TheProgram Review and Investigations Committee met on Thursday, October 9, 2008, at 10:00 AM, in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Ernie Harris, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Ernie Harris, Co-Chair; Senators Charlie Borders, R.J. Palmer II, Joey Pendleton, Dan Seum, and Katie Stine; Representatives Dwight D. Butler, Ruth Ann Palumbo, Rick Rand, Arnold Simpson, and Ken Upchurch.
Legislative Guest: House Speaker Jody Richards.
Guests: Kimberly Potter-Blair, Deputy Commissioner for Support Services; Al Parke, Deputy Commissioner for Adult Institutions; James Van Nort, Assistant Director of the Division of Mental Health; Lee VanHoose, Director of the Division of Probation & Parole; Mavis McCowan, Pre-release Coordinator; Wendy Hayden, Branch Manager for Home Incarceration Program and Re-Entry Efforts; Department of Corrections.
LRC Staff: Greg Hager, Committee Staff Administrator; Rick Graycarek; Jim Guinn; Christopher Hall; Colleen Kennedy; Van Knowles; Jean Ann Myatt; Tara Rose; Cindy Upton; Stella Mountain, Committee Assistant.
Upon motion made by Senator Pendleton and seconded by Senator Palmer, the minutes of the September 11, 2008 meeting were approved by voice vote, without objection.
Senator Harris asked Representative Simpson to speak in memory of Representative Larry Belcher.
Cindy Upton presented the report Reentry Programs for Felons Should Be Improved and Outcome Measures Should Be Developed.
Ms. Upton said that the study had two major objectives: describing the Kentucky probation and parole system and the current process for returning and reintegrating incarcerated felons into local communities; and evaluating the effectiveness of the current process for returning and reintegrating felons into local communities.
Ms. Upton said that the report has two major conclusions. The first is that the Department of Corrections’ reentry programming should be strengthened. The formal reentry program is not offered consistently among prisons and is not available in jails. Department staff who present the program have additional job responsibilities. The department should dedicate staff to work only on reentry programming and to provide individual assistance to persons who need it. Staff also should be dedicated to work with employers, housing owners and providers, and other providers of services to identify specifically where a released felon may be able to get a job, find a place to live, and/or obtain substance abuse or mental health treatment. These efforts will smooth people’s transition from prison to the community.
The second major conclusion is that the only outcome measure the department currently reports is the recidivism rate. The department should measure and report outcomes of the programs and services provided to convicted felons. The department provides work programs; academic, vocational, and technical education; sex offender treatment; and substance abuse programs. Information on inmates who use these programs and services is not entered in the Kentucky Offender Management System. Thus, the department is unable to measure and report systemwide outcomes of its programs.
She said that the Department of Corrections, which is responsible for incarcerating persons convicted of felony offenses, operates 13 state prisons and contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to operate 3 additional prisons. The department also contracts with 75 local jails to house certain minimum custody inmates and is responsible for supervising persons released on probation and parole.
Ms. Upton said that from Fiscal Year 1998 to Fiscal Year 2008, annual admissions to the department’s custody increased 86 percent and annual releases increased 146 percent. During FY 2008, on average 42 persons were admitted and 46 released each day. The 16,915 persons released in FY 2008 had been convicted of committing more than 38,000 felonies, nearly one-third of which were for violations of Kentucky’s controlled substances statute. About one-fourth of the convictions were for burglary and theft.
Ms. Upton said that the department’s information system, called the Kentucky Offender Management System (KOMS), has been in use since May 2007. It has not been fully implemented, much information is not routinely entered into the system, and local jails do not have the ability to add information to it. The department requested funding to finish the programming for the system, but the request has not yet been approved.
Ms. Upton continued that from FY 1998 to FY 2008, 71 percent of people entering prison had been convicted of committing new felonies, and 27 percent for violating the conditions of their probation or parole. In FY 2008, of the persons entering prison, 83 percent were male; 72 percent were Caucasian and 26 percent were African American; 70 percent were 21 to 40 years old; and 72 percent were single, divorced, or separated. Nineteen percent had graduated from high school, 41 percent had not, and the educational status was unknown for 33 percent.
