Jails across the nation are being called upon to help develop a coordinated community response to domestic violence and substance abuse. Media coverage, court records and crime statistics suggest that a substantial proportion of the domestic violence that occurs involves people with substance abuse problems in underserved (poor) populations. (1) Intervention, such as mental health assessment/treatment, social services and educational/vocational assessments, with this population rarely occurs once someone is convicted and sentenced to jail; treatment may be mandated by the courts upon release.
Representatives from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office jail program and California State University, Fresno have developed a collaborative approach to address the issues of sentenced batterers and substance abuse offenders. The collaborative's goal is to use the knowledge and resources of the community, human services agencies and the university to collectively address issues that prevent the successful transition of offenders back into the community. Concern for community safety led the collaborative to conclude that single agency responses cannot effectively address complex community problems.
The historical background of the corrections and social work relationship indicates that for more than a century, social services have been a key part of corrections, and serving crime victims and offenders has been a major emphasis of social work often working independently of one another. Correctional and social work agencies have served the same target groups with varying success, according to Charles Dean's 1999 publication, Social Work and Police Partnership: A Summons to the Village Strategies and Effective Practices. Despite these professions being near adversaries, there is a growing, if not universal, consensus that human services institutions and correctional institutions must collaborate. (2)
The number of returning offenders is on the rise, the needs of inmates are greater than before, and jail programs have retained few rehabilitation services. When personal and family problems escalate to a level that requires criminal justice intervention, they become the community's problem and require a communitywide response. A collaborative approach provides the necessary boundary spanning for multi-agency involvement to address the serious implications of domestic violence and substance abuse. In recent years, more attention has been directed toward broadening the response to this jail population to include a more comprehensive community response, leading to the implementation of programs and policies that improve interagency cooperation.
The development of a social work, education and corrections collaborative offers a new way of thinking about the familiar concept of "continuum of services." Collaboration is both a process and an outcome in which shared interest and/or key stakeholders address conflict that cannot be addressed by any single agency, together. Throughout history, social work has been teaching and advocating for interdisciplinary collaboration using the concept of a social systems approach to practice. (3) Collaboration diverges from former practices of competitiveness and divisiveness that often resulted in a lack of cooperation within and between agencies. The following definition of collaboration was used by the members of the Fresno collaborative: "Collaboration involves two or more groups joined together to achieve common goals in a relationship that is mutually beneficial and well-defined. It includes commitment from all members to the relationship and its objectives. Power, authority and accountability are shared and mutual respect is held for each of the participating groups." (4)
This definition has served as a guiding light throughout the project. Members of the collaborative realize they are in it for the long haul. What was once thought of as a short-term project has moved into its third year. Although the members initially struggled to learn one another's professional "language," they have since established trust and respect for each profession and the related responsibilities. They also have become friends who hold a deeper understanding of what it means to care about the role each play in making the community a better place to live.
Collaborative members have distinct backgrounds, but all shared an interest in establishing a process to develop an intervention model in response to domestic violence and substance abuse. The population of Fresno County, which is in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, continues to outpace state and national growth rates with legal and illegal immigration as a major factor. During the 1990s, the Asian and Hispanic populations increased by about 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The unemployment rate averages 14 percent, and the per capita income ranked 38th out of the 50 counties in California. Diversity exists in the context of poverty, unemployment, social unrest, high crime rates, class distinctions and the power discrepancies of an agricultural economy and a population explosion. (5) The rate of domestic violence-related calls for assistance in Fresno County was nearly double the state rate. Concern for community/family safety has forced the community to recognize that single agency responses cannot effectively deal with threatening, complex community and family problems.
Initially, the collaborative's goal was to use the knowledge and resources of the community, sheriff's office and university to address issues and barriers impeding successful transition from incarceration to the community for domestic violence and substance abuse offenders. An organizational needs assessment of the jail program was conducted and showed that: it was fragmented; inmate assessments were rarely conducted on this population; single-agency approaches resulted in the duplication of services and a lack of communication; there was a lack of understanding of different agencies' approaches to intervention with offenders; there was a lack of respect among the various agencies providing detention or community-based services; and transitional services were lacking.
The collaborative first examined the jail's standard operating procedures to determine what could be done differently. The focus was on the development of a community-based response to domestic violence, substance abuse, illiteracy and other social issues. Next, the collaborative developed its mission statement: "To provide model case management services to sentenced domestic violence and substance abuse offenders that will assess offender need for educational services, including, but not limited to, vocational training, substance abuse classes, batterers intervention services, anger/conflict management, parenting classes, health education, personal awareness, support group intervention and prerelease employment assistance. All of these services would be coordinated through a social work practitioner and social work student interns acting as the liaison to community-based organizations, the educational/vocational community and the Department of Health and Human Services."
Key stakeholders agreed on the need, change principles and improvement strategies. A social work practitioner was hired and oversees student interns from the university's social work program. An intervention model is used to prescribe individual intervention plans for incarcerated offenders. A domestic violence and substance abuse curriculum is being developed. The anticipated outcomes for this project include: interagency cooperation; establishment of a model intervention program using university and community resources; ongoing partnerships with community-based organizations that address domestic violence and substance abuse; an ongoing partnership with the local university; policy analysis and outcome data; improved community relations and service delivery; and a reduction in the recidivism rate.
Characteristics of Collaboration
The restructuring of the existing jail program to one that uses a case management approach to offender intervention has the potential to expand thinking on how to move professionals beyond the boundaries that exist to create a more comprehensive community response to domestic violence and substance abuse. This process has uncovered key aspects of collaboration that must be met to avoid barriers. During the past three years, the collaborative has faced barriers to developing and implementing a plan of action, including task conflict, lack of knowledge regarding others' roles, hierarchy or formal power differences, lack of interpersonal skills and understanding of group dynamics, and turf issues.
