the latest research on crime deterrence and reflects the agency's insistence for greater accountability to the public. Inherent in the descriptive label "results-driven" is a pledge to Georgians that community safety is the result they can expect.
No agency is better equipped to make good on that promise. Georgia Parole's Field Operations Division is one of only four community supervision units in the country accredited by the American Correctional Associations Commission on Accreditation for Corrections, the sole accrediting authority for adult parole agencies. Measured under CAC's standards that include quality supervision, victim notification, training, and program evaluation, the Division scored 98 on its most recent re-accreditation — a near-perfect score reflecting the agency's continual push for excellence.
More than 320 parole officers operating from 50 parole offices around the state carry out the agency's strict demands for supervising offenders in the community. These officers, all college graduates, many from law enforcement backgrounds, undergo eight weeks of intensive training to qualify as certified state peace officers before assuming management of caseloads averaging 60 parolees. Highly educated and well-trained, they work with a special commitment: the communities they protect are their own.
Most offenders come home
Most offenders — in fact, 90 percent — will return to Georgia's communities, either as parolees or "max-outs" who have served their entire sentences. With stricter sentencing they return later, but they still return. After longer confinements, they return punished, but with diminished work and social skills. When offenders leave prison they collect a $25 check and a bus ticket home. That hometown serves as context for their six-to-twelve month readjustment to society. Employers, neighbors, indeed, all community residents become participants in what criminal justice researchers recognize as a difficult and potentially dangerous period — the transition from prison to society.
Stress intensifies during transition
Offenders with the strongest will and best motives can falter during this difficult passage from prison back to the real world. Most have limited education, few vocational skills, and minimal, if any, support networks. Often their strongest social skills are those developed to survive in prison, the antithesis of healthy community life. Drug and alcohol addictions, dormant during incarceration, may reemerge. Finding a job, reestablishing family ties, avoiding former associates — while positive behavior — is stressful. Moreover, nearly 15 percent of offenders suffer from mental health disabilities which require immediate attention, often including medication. Collectively, these stressors occurring during the offender's most vulnerable period can trigger a downward spiral in attitude and behavior which may — without intervention — lead to more criminal behavior.
Parole establishes transition structure
The immediate goal of parole supervision is to protect the community during the offender's readjustment phase. Parole officers, cross-trained in counseling, substance abuse treatment, interpersonal communication, and law-enforcement functions, establish structure for the parolee and then vigilantly monitor his activities. Parolees needing higher level transitional structure are placed on electronic monitoring surveillance as well.
Parolee '98 employment rate was a remarkable 87.8 percent
The ultimate goal of parole supervision is to stabilize the offender with employment skills, substance abuse recovery, and life-coping skills so that he develops more control over his life, does not re- offend, and contributes to society as a citizen and taxpayer. Georgia parole supervision operates with an urgent and intense agenda, recognizing that the best window of opportunity for such change will slam shut once the parole term expires.
Georgia's parole officers work with mental health professionals to develop parolee treatment plans. Nearly 15 percent of offenders suffer from mental health disabilities which require immediate attention, often including medication.
Research shows four main factors affect criminal behavior
National research, confirmed by Georgia research, identifies certain factors that affect parole failure or success. The unalterable factors, such as crime type and age, are considered during the parole selection process. The four alterable factors: education, substance abuse, thinking skills, and employment — are targets of intervention for the Parole Board's results- driven field supervision.
Parole officers create an individualized supervision plan for each parolee, addressing those four tracks with short and long-term goals and consequences. Likewise, chief parole officers establish district-wide goals to raise parolee employment levels, reduce substance abuse relapse, alter offender cognitive skills, and elevate parolee education levels. These cumulative results determine whether programs and practices are accomplishing the agency goals to improve public safety in Georgia's communities.
Many of these factors have always been addressed by parole supervision, but not with the concerted focus of results-driven supervision. Parole officers in some areas of the state were also hampered by the limited availability of appropriate community resources, such as mental health counseling, to address their parolees' needs. Now the agency has expanded its search for those resources while developing its own-in-house programs to target the four critical factors for parole success and public safety.
