By: Katie Sobiech
So far we’ve discussed the gaps in the system and what doesn’t work in the area of reentry, but the question that arises now is what does work? And how can we encourage these ideas worth spreading?
The Summit County Reentry Network (SCRN) and Oriana House have found a few things to be key in helping ex-offenders turn their lives around. This includes role playing, and taking the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) test, to determine their level of offense so that they can provide the best plan possible.
Their goal is to eliminate the faults in the system and work out the kinks that they’ve found throughout the years. This change may be exactly what the reentry world needs in order to reduce recidivism rates, and ultimately change our community.
The Cost of Prison
The cost of keeping people in prison affects us all.
“Incarcerating people is big business,” Terry Tribe-Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, said.
The least restrictive is the least expensive and the most restrictive, the most expensive. And there are limited resources available.
“If it cost $10 a day to put people in prison, we’d have a lot more in prison,” Bernie Rochfield, Executive Vice President of the Oriana House, said.
“We already incarcerate more people than anyone in the world, as a country. Think of oppressive regimes and we lock up more (than that),” he continued.
“There are certain things that we know work and we want to make sure as this develops community-wide, people who haven’t been involved understand things that work and things that don’t,” Rochford said.
One of the most important things that they have found throughout history and research is determining what level of offense the client is at – high, medium or low.
The same plans should not be given to people of high and low offenses. They each need different things.
As the awareness of the importance of offenders “level” increased, ORAS (the Ohio Risk Assessment System test) came to be.
Taking the ORAS and determining what level of offense each individual has is one of the best ways to get them on the right track.
“(Years ago) you’d sit across from a probation officer who may have been out of college for a week, or may have been in the business for 20 years, but that was your assessment – just kind of talking it through. And that was not very helpful,” Rochfield said.
Now it is put together much more intricately, and based on a test, not on one person’s opinion.
The 5 instruments they now use in determining levels are: pretrial, prison, community, probation/parole and community corrections.
Each are interlinked and have access to the same information.
They hope everyone across the state will use this assessment tool that very few people were using 5 years ago.
The risk assessments first delineate what the criminal’s offense level is.
The goal is to get the low risk people out of the system fairly quick. On the other hand, they want to make sure that the high risk offenders are given the proper amount of treatment.
“It’s really been a game changer for Ohio,” Rochfield said, “It’s so interesting, when I go to other conferences or places across the country, people are adopting ORAS just off the shelf. It’s been fascinating for me to see.”
And because it was developed by the state, it’s free – public domain, where before you had to pay for the risk assessments. It’s been a big change in the last 5 years or so and is still a work in progress.
“Our courts here are pretty good with it. It tries to go on facts. You miss your appointment with the probation officer, that’s not justification for all of us to spend $24,000 a year putting someone in prison. You want to use the resources for people who need them, not people you’re mad at. If you’re mad at somebody, that’s not a reason to send them to prison,” Rochfield explained, on faults in the system.
“ORAS leaves it less subjective and harder to argue against,” Tribe Johnson said.
How it Was
“When I first started probation back in 83’ we had probation, prison and county jail. So if I’m a judge, I need to be tough on crime. So if you’ve committed an offense, you’re going to go to prison because I don’t want you to do something that’s going to impact the community,” Rochfield shared of how things used to be done.
“Prison may be the easy out for the judge,” he continued.
Over the years the county, state and different funders have come together to develop an array of sanctions.
“The specialty courts, pretrial and residential programs all have been developed to give the courts and paroling authorities options to deal with the offenders and folks coming out of prison. Now that you overlay the ORAS that’s helpful in giving the courts in particular a place to start,” Rochfield said.
Conceptually this is designed to give the understanding that there’s an array of services and sanctions available – and not everyone needs to go to jail or prison.
Once the levels are determined, the correct services can be put into place.
Cognitive approaches such as “role playing” are a crucial piece the Oriana House discovered with their clients. It helps ex-felons know how to handle certain situations when they get back into society. It teaches them how to handle things differently.
“We do a lot of role playing, such as ‘how do you handle certain situations when you run into the person you were doing drugs with?’’ Rochford explained.
“Akron’s a city, but it’s a small town. You go through those scenarios and practice because you know you’re going to run into those problems,” he continued.
Having a conversations between the client and the clinician helps each person work through their personal struggles and hurdles to create a targeted plan.
Tailored plans that meet each individual’s needs, rather than just lumping everyone into the same category, has the potential of being life – and community – changing.
Watch for Part 5 of this series which will discuss the importance of hiring ex-felons, how this benefits employers and the community.