Task conflict is an expected component of interprofessional collaboration. People naturally come to the table with their own agendas and lack of knowledge about other professionals' roles in the process. Shared decision-making and effective group processing is foreign to some who are accustomed to top-down decision-making styles. In order to avoid emotional conflict, collaborative members vowed to be candid about their agencies' agenda and priorities.
Jointly, they worked hard to establish clear communication channels and commited to being flexible throughout the process of establishing and implementing the action plan. Clearly identifying the resources that each individual brought to the table and clarifying the roles each would play was an important factor in addressing the barriers. Conflict was anticipated, but collaboration members did not allow this to weaken their commitment to the project. In order to truly collaborate, they had to be willing to communicate about the issues requiring clarification and identify alternative solutions. This process stimulated cohesiveness and knowledge to apply to future conflicts. Collaborative members sustain their work by employing the following strategies recommended by John Graham and Ken Barter in Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services (1999):
* Use a nonpersonalized approach, separating people from the problem.
* Focus on interests, not positions.
* Recognize that stakeholders' interests are common and different at the outset, and understood and changeable over time.
* Establish options needed for mutual gain.
* Use objective criteria and realistic goals at all stages.
* Share leadership, authority, responsibility and resources when possible.
* Involve key players at every level.
Following research and training on interprofessional collaboration, steps emerged in implementing the action plan to restructure the existing jail program:
* Develop a realistic time frame.
* Recruit and cross-train staff and interns.
* Collect data, monitor practices and document results.
* Use data to reassess needs and services.
* Identify problems based on assessment.
* Analyze information about inmates, criminal statistics, detention programs and community resources.
* Design strategies "outside the box."
* Implement strategies.
* Address training issues.
* Evaluate effectiveness.
The outcomes that emerged from the collaborative were an open exchange of information and joint action planning to restructure the jail detention program. Flexibility and shared leadership were key to the reciprocal teaching and learning necessary to establish a plan that included social workers, correctional staff, mental health professionals, child protective service workers, social work student interns, counseling, psychology and recreation therapy personnel, and school/vocational education officials. The process requires individuals to be problem-centered rather than discipline- or individual-centered. There must also be a willingness to subordinate one's own interests to achieve the collaborative's common aims. The group determined that collaboration competence consisted of: respect and knowledge of others' professional role; mutual exchange of ideas; shared perceptions; identification of common ground; knowledge of group process and facilitation skills; committed and involved leaders in each sector; a collaborative process viewed as open and credible by stakeholders; support that exists for the collaborative from key community agency members; a consensus-building and results-oriented focus; and a shared agreement that collaboration leads to better results then what a single agency could achieve.
In Kathryn Briar and Harold Lawson's 1996 publication Expanding Partnerships for Vulnerable Children, Youth and Families, they suggest that "specialized approaches will not provide solutions to problems confronting our most vulnerable citizens; they may, in fact, be part of the problem, undermining the good intentions of professionals in the various helping fields."
As Dean concluded in his research, social work-criminal justice partnerships embody common sense, however, they represent a major paradigm shift. "It brings agencies together that share common clients and should never have been so divided. Specialized, fragmented human services and human services agencies are adequate for most people," he said. "But they do not serve well the chronic dangerous criminals rising from the soil of intergenerational personal and family pathology who threaten our communities, abuse substances, spouses and children, and pass their pathology on to the next generation."
The collaborative model shows how to build community capacity to confront domestic violence and substance abuse. The university, local law enforcement, jails, probation officials, courts and human services agencies joined together to serve not just the cooperative and promising offenders, but also the difficult-to-reach, dangerous cases that previously fell between the cracks of the service delivery system, often threatening communities and families.
Collaboration provides an approach that, while designed to address domestic violence and substance abuse, can be institutionalized and become a community's way of identifying and solving other problems. Competitive relationships are replaced with cooperation and collaboration and a true sense of building healthy communities emerges where all people can strive to reach their full potential as citizens, parents and workers. Collaboration cannot do all of this, however, it opens the door for a major realignment in the way services are provided. As education is not a panacea, neither is collaboration. Some individuals will not respond to even the best of interventions. Yet, by building a collaborative approach to change, all involved collectively strive to build healthy and safe communities.
(1) Coleman, D.H. and M.A. Straus. 1983. Alcohol abuse and family violence. In Alcohol, drug abuse and aggression, eds. E. Gotheil et al., 104-124. Springfield, Ill.: Charles Thomas Publisher.
Gondolf, E.W. 1995. Alcohol abuse, wife assault and power needs. Social Service Review, 69(2):274-284.
Leonard, K.E. and T. Jacob. 1987. Alcohol, alcoholism and family violence. In Handbook of family violence, eds. Van Hasselt et al., 383-406. New York: Plenum.
(2) Brown, J., P. Unsinger and H. More. 1990. Law enforcement and social welfare: The emergency response. Springfield, Ill.: Charles Thomas Publisher.
(3) Cannon, I. 1923. On the social frontier of medicine: Pioneering in medical social service. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Towle, C. 1945. Common human needs: An interpretation for staff in public assistance agencies. New York: American Association of Social Workers.
(4) Interprofessional Collaboration Training Project. 1997. Modules for interprofessional collaboration program. Fresno, Calif.: California State University.
(5) Palacio, R. 2001. The social conditions of children and youth in the San Joaquin Valley. A report of research from the Central California Center for Health and Human Services.
Richardson, N. 2001. Out of sight, out of mind. Unpublished manuscript.
Mitzi A. Lowe. Ph.D., is an assistant professor and director of field education in the Department of Social Work at California State University, Fresno. Joe Parks, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction at California State University. Charlotte Tilkes is detention programs manager in the Detention Program Bureau of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.…