Under the provisions of state law, most persons convicted of a Class D felony and some convicted of a Class C felony will serve their sentences in local jails. The proportion of inmates in county jails increased from 23 percent in FY 1998 to 34 percent in FY 2008. In FY 2008, 67 percent of releases were persons who had been convicted of Class D felonies. This affects post-release success because more programming is available in prisons than in jails.
Ms. Upton said that Program Review staff asked the department for the number of state inmates with jobs and program assignments, but the department was unable to provide this information because it is not routinely entered into KOMS.
Staff’s recommendation 3.1 is that the department should enter each inmate’s job and program assignment in KOMS and update the information when an inmate’s work or program status changes.
Ms. Upton said that from FY 2004 to FY 2008, inmates earned more than 4,400 vocational and technical certificates and more than 1200 diplomas, but the department was unable to determine how many persons earned them.
Recommendation 3.2 is that the department should enter each inmate’s educational achievements in KOMS and update the information when an inmate’s educational status changes.
Ms. Upton said the department offers a Substance Abuse Program, but the number of inmates who qualify exceeds the department’s ability and resources to serve them. The department was unable to provide the number of persons who had completed the program.
Recommendation 3.3 is that the department should enter each inmate’s acceptance into the Substance Abuse Program in KOMS and update the information when the inmate completes or exits the program, including the reason for exiting the program.
Ms. Upton continued by saying that KRS 197.400 requires the department to provide a Sexual Offender Treatment Program for persons convicted of sex crimes defined in KRS Chapter 510. Sexual offenders on probation or five-year conditional discharge are required by KRS 532.045 to complete and pay for a community-based treatment program. She said the number of Sexual Offender Treatment Program completions is low compared to the number of persons incarcerated for sexual offenses. Since 2001, the number of sexual offenders has increased on average 5 percent each year. Program Review staff asked the department for the recidivism rate for sexual offenders, which is required by KRS 197.420. The department was unable to provide the information.
Recommendation 3.4 is that the department should enter each inmate’s acceptance into the Sexual Offender Treatment Program in KOMS and update the information when the inmate completes or exits the program, including the reason for exiting the program.
She said that prison inmates have an opportunity to attend a pre-release program, commonly known as “Prison to the Streets.” Typical subjects include preparing for job interviews, how to fill out job applications, resume writing, stress management, housing options, and utilizing community resources. The components of the program vary among institutions in terms of content and duration. Some prisons spend 16 to 20 hours on reentry programming; others spend only 1 to 5 hours. The program typically is not available to state inmates in jails.
Recommendation 3.5 is that the department should require the use of a standardized reentry program that focuses on a person’s community knowledge and skills to enable released felons to reenter society as smoothly as possible. The program should be of sufficient duration to ensure adequate coverage of required topics and should be offered in all prisons and county jails that house state inmates.
Ms. Upton continued that one-third of convicted felons return to prison within 2 years from being released, which includes people returning to prison because of new felony convictions and technical violations of the conditions of probation or parole.
Ms. Upton said that from FY 2007 to FY 2008, releases increased by 21 percent. The number of releases is likely to increase because of provisions in HB 406 of the 2008 regular session of the General Assembly. As of September 11, 2008, 1,416 felons had been released in accordance with the temporary provisions of HB 406.
Ms. Upton said that HB 683 of the 2008 regular session added two full-time Parole Board members and allows the board to conduct file reviews of certain Class C felons eligible for parole without holding a formal hearing.
Ms. Upton said offenders released to community supervision are classified into a supervision level based on their probability for additional criminal activity. In FY 2008, on average, 13 percent of cases were classified as high risk, 46 percent were moderate risk, 23 percent were low risk, and 11 percent were on administrative level of supervision. On average, 680 new offenders entered the system each month awaiting classification.
Ms. Upton continued that some persons convicted of felony offenses serve part of their sentences on home incarceration. In FY 2008, 1,093 offenders were released to home incarceration.
