In the early 1990’s, community providers began to incorporate evidence-based practices into their community correctional programs. Often referred to as “What Works”, these practices were rooted in a body of knowledge based on over thirty years of research that has been conducted by numerous scholars in North America and Europe, including Paul Gendreau, Don Andrews, James Bonta.
The "What Works" movement empirically demonstrated that theoretically sound, well-designed programs that meet certain conditions can appreciably reduce recidivism rates for offenders. Reentry programs adopted these evidence-based principles to guide their programs in incorporating risk/needs assessment and various cognitive behavioral interventions that focus on criminogenic factors and substance abuse related issues. All of the programs emphasize reducing chemical dependency, shifting attitudes toward criminal behavior and promoting relapse prevention and skill maintenance.
Reentry in New Jersey
In 1968, legislation was enacted that enabled Corrections, a Division of the Department of Institutions and Agencies, to create work-release programs in several of their institutions. In 1977, after becoming a standalone department, new legislation allowed for the New Jersey Department of Corrections to contract with non-profit organizations for community corrections programs.
Residential Community Release Programs
Residential Community Release Programs (RCRPs) contracted by the Department of Corrections and the State Parole Board have a history of successfully transitioning offenders from prison to the community. In 1976, the Department of Corrections began contracting with community providers for halfway house services. Today, RCRPs provide multiple government agencies with a wide range of evidence-based treatment services -– assessment, substance abuse treatment, gender-based services, work release, outpatient parole services, as well as services to the mentally ill and other specialized populations involved with the New Jersey criminal justice system. All New Jersey RCRPs meet the exacting standards required for American Correctional Association (ACA) or Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities (CARF) accreditation.
Annually, over 8,000 individuals participate in residential community release programs between Department of Corrections and the State Parole Board in New Jersey, meaning that approximately 38% of releases went through community programs. Over the preceding five-year period, more than 20,000 individuals participated in the RCRP system. With the emphasis on rehabilitation, community corrections facilities have played a major role in reducing New Jersey’s prison population by 19% from 1999 to 2009, while much of the rest of the nation experienced a 12% growth in state prison populations. The evidence-based programs provide a safe, structured environment where offenders nearing release to the community rebuild their lives through programs that address criminogenic factors and substance abuse related issues. All of the programs emphasize reducing chemical dependency, shifting attitudes toward criminal behavior and promoting relapse prevention and skill maintenance.
Community Resource Centers
Community Resource Centers (CRC’s) contracted by the NJ State Parole Board were started initially with federal Violent Offender/ Truth in Sentencing (VOTIS) dollars in 1998. Whereas other states used these funds to build more prison beds, NJ opted to build an infrastructure of alternatives to incarceration. Initially conceived as ‘day incarceration programs’, twelve Day Reporting Centers opened across New Jersey.
These non-residential programs for high risk parole clients living in the community provide valuable treatment interventions. Risk assessments, individualized treatment planning, cognitive behavioral interventions that target criminogenic needs such as attitude and orientations toward crime, problem solving, relapse prevention, substance abuse, sex offender treatment and employment readiness. Now contracted as “Community Resource Centers”, parole clients can receive essential case management services that connect them to health care, employment and housing while increasing their compliance with supervision requirements. Parole clients participating in a CRC must report daily, test drug free and complete all required treatment programs. On average, CRC’s across the state serve more than 3,000 clients annually and in fact have served more than 22,000 parole clients over the last six fiscal years.
Residential Community Release Programs: How the System Works
RCRPs offer evidence-based treatment interventions in both secure and non-secure facilities as part of a continuum of care from incarceration to release. RCRPs employ multi-disciplinary professional staff members who provide clinical treatment that focuses on the physiological and psychological elements of addictive behavior and criminal lifestyles through the use of evidence-based practices. Studies have shown that the continuum of care provided by a robust community corrections system results in reduced recidivism, lower prison populations and savings to government.
RCRP operators provide services to multiple governmental agencies:
New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC): The NJDOC contracts with private non-profit agencies for the provision of residential community release services to eligible inmates. Contracts are awarded through the competitive bid process and monitored for contract compliance by the Department of Corrections. The Office of Community Programs contracts with 20 Residential Community Release Programs (RCRPs) with a total of over 5,000 beds throughout the State of New Jersey, including two Assessment and Treatment Centers.
Offenders apply for enrollment in RCRPs. If accepted, an offender moves from prison to a continuum of care beginning with a 60-day stay at an Assessment and Treatment Center. The implementation of a comprehensive assessment process has been the driving force of New Jersey’s successful treatment model. Using research-driven assessment tools, counselors evaluate risk factors and identify treatment needs. The information gathered during the assessment process guides counselors in how to best target specific interventions and is used to create individual treatment plans and to match the right treatment programs and security levels for specific needs.
The comprehensive assessment of a resident’s current risk and needs factors is used to develop a continuum of care plan and to make the most appropriate placement in the next stage of the continuum – the community setting. This individualized treatment plan is designed with the recognition that the resident will be transitioning to a halfway house before being released into the community. The level of service to be provided going forward varies with the level of risk – higher risk clients will receive a higher level of service and closer supervision. Depending upon the results of the assessment, offenders transfer to either a secure or non-secure residential setting for a period of 6-12 months.
A secure facility provides more intensive supervision, treatment and programming for residents who have been assessed as a higher risk. A non-secure facility provides a less intensive level of treatment and programming and allows individuals to immediately begin to search for and obtain employment or to attend college or a vocational program.