HJR 273: Joint Subcommittee Studying Prisoner Reentry Into Society
The Joint Subcommittee
Studying the Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry into Society
held its third meeting on October 12, 2005, at the Prison Fellowship facility
located at 44180 Riverside Parkway in Lansdowne, Virginia.
Pat Nolan, is the Vice President of the Prison Fellowship, and also serves
as President of the Prison Fellowship's criminal justice reform arm, Justice
Fellowship. The organization's focus is to ensure that offenders are better
prepared to live healthy, productive, and law-abiding lives upon their
release from prison. Mr. Nolan is working with a number of states and
Congress. He stated that a broad coalition of political, economic, and
religious groups has been working at the federal level on the Second Chance
Act (HR 1704). This legislation seeks to strengthen families of inmates
and improve the provision of services to inmates returning to society.
Mr. Nolan stated that to strengthen families the bill will:
- Encourage community
nonprofit organizations and churches to mentor adult and juvenile offenders.
- Rewrite regulations
to encourage family preservation and safety services for families affected
by the incarceration of family members.
- Allow family members
of offenders to be involved in facilitating the successful reentry of
offenders into their communities.
- Encourage expansion
of family-based treatment centers that offer comprehensive treatment.
- Develop prisoner
and family policies, procedures, or programs to help prisoners reconnect
with their families and communities.
- Encourage states
to remove obstacles to the maintenance of family relationships while
the offender is in custody.
To assist state and
federal governments in the improvement of their reentry programs the bill
- Encourage the
states to coordinate their programs that assist inmates to find jobs,
housing, and substance abuse and mental health treatment and assist
their children and families.
- Establish the
National Offender Re-Entry Resource Center to help states, local governments,
services providers, faith-based organizations, corrections agencies,
and community organizations by collecting and disseminating information
about best practices.
- Coordinate federal
programs and resources on reentry and identify federal barriers that
exist to successful reentry.
- Conduct research
to provide hard data about reentry on which decisionmakers can design
Mr. Nolan recommended
that the joint subcommittee keep the following concepts in mind as it
works to improve Virginia's reentry programs.
- The goal of our
criminal justice system is to create safer communities and reduce the
number of victims. There is a tendency in many criminal justice systems
to focus on institutional safety and convenience, rather than community
safety. Encouraging inmates to participate in programs and interact
with community volunteers may increase the risk that security will be
compromised, but it also greatly increases the probability that the
inmates will make a successful reentry after release.
- Reentry planning
should start at intake. Decisions on prison assignments should include
factors such as the proximity of the prison to the inmate's family and
the availability of needed programs.
- Programs are important,
but healthy relationships are even more important. The National Council
on Crime and Delinquency studied three Intensive Aftercare Programs
and found that the programs "did not have an influence on recidivism."
According to Mr. Nolan, the programs lacked one element that Prison
Fellowship has found essential to successful reentry-a relationship
with a loving mentor who will assist the offender during the critical
first few months of freedom.
- Encourage inmates
to participate in faith-based programs. If inmates are to live healthy,
productive, and law-abiding lives when they return to their communities,
we must equip them with moral standards to live by.
- Develop graduated
sanctions for violations of terms of release.
- The community
should "own" reentry. For reentry programs to be successful,
community groups and churches should be viewed as partners with the
state, not as mere auxiliaries.
and Violent Offender Re-Entry (VASAVOR)
Lesley Bubenhofer, Chief Probation and Parole Officer for District
#29 with the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC), spoke about the
Virginia Serious and Violent Offender Re-Entry (VASAVOR) initiative. With
grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies,
DOC implemented in July 2002 a reentry program for serious and violent
offenders in Fairfax in collaboration with the Fairfax County Office of
the Sheriff, Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR), the Fairfax-Falls
Church Community Services Board (CSB), and the Northern Virginia Workforce
Investment Board. Inmates who have been convicted of the following felony
offenses will be considered for VASAVOR: capital murder, homicide (1st
or 2nd degree), manslaughter, abduction/kidnapping, sexual assault/rape,
robbery, assault, and weapons charges. Offenders who have a serious and
violent offense conviction and an acceptable release plan in Fairfax will
be considered for the VASAVOR program if they have a parole, probation,
or post-release supervision obligation. VASAVOR programming includes education,
vocational training, employment assistance, residential assistance, and
mental health and substance abuse assessment and treatment. The VASAVOR
initiative provides essential services and intensive supervision and consists
of three phases.