Persons being released from incarceration face a number of challenges. Some challenges relate specifically to the type of felony conviction. Compounding the problems, the department has no statewide system for easing the transition from prison to the community. A probation or parole officer may help individuals, but with an average caseload of 94 persons, the amount and quality of that help vary.
Challenges include obtaining mental health and substance abuse treatment; finding suitable housing and dealing with additional housing barriers for sexual offenders; finding employment, even if the released felon has a trade or job skill; obtaining transportation because the released felon’s operator’s license may have expired or been suspended; paying court-ordered restitution, fines and fees; and trying to get voting rights restored. She said that some challenges are similar to those faced by much of the population but some are not. For example, persons with substance abuse convictions may be unable to obtain federal education grants, loans, or work assistance. Many restrictions are imposed for housing assistance for ex-felons. Some statutes for occupations and professions preclude felons from having licenses and certificates or from being employed.
Ms. Upton said incarcerated felons would benefit from individualized pre-release and post-release assistance. However, each prison conducts its own version of the department’s reentry program, and felons housed in county jails receive little or no reentry programming. This system not only fails to meet certain inmates’ needs, but it also increases pressure on probation and parole officers. Incarcerated felons would benefit from more and better-coordinated academic, vocational, and technical programs. Waiting lists for education and training prevent some inmates from participating, although when inmates participate, they later find that many employers will not hire convicted felons. Individualized assistance and more programming may require additional resources for a time; however, the department should later realize savings from reduced recidivism.
Recommendation 4.1 is that the department should dedicate staff at each prison and staff to work with local jails to provide individualized assistance to persons with significant pre-release and post-release needs. The assistance should include interaction with community providers to ensure that necessary services are available to released felons.
Recommendation 4.2 is that the department should dedicate staff to contact potential employers across the state, assess the vocational and technical skills their employees must have, and encourage employers to hire released felons who have those skills. The department should provide appropriate training to inmates, encourage inmates to participate in it, and inform inmates of employers who have expressed a willingness to hire them.
Ms. Upton concluded with an overview of research on the effectiveness of types of reentry programs and reentry programs in other states.
Senator Harris asked whether there is any commonality among prisons in their pre-release programs that are offered across the system or whether each prison has to come up with its own program and they are on their own.
Ms. Upton said there is a group of topics, which normally covers things like filling out a job application and writing a resume. She said the most commonly covered topics, especially for the shorter programs, deal more with the conditions of parole supervision.
Representative Palumbo asked for clarification of technical parole violations.
Ms. Upton said that technical violations were for behaviors that would not be against the law otherwise, but were violations of the conditions of parole, such as drinking alcohol.
Representative Palumbo asked about percentages not accounted for on the slide on reasons for release.
Ms. Upton replied that 5 percent absconded and 2 percent were released for other reasons.
Representative Palumbo asked for clarification on how little opportunity prison staff have to work with individuals who are going to be released.
Ms. Upton said that she was not aware of a single prison that has one person whose only task is working with people who are going to be released.
Senator Stine asked why the requirement in KRS 197.420 (6) that the department report the recidivism rate for sex offenders was not being met.
Ms. Upton said that staff had not been able to get that information.
Senator Seum gave an example of someone who had committed a felony a long time ago and has since finished nursing school and is looking for a job. He asked whether state law prohibited her from working in a nursing home or other health care facility.
Ms. Upton said that prohibitions apply to nursing home-type facilities and that it would depend on the felony.
Representative Butler asked for more details on the Arizona program described in the report.
Ms. Upton said that she could get more information for him.
Representative Upchurch asked whether statistics were available on which other felonies committed were drug related.
Ms. Upton said that the data used in the report would not indicate this.
Senator Harris asked about the implementation of KOMS and when it would be fully operational.
Ms. Potter-Blair replied that it should be completed within two years.
Senator Stine repeated her question as to why the requirement in KRS 197.420 (6) that the department report the recidivism rate for sex offenders was not being met.
No one from the department could explain why the statute was not being met.
Representative Butler enquired about treatment programs in the prisons.
