By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A report on parole practices cites a collaborative effort between the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole and the state Correction Department as an effective way to assess the needs of offenders when resources are limited by budget restraints.
The report released in August noted the focus of the departments’ Joint Offender Management Plan in 2009 was to reduce correctional costs to the state, “particularly through reducing parole and probation revocations.”
To do that, funds were shifted from the Department of Correction to the Board of Probation and Parole to support treatment interventions in the community through a network developed by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
The overall collaboration saved the state $33 million within its first year, said state officials, who launched the program with the intention of saving taxpayers money, reducing recidivism, preserving expensive prison beds for the most dangerous offenders and making communities safer.
“We were able to use their people instead of going through the time and expense of having to contract service providers in the community ourselves,” parole board spokeswoman Melissa McDonald recently told The Associated Press in reference to the mental health network.
Jesse Jannetta, a research associate at the Washington-based Urban Institute, a social policy research organization, is the lead author of the report that examined different parole practices across the country to try to build a “knowledge base for all states.”
Jannetta said what’s most notable about Tennessee’s parole practices is that the state is doing “good work … in this terrible economic climate.”
“They’ve really tried to build an operation where everybody, if possible, is getting good assessment so you know who’s at high risk to the community and what issues need to be targeted in order to reduce that risk,” Jannetta said.
The joint plan uses evidence-based practices that have proven effective in other states.
For instance, one initiative is aimed at “technical parole violators” — probationers or parolees who may get in trouble for minor offenses such as driving on a suspended license or missing a counseling session.
As part of the initiative, the state tries to identify factors that indicate whether offenders would be more likely to violate probation or parole — from substance abuse to mental health and medical issues.
When the indicators show that an offender is at high risk, the state offers help through a network of more than 20 social workers, who decide what parole programs best address offenders’ needs.
For instance, if a person has a history of domestic violence, then there’s a program called “Courage to Change”. And if someone has an anger problem, or difficulty making choices, then there’s a behavior change program called “Thinking for a Change”.
Last month, about 30 probationers and parolees graduated from “Thinking for a Change,” which includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development and development of problem-solving skills.
Parole Board Chairman Charles Traughber said the main objective is to help offenders find employment and be contributing citizens. Last year, officials said the parole board’s employment specialists found 245 jobs for offenders.
“If you’re employed again, you’re able to provide and be a positive role model for the children and others in your community,” Traughber said.