Education and counseling services offered on-site
For instance GED classes are now offered at several parole offices. Parolees, who frequently depend on public transportation or family or friends to take them to appointments, are more likely to continue classes when transportation problems are minimized. They also thrive from studying with other parolees under the encouraging supervision of their parole officers.
Parole also aims to place substance abuse and mental health services counselors on site whenever possible. By improving the quality of those services and tightening enforcement on targeted offenders, the agency documented a dramatic result for FY98: although monitoring in the form of drug screens increased by 38 percent, positive tests declined by 22 percent.
Those testing positive may be placed in residential treatment centers within their parole district as an intermediate sanction. For more serious technical violations, parolees may be sent to the state-operated Whitworth Detention Center in Hartwell which houses parolees with addictive disorders or mental health problems. During Fiscal '98 the agency expanded this intensive treatment facility from 175 to 212 beds. Parolees who are revoked due to drug or alcohol problems may be sent to the Homerville correctional facility for nine months of hard prison time coupled with daily counseling and education.
Although Anthony earns his income by painting window displays and wall murals—like those he created for his apartment shown at right—he needs basic math and language skills to help him market his work and negotiate contracts. Now he's filling in those educational gaps by attending GED classes at the DeKalb Parole Center.
Employment rate at all-time high
Parole officers have always known the importance of steady employment to keep parolees on the right track but they were often frustrated by the lag between the offender's release from prison and his first job and paycheck. Now the Parole Board, working with the Department of Corrections, accelerates the hiring process by preparing job-readiness packages while the offender is still incarcerated.
The package includes the offender's picture identifications, social security card, resumes, diplomas, and other job-related documents which make the parolee "job-ready" immediately upon prison release. The Job Development Program, piloted in three prisons in FY98, will be conducted in all institutions next year.
During FY98 many parolees also benefited from job-readiness courses prepared by local parole offices. Statewide, the agency push to accelerate and sustain parolee employment during FY98 created an unprecedented result: an employment rate of 87.8 percent, a 2.7 percent increase over FY97. Compare this to another statistic: More than 60 percent of offenders entering Georgia prisons were unemployed at the time they committed their offense.
Cognitive skills training is difficult but critical
Thinking patterns, the most critical element for parole success, is also the most difficult to alter and the trickiest to measure. The agency researched, piloted, and committed to a cognitive skills training program, Reasoning and Rehabilitation, that offers structured, intense training for higher-risk offenders. Importantly, the program can be statistically evaluated for effectiveness in changing thinking patterns that lead to criminal behavior.
The 70-hour, 17- week-long course, required for certain offenders, teaches through interactive exercises and assignments such skills as anger management, negotiation, and dealing with authority. In 1998 the agency trained 25 more parole officers as instructors, bringing the total to 65 statewide who offer Reasoning and Rehabilitation in 35 sites.
The cognitive skills program has reduced recidivism rates in several states such as Colorado, which offers it for probationers as well as parolees. With grant funds from the National Institute of Justice, the Georgia Parole Board has contracted an independent researcher to track the progress of graduates for three years after program completion.
Those four tracks run in the shadow of two others: enforcement and consequences.
Enforcement protects the community and spurs attention to goals
Parolees live by a set of conditions that limits their freedom, prohibits certain associations, requires employment, demands payment of obligations like restitution and child support, and mandates expected behavior and attitude. Parole officers enforce the conditions of parole by imposing appropriate punishment from a continuum of sanctions ranging from increased reporting to arrest. Electronic monitoring is used both as a preventive measure for higher-risk parolees straight out of prison as well as a sanction for any parole violator.
Parolees must pay child support by Georgia parole condition; parole officers enforce it
During FY98, parole officers kept 1400 electronic monitoring units in continuous use, strapped on the ankles of all higher-risk offenders as soon as they emerged from prison or placed on any offender who required more structure or surveillance. For parolees with mandated treatment, officers used supplemental drive-by units to quickly confirm their attendance at counseling or other assigned meetings.
Offender-funded EM project promises taxpayer savings
In January the Board began a one-year study with the Sentinel Monitoring Company to determine the feasibility of requiring parolees to pay for their own electronic monitoring. Operating in nine parole districts, the offender-funded program has the capability of saving taxpayers thousands of dollars while simultaneously expanding statewide parolee monitoring and surveillance.