Mr. Parke replied that treatment is performed in a group format of about 8 offenders per group. The prison and community programs try to accept and take in as many sex offenders as possible. When they complete the treatment program in a prison, anyone convicted after 1998 has a 3-year conditional discharge, or if after 2006, a 5-year conditional discharge. They then re-enroll in a treatment program in the community with some adaptations necessary for the community. The department assists as best as possible with finding work and locating housing.
Representative Butler said that his understanding was that there were waiting lists for programs and asked whether more staff were needed.
Mr. Parke replied that more resources would be useful. Some prisons do have a waiting list, others do not, so that becomes a transfer issue to try and distribute some inmates to other facilities.
Representative Simpson commented that he did not understand why the statutory mandate noted by Senator Stine has been ignored.
Dr. Van Nort said he did not know where the system broke down or who stopped collecting data.
Representative Simpson requested that the department report back to the committee about this breach of responsibility. He asked for members from the department present to comment on each recommendation made in the report by LRC staff.
Senator Harris asked LRC staff to prepare a letter for the co-chairmen to sign that would direct a response from the Department of Corrections by the next committee meeting on the issue raised by Senator Stine and Representative Simpson as to why KRS 197.420 (6) is not being followed.
Senator Seum asked whether plumbing and electrical is taught in the prisons.
Mr. Parke replied that they are in a few institutions.
Senator Seum asked whether a person can get a license if he completes such training in the prison system, and whether he can work in the trades.
Mr. Parke replied that if the trades will accept that person, he can go to work.
Senator Seum asked whether they are prohibited for some reason.
Mr. Parke said that to his knowledge they are not prohibited, but would depend on the trades.
Senator Seum expressed his concern about all the stumbling blocks for people coming out of prison.
Senator Harris asked for comments by Department of Corrections staff on the recommendations.
Ms. Patter-Blair said they agree with recommendations 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3, and will implement the changes into the Kentucky Offender Management System as funds are available.
Mr. Parke added that KOMS needs to be completely developed before that data can be entered and collected.
Ms. Patter-Blair agreed with recommendation 3.4 and said that they are already collecting that data in KOMS.
Ms. McCowan, responding to Recommendation 3.5, said that “Prison to the Streets” has a standardized shell that all of the institutions are required to utilize. Some institutions have the opportunity to enhance the program. The department is going to make sure that this is standardized in every institution.
Mr. Parke said that they have started developing a model for the re-entry program that will start when the offender enters the prison system. It will be the major initiative to help prevent inmates from returning to prison. The department has just appointed a branch manager for reentry. He commented that the Department of Corrections cannot do this by itself but it will have to collaborate with other state agencies.
Ms. Patter-Blair said they accept recommendations 4.1 and 4.2. They currently do the home incarceration program, but they need to help released persons more in obtaining state identification. At present the classification and treatment officers under the home incarceration program are negotiating with different employers to hire convicted felons but a greater community effort needs to be made.
The report Reentry Programs for Felons Should Be Improved and Outcome Measures Should Be Developed was accepted upon motion by Representative Simpson and seconded by Representative Rand, without objection by roll call vote.
Representative Rand asked whether privately run facilities use a different information management system than the state does.
Ms. Hayden said the private facilities use a different system but they are required to have an interface with KOMS or keep KOMS up to date.
Representative Rand asked whether their system is more advanced than KOMS.
Ms. Hayden said she did not think so.
Representative Simpson asked how important it is to the department to fund KOMS completely, how much they need, and whether they have asked for more funding.
Ms. Patter-Blair said it is important to fund KOMS and it has been requested in the past. She could not give the amount of funds still needed but could obtain that information.
Mr. Parke said that KOMS is recognized as one of the better offender management systems in the U.S.A. and once funding has been received to complete the system, it is probably going to be the best system in the United States.
Senator Harris said the committee looks forward to continue to work with the department and possibly looking at KOMS again in 2 years or so.
Senator Harris closed by saying that at the next meeting the committee could begin to choose topics it wants staff to review. Consideration should be given to having staff do substantial follow-ups to previous studies on the Medicaid Management Information System and the highly skilled educator program.
The next meeting is scheduled for November 13.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:45am.