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Concept of Community Corrections

Since the mid-twentieth century, penal systems across the country have used "halfway houses" as facilities where offenders could receive supervision and treatment outside of prison walls.  Community corrections programs were
originally designed as an intermediate point between probation probation/parole and prison.  The concept was that offenders appropriate for community corrections may need more supervision and treatment than those on probation,
but less physical confinement than that provided by a prison. 

Part of the initial appeal of community corrections has been economic:
  • Community corrections supervision is less costly than placement in a penal facility.
  • In many cases, community corrections clients are employed, and defray the costs of their housing and treatment by making payments.
  • Many offenders earn money to pay child support or restitution to their victims, which would be impossible if they were held in prison.
  • Nationally, and in Colorado, prison populations grew to unprecedented levels in the last decade.  This trend has led to substantially increased burdens on taxpayers to support the high costs of prison incarceration.

Over time, researchers have also discovered that community-based supervision and treatment programs enhance public safety:
  •  Relatively few sentences are life sentences.  In fact, over 95% of prison inmates return to the community eventually.  For those offenders who are completing a term in prison or who are nearing parole, community corrections offers an opportunity to gradually accept the responsibilities and challenges associated with freedom, while remaining in a controlled environment.
  • Without community corrections, some offenders would be on probation, living anonymously and spread across the community.  Some of these offenders are better managed in the structured setting of a community corrections program, where their behaviors are carefully monitored and where they receive the type of training and education most likely to promote a return to productivity.
  • Contemporary research has produced information that prison incarceration, in and of itself, has little impact on long-term behavior change for offenders.  The benefit of community corrections is a more economically sustainable strategy to carefully and closely supervise offenders while also facilitating long-term behavior change through community-based treatment and education

Community corrections provides a cost-effective sentencing and placement option for appropriately situated offenders.


Colorado's Unique Community Corrections System

In Colorado, the community corrections system is a unique collaboration between state agencies, local officials and community corrections providers, with an emphasis on local control.

  • Local community corrections boards in each of Colorado's twenty-two judicial districts are an integral part of the system.
  • Under state law, each local board may contract with one or more community corrections programs to provide for the supervision and treatment of offenders.
  • The same local boards determine which offenders will be accepted into their local programs.

Generally, local boards authorize their programs to manage two primary types of offenders. 
  •  Diversion clients are directly sentenced to community corrections by a district judge following a felony conviction.  In such cases, community corrections serves as the step right before prison.  One measure of success in the management of diversion clients is whether they can permanently demonstrate that they do not require time in prison to become safe and productive members of society.
  • Transition clients have been in a Colorado prison facility, are still under the supervision of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and are preparing for a gradual return to society by participating in a community corrections program.  In such cases, community corrections serves as the step right after prison.  One measure of success in the management of these clients is whether they remain crime-free, both during and after their transition from institutional life to freedom.

Some community corrections offenders progress through the system to become "nonresidential clients."  Typically, these offenders have "graduated" from the more structured part of their programs, and are permitted to live in the community with some independence.  They check in as often as every day, provide urine samples to detect any substance abuse, and are subject to monitoring at their jobs and elsewhere.  Many nonresidential offenders continue classes and mental health or substance abuse treatment begun while they were in residence at the program.

The diverse nature of community corrections programs in Colorado is part of the system's strength:
  •  Some programs are operated by units of local government, such as a county; some are operated by not-for-profit corporations, while others are for-profit entities.
  • Several programs are licensed substance abuse treatment programs that specialize in the residential or inpatient treatment of substance abuse. 
  • Some programs also provide residential supervision and inpatient treatment for clients that are dually diagnosed with a mental illness and substance use disorder.
  • Some programs provide gender-specific treatment for female offenders


State Oversight of Community Corrections in Colorado

The Governor's Community Corrections Advisory Council has adopted a comprehensive set of Community Corrections Standards that apply to all community corrections programs in Colorado.  The Standards establish minimum objective criteria that describe how programs should deal with issues related to public safety, offender management and best practices in offender rehabilitation.

The Office of Community Corrections (OCC) is a part of the Division of Criminal Justice in the Colorado Department of Public Safety OCC is responsible for:

  •  The enforcement of the Community Corrections Standards through regular program audits, including site visits.
  • The distribution of state and federal monies to community corrections boards and programs.
  • Technical assistance through the creation and presentation of specialized training programs for employees of local programs and boards.
  • The completion of background checks on prospective employees of community corrections programs
  • The collection of statistical data and other information about community corrections on behalf of the Colorado legislature and other state entities.