Sex offenders receive amplified supervision
Although sex offenders routinely serve all of their court-imposed sentences, the Georgia Board recognizes that, for public protection, a period of post-prison, transitional community supervision may be essential for certain offenders. During FY98 only 35 sex offenders were paroled to this intensive community-based structure. Within the monitored period, parole officers can:
During Fiscal '98 the Georgia Parole Board implemented other policies strengthening sex-offender supervision, including greater search privileges and the use of polygraph examinations.
Sex offender supervision, while following the results-driven established tracks, amplifies surveillance. Parole officers receive specialized training in the thought patterns and behavior of the sex offender and thus can develop effective case-management strategies. Parole officials demand the highest level of monitoring for these offenders. Because of the tight structure built around sex offenders during parole, in cooperation with other law enforcement and social service officials, those offenders will remain under community scrutiny after their paroles expire.
Georgia parole officers are certified state peace officers with arrest powers on Board warrants. They train extensively and frequently in search and arrest procedures, and twice yearly qualify with their semi-automatic service weapons. Georgia's parole officers are among the best-trained community supervision officers in the country.
Parole officers are law-enforcement trained and motivated
Parole officers undergo a rigorous process to become the Board's community representatives. All college graduates who pass physical and psychological tests, candidates then attend eight weeks of training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. They graduate as certified peace officers sworn to protect the public. That mission remains foremost while carrying out their parole functions. From their oral and written reports, the Parole Board responds quickly and decisively to isolate parole violators from the community.
Thanks to the discretion granted to the Georgia Parole Board, the agency can reincarcerate those committing even low-level technical violations which, based on that offender's history and the parole officer's observations, suggest criminal relapse. Technological advances in the agency during FY98 permit rapid communication between headquarters and statewide field offices, including electronic transmission of warrants.
Parole officers work side by side with police — literally
Parole works in partnership with local law-enforcement agencies to create safer communities. To promote those alliances, the agency has placed parole officers within police precincts so that police and parole officers can work together to watch offenders, to report to each other on drug traffic or other activities affecting the community, and to share information or observations about any matters of public safety. By the end of FY98, the agency had placed 19 parole officers in police precincts on a full or part-time basis, with six other parole-in-police precinct sites being developed. Positive feedback from participating police agencies ensures the expansion of this project in FY99.
Parole initiates computer-based law-enforcement partnerships
Information sharing among law-enforcement agencies is critical to solve and prevent crimes. To further that mission, the Parole Board is providing detailed, computerized information about parolees to Georgia's two largest urban police departments, Savannah and Atlanta. The data, which includes the parolee's crime and release date, physical description, home address and phone number, and supervising parole officer, can help police identify or eliminate crime suspects as well as aid parole in keeping offenders under close surveillance in the community. Parole offers this service to any Georgia police agency.
Parole, police, and citizens weave the security net
Effective supervision for the prison-to-community transition is more important now than ever before. Formerly, some citizens — usually employers — assisted parole officers in helping the offender become re-established by providing instruction and guidance. Churches, too, often provided this service to offenders returning to their communities.
Now in our mobile society with reduced social services and fewer employers with the time or desire to assume sponsorship, many offenders do not have access to the daily support which fosters change. To help recreate some of that community structure the agency launched "Community Linkage," a citizen volunteer pilot program. The program matches a trained, certified volunteer to work one-on-one with an offender for three months while in prison and then for six months upon release. So far 34 volunteers have been certified and begun this all-important work of helping parole officers to successfully establish an offender in a productive, law-abiding life.
Prison-to-community transition with parole is safer
All across Georgia offenders are returning from prison with either a discharge document — and not much else — or a parole certificate. Those on parole have critical, immediate obligations to fulfill: to report to their approved residence and to their parole officer, possibly be hooked to an electronic monitoring device, and to begin a period of structured re-entry to the community. Those without are on their own. The Parole Board believes that the community's safety is best served by keeping violent and predatory criminals behind bars, making well-researched parole selections on lower-risk offenders, and delivering quality parole supervision to those who make the cut.
Most parolees do not reoffend. Under parole they have the opportunity and structure necessary to upgrade education, to overcome chemical addiction, to improve job skills, and to learn life-coping techniques. Strict, structured supervision works for the offender and — more importantly — for the community.