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Progress 2007 Economic review & forecast

County’s unique approach keeps recidivism rates low

April 21, 2007

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The task of trying to prevent a convicted felon from returning to the justice system is a tricky and unpredictable trade.

It's no different with Douglas County Community Corrections than it is most anywhere else, where officers deal with increasing caseloads.

Even so, Community Corrections set a goal that 80 percent of felons who come through the program would not return to prison for violating the no-drug-use condition of their probation.

Last year, the program exceeded that goal, said Ron Stegall, chief executive probation officer for Community Corrections.

"Every person we deal with is a risky individual. They have already committed a crime," Stegall said. "Our mission is to supervise those individuals who present a risk or a high risk to the community.

"The very best way we can do our job is to be a help to them, to see their life reformed."

In the fall, Community Corrections presented a report to Douglas County commissioners indicating that 90 percent of people who were discharged by the program did not re-enter the prison system for substance abuse as a violation of their probation.

The report doesn't include people who went back to prison for new felonies or violating other conditions of their probation, such as curfew violations.

But Stegall still sees the 90 percent result as a positive step for Community Corrections.

"In terms of success rate, counties are all over the map," Stegall said. "We've had one of the lowest (re-entry rates)."

Part of the reason Stegall believes that Community Corrections has had success in reducing the substance abuse rate for felons on probation is added supervision of the subjects.

Community Corrections employs two full-time surveillance officers whose role is to track the whereabouts of some of the riskier subjects after hours when they're no longer with their probation officers.

Stegall said it was worth keeping tabs on who some subjects hang out with and where they're hanging out when they're away from their probation officers to determine whether they're heading down the right path for their probation conditions.

Another contributor to the success Community Corrections has with some subjects, according to Stegall, is local judges don't always take a lock-'em-up approach with every person on probation for every condition violation.

"I think in general, you can say the judges here in Lawrence want people to succeed, so they are willing to give them extra chances," Stegall said.

There are still many times when the behavior of a subject is such that Community Corrections' focus turns from rehabilitation to sending them back to prison.

But in some incidents that come short of major violations, such as failing a drug test, Stegall said officers sometimes offer sanctions and reprimands to subjects themselves rather than going before a judge each and every time.

"In fact, we do have several internal sanctions that we use before we send them to the judge," Stegall said.

Despite their success rate, Stegall still maintains that his workers have more cases to handle than they should.

"Forty cases per officer, and that's high," Stegall said. "In the old days, they said you should only have 25, but if we could get it to 30 or 32, we would be thrilled."

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