In additions to OCC, other agencies with oversight responsibilities for community corrections programs include:
  • The Colorado Department of Corrections, which maintains supervision of its transition offenders in community corrections placements.
  • The Colorado Judicial Department, which maintains supervision of offenders who are in community corrections as the result of direct sentences or as a condition of probation.
  • The Division of Behavioral Health (formerly the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division and the Division of Mental Health) of the Colorado Department of Human Services, which oversees the adequacy of clinical services provided to offenders with a history of substance abuse.
  • Local community corrections boards are also statutorily and contractually required to monitor program compliance with state and local standards.  In many cases, staff from community corrections boards conduct additional audits and technical assistance visits to programs to ensure quality programming.

The Strategic Direction of Community Corrections in Colorado

 Community corrections is an important part of Colorado's criminal justice system, in part because it can be cost-effective and in part because its programs combine access to offender rehabilitation services with intensive offender supervision in the interest of public safety.  Many policymakers advocate the expansion of community corrections.  State agencies, local authorities, and public and private providers remain committed to the common goals of public safety and rehabilitation, from which both the offenders and the community ultimately benefit.

In 2011, the Governor's Community Corrections Advisory Council developed a long-term vision statement for Colorado Community Corrections.  The vision statement emphasizes recidivism reduction through various strategies including the implementation of evidence-based interventions for offenders.

In 2012, the DOC and DCJ collaborated on a Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) using the LEAN model that was resourced by the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget (OSPB). In part, the LEAN/RIE event was designed to develop improvements to the transition and supervision of offenders in community corrections.  One of the recommendations for the RIE./LEAN event was for the DCJ to align the Colorado Community Corrections Standards with evidence-based practices for offender populations.  This recommendation was targeted for commencement in 2013.  DCJ will be developing a strategic method to implement more evidence-based principles into the Standards as part of their 2013 work plan with the Governor's Community Corrections Advisory Council, local boards, and providers. 

In 2012, the DCJ has commenced several projects to develop and implement evidence-based interventions with the goal of improving success rates and affecting long-term behavior change among offenders.  These efforts have all been conducted collaboratively with boards and providers in community corrections.  The following evidence-based initiatives are in various stages of development and implementation in community corrections:

The Behavioral Shaping Model and Reinforcement Tool (B.SMART):  This project implements two (2) different but related evidence-based practices.
  • The Behavioral Shaping Model is a structured sanctions grid that assists providers in responding to program violations in a manner that is consistent with evidence-based principles.  This Behavioral Shaping Model is congruent, in concept, with the Colorado Violation Decision making Process (CVDMP) used by the Colorado Department of Corrections as well as the Technical Violation and Behavior Change (TVBC) model being drafted in probation.
  • The Reinforcement Tool is a structured process in order to implement Contingency Management which is a well-researched evidence-based approach to affecting long-term behavior change.  This process provides structured incentives to offenders who exhibit pro-social behavior in order to reinforce their habitualization of conventional and desired behaviors.  This Reinforcement Tool is congruent, in concept, with the Technical Violation and Behavior Change (TVBC) model being drafted in probation.

The Evidence-Based Progression Matrix:  This initiative began through the RIE/LEAN event in the summer of 2012.  The goal of this project is to develop evidence-based criteria for offenders to progress through the community corrections residential level system before being released to Non-Residential or ISP-I (Intensive Supervision Parole) status.

Structured Progress Feedback: this process is one of the current Standards supported by evidence-based principles and is required of all providers.  In 2012, OCC staff developed a technical assistance and coaching manual to implement this standard which facilitates implementation of Risk/Needs/Responsivity principle for offenders.

Motivational Interviewing (MI): this is a grant-funded initiative through the Department of Public Safety.  the Evidence Based Practices Implementation for Capacity (EPIC) staff in CDPS are working to implement MI in some community corrections programs.  While this is not a project led by the DCJ, the participating community corrections providers are working diligently to implement this rigorous and structured intervention for offenders.  The grant-funded EPIC project is set to terminate in 2013 unless state resources are obtained to sustain the program.

The Colorado Community Corrections Vision Statement