As Indiana continues its efforts to curb offender recidivism, a new bill set to take effect next month will put more requirements on offender treatment and rehabilitation programs to offer insights into the anti-recidivism methods that work.
Through House Enrolled Act 1349, authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, any entity that receives funds on the recommendation of the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council and appropriated through the Indiana Department of Correction must provide annual data on their treatment and supervision services, including the percentage of participants who complete the programs and, more importantly, the percentage who are recommitted to the DOC after completion.
Before HEA 1349, county community corrections programs were required to report similar data as a condition of their grant, said Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Office of Court Services and chair of JRAC. Previous Indiana law called for an annual report on the recidivism rates of program participants within six months, one year, two years and three years of completion, as well as the number of offenders who failed or completed a program.
But now, the type of agencies that receive community corrections funding through JRAC has been expanded to include other entities, such as jail treatment and prosecutor diversion programs, Seigel said.
With that expansion, the challenge then became determining what data the various entities had available and how to examine the data in a cohesive manner that would lead to lower recidivism, she said.
Historically, Indiana has not had a comprehensive data system to share such information between counties and the DOC, said Jon Ferguson, DOC executive director of contracts and legislation. But through collaboration with JRAC, which was established in 2015 to review and evaluate community corrections and other similar programs, Ferguson said the two groups were able to develop a list of data points that would be most beneficial for determining how funds through community corrections grants should be allocated for anti-recidivism efforts.
Those data points, which are outlined in HEA 1349, include the number of participants who completed an applicable treatment or service program, as well as the percentage who completed or were discharged from the program, categorized by level of offense. Additionally, the bill calls for a report on the percentage of participants who either completed or were discharged from a program and were subsequently recommitted to the DOC within 24 months, and the number of participants who completed a program and were legally employed.
Using that data and an evidence-based decision-making model, HEA 1349 will help the DOC and JRAC see which programs are working best for which types of offenders, Ferguson said.
“It’s a data-driven bill aimed at resources,” he said.
The goal is to determine if resources are being used effectively so as to make an impact on recidivism rates, Seigel and Ferguson both said. The focus is not only on whether programs are helping to lower those rates through offender completion, but more importantly, determining which offenders are returning to the DOC even after they complete a program, Ferguson said.
When the offenders who are not benefitting from the community corrections and other programs are identified, JRAC, the DOC and the funded entities can focus on ways the programs can be improved to target the people most likely to re-offend, he said.
“It’s really looking at outcomes of the money we’re spending and staff members and whether it’s making a difference,” Seigel said. “We want people to come back at a lesser rate, and obviously the recidivism rate will never get down to zero. But we’re making a dent in it, at least.”
This year, 161 entities will receive funding through JRAC, covering programs addressing issues such as substance abuse, mental health and cognitive behavioral issues, among others, Seigel said. Each of the funded entities is meant to equip offenders with the skills to think through their actions, make better decisions and, ultimately, not re-offend.
“We’re excited about seeing the progress we’re going to make,” Seigel said, noting it would be a slow process to hone the data as it comes in from the various entities and analyze and apply it in the most effective way.
The data collected pursuant to HEA 1349 must be reported by the entities to the DOC, which is tasked with appropriating the funds to the programs JRAC approves. The DOC must then compile the data and submit it to the JRAC Advisory Council, which then submits a report to the Indiana Legislative Council, the Indiana chief justice and the governor by Oct. 1 of each year.•