Magazine article Corrections Today

A Critical Component to Successful Prisoner Reentry Initiatives; Partnerships with Local Law Enforcement and Community Agencies

Magazine article Corrections Today

A Critical Component to Successful Prisoner Reentry Initiatives; Partnerships with Local Law Enforcement and Community Agencies

Article excerpt

As correctional departments around the country expand upon their mission of public safety to incorporate a greater emphasis on reducing recidivism through successful prisoner reentry, partnerships with law enforcement agencies and community service providers have become even more critical. As recently as the 1980s, many correctional departments, including Rhode Island's, operated as independent, some what mysterious and secretive entities. Information-and resource-sharing were the exception, not the norm. That has radically changed and interaction between corrections and a host of other state, federal and local agencies has become an integral facet of daily life for professionals in jails, prisons and community corrections nationwide.

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Partnering With Law Enforcement

The primary mission of law enforcement is to maintain peace and order and provide a safe environment. In these respects, it is fundamentally aligned with the mission of the corrections field. Although each domain has its own role and perspective, the goal of public safety requires integration and activities that interlock and interconnect. The message must be sent, from the top, that this approach is a priority at the highest level.

There are several underlying assumptions that must be in play if prisoner reentry is to be effective. All of them support the argument that corrections and law enforcement must come together to further these important ideas:

* Prisoner reentry is a statewide issue;

* The current approach to corrections is costly and the outcomes are not great;

* Solutions do not lie solely within correctional departments;

* Both human services and law enforcement must join together with corrections;

* Communities and community-based agencies must be part of the process;

* It is possible to create models that cut across existing bureaucratic structures;

* The work must involve changes in organizational culture and attitudes;

* Communication and data-sharing are essential; and

* Success can (and should) be measured.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the partnerships formed between probation and parole officers and police officers is the sense of mutual respect and connection that develops from working in tandem on a regular basis. It is unusual to hear of probation and parole officers described as "the two new rock stars of the city," but that is how Col. Dean Esserman, the Providence police chief, described Rhode Island DOC probation officers Yolanda Harley and Geneva Brown at a recent gathering that included members of his staff, DOC officials and a reporter from The Providence Journal Esserman added, "And I intend to buy tickets to their concert someday."

The chief said he is enthusiastic about this "remarkable partnership" between his department and the DOC and its role in enhancing public safety in the state's largest city. The Providence police officers are now wired into the DOC's inmate database, INFACTS, and can access it from laptops in their cruisers or from police headquarters and substations. Within moments of arrest, police officers can determine whether individuals are on probation or parole, download offenders' photos, and review other important details about their incarceration history.

Meeting probationers where they live is one of the cornerstones of probation. As a result of the partnership between the DOC and the police department, Brown and Harley have moved out of their comfort zone--working previously in the Superior Court and the District Court--and now have offices right alongside the police substation in District 7, a neighborhood with a startlingly high number of probationers. Historically, probation officers had been frustrated because they were desk-bound in the courthouse. Today, these two officers' entire caseloads live within a 10-minute drive. …

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