Participant assessment and reentry planning
Phase I, potential VASAVOR inmates are identified by DOC's staff and reviewed
by the VASAVOR Suitability Assessment Team and suitable participants commence
programming within the institution. A reentry plan is implemented and
data is forwarded by DOC to Fairfax that includes information concerning
the inmate's institutional adjustment, existing educational and employment
skills, and any special needs.
The VASAVOR participant
is transferred to the Fairfax Adult Detention Center (ADC) where he meets
his probation/parole officer and the VASAVOR Transition Team (Team) members.
The Team consists of probation and parole officers, an OAR case manager,
a Workforce Investment Board Job Developer, a mental health therapist,
and other service providers as appropriate. A community reentry plan is
developed by the Team.
Programming is provided
for VASAVOR participants in the ADC during an approximate 45-day transitional
period by the OAR and CSB on anger management, conflict resolution, impact
of crime, thinking straight skills, basic computer skills, and financial
planning. Other skill-based classes and faith-based programs are also
available. A release and supervision plan is developed with the offender
and the Team.
Individual/community support system establishment
Phase II, the VASAVOR participant is released to the community under intensive
supervision. The Team coordinates community-based services and supervises
to ensure the participant's issues (housing, employment, family obligations,
health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, etc.) are being
addressed as he reintegrates into the community. Violation of supervision
guidelines results in the application of a system of graduated sanctions.
Productivity and responsibility achieved
In Phase III, the VASAVOR participant achieves self-sufficiency
with his own support system, including family, mentors, and peer support
Ms. Bubenhofer introduced
two VASAVOR Team members: Don M. Needels, Intensive Supervision Program
Senior Probation Officer with DOC, and Heather Venner, VASAVOR case manager
with OAR of Fairfax. Mr. Needels discussed a typical day with VASAVOR
participants. A VASAVOR participant, Vincent Jones, discussed his experience
with VASAVOR and stated that he believes he would be back in jail without
Thomas MacLellan of the National Governors Association (NGA) spoke on
the national challenge of prisoner reentry. He stated that state corrections
expenditures have grown 538% since 1982-an annual average growth of 9.9%.
States spent an estimated $40.7 billion on corrections in 2004. According
to Mr. MacLellan, Virginia's estimated corrections expenditures in 2004
were $1.06 billion. Mr. MacLellan reported that, "Effective policies
save money and make better use of limited resources by establishing a
more coordinated and comprehensive continuum of care and supervision.
Even small reductions in recidivism rates will generate substantial cost-savings
by avoiding more costly reincarceration."
Mr. MacLellan noted
the following challenges to successful reentry:
- Cuts in funding
for prison programs.
- Systemic and legal
barriers (e.g., bans to public assistance and housing, difficulty obtaining
- Lack of sentencing
options and alternative sanctions.
Building on the work
of NGA's Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy and the Council of State Governments'
(CSG) Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council, Mr. MacLellan suggested these
strategies to initiate long-term improvements:
- Develop an interagency
approach-reentry is not only a corrections issue.
- Improve the process
through which individuals are sent to prison (e.g., expand community-based
treatment, improve parole revocation policies).
- Improve how prisoners
are prepared in prison for release (e.g., begin reentry planning early,
improve use of risk and assessment tools, and improve access to service
providers and faith-based organizations).
- Improve how prisons
- Build on key social
and family relationships and ensure local connections of inmates.
Ensure that prisoners have transitional or temporary jobs.
- Ensure a continuum
of care for high-need individuals with health, mental health, and substance
- Target highly
affected communities and locate services in those communities.
- Form partnerships
with local law- enforcement agencies.
on these strategies can be found on the NGA website at http://www.nga.org.
(Search under Issues: Criminal Justice-Prisoner Reentry for the Issue
Brief, Improving Prisoner Reentry Through Strategic Policy Innovations)
The joint subcommittee's final meeting date is November 15, 2005, at 10:00
a.m. in Richmond at the General Assembly Building.
The Hon. Linda