Bridging the gap between police and parole

By Luke Whyte

At least in a theoretical sense, police, corrections, and parole are three parts of one system. It is one team, one global mission for justice, united like the characters in the Transformers cartoon.

Well, we all know it doesn’t quite add up that way.

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

The corporate agenda of a police department rarely includes lowering the number of inmates in prison or helping offenders readjust to society. Why should it? That’s not their role in the system.

The problem is that in the real world agendas conflict — often. Egos cloud visions. Budgets and time-constraints force organizations to look internally to protect their own interests. Before you know it, rather than supporting one another, departments are impeding one another.

For many years departments simply found ways to adapt to this — to separately co-exist. However, the global economic crisis is changing the structure of the American criminal justice system and suddenly, everyone is dangerously low on resources. The “go at it alone” approach is not as attractive — or even doable — as it had been just a few years ago.

Offenders are being paroled at much faster rates. Lawmakers are scrambling to cut budgets, simultaneously unlocking cells and cutting police budgets while reducing the resources and safety of police, corrections, and parole officers across the country. States like California could be forced to release as many as 44,000 inmates in the next two years.

We’ve never seen anything like this before. Well, maybe not exactly never — not since the arrival of more than 125,000 Cubans to Southern Florida during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 has there been such a dramatic connection between a downturned economy and an influx of prisoners to the civilian population.

“The depression filled our jails, but the recession is going to empty them,” said Sgt. James Clover of the Edmonton Police Service of Canada in a workshop at the 2009 ACA summer conference.

Titled “Collaborative Policing: A new partnership between corrections and police,” the workshop — led by Clover and Bruce Anderson, the parole-police liaison with the Correctional Service of Canada — was designed to provide answers to this growing concern.

Its message: If we’re going to efficiently manage this post-recession circumstance, it is going to take efforts that go beyond traditional roles, especially between parole and police. We’re going to need to work together.

In the coming weeks, Corrections1 will work with Anderson and Clover on articles that take a close look at this idea — dubbed “collaborative policing” — and give you some insight into the pilot program implemented in Edmonton, Canada. This article will introduce the concept.

The last days of the “tag ‘em and bag ‘em” cowboys
“We can’t police the way we used to,” said Sgt. Clover in a phone interview. “We simply don’t have enough boots on the street.”

Clover and Anderson suggest that police officers can no longer focus on law enforcement alone, simply sending released inmates back to prison and putting corrections officers into the predicament they’re trying to dig out of.

What police officers need to do, they say, is start working with probation and parole to become a part of the rehabilitation process. This, however, starts sounding a little like the Transformers dilemma again: It’s all very exciting on paper, but how would it manifest in reality?

“Education is paramount,” Clover said, especially on the part of police officers.

“We as police officers need to rethink the way we contribute to public safety, “Clover said. “Over the course of this year alone, I have attended dozens of community league or actions committees discussing a range of issues including domestic violence, traffic safety, gangs and youth mischief. I can state with strong confidence that not one of these meetings concluded with the notion that police need to enforce "more" laws to manage whatever problem was on the agenda.”

What they did conclude, Clover said, can be seen in statements like “it starts in the family,” or “it’s a cultural thing,” or “society needs to declare this behavior unacceptable.”

“Collaborative policing recognizes those conclusions and seeks to find ways for police to contribute beyond simply enforcing laws,” he said, “to collaborate with other social partners and to mutually share the responsibilities of the respective corporate objectives.”

Rethinking the way we do business
“It’s about changing the mindset and rethinking the way we do business,” Clover said. “If (police) focus on reintegration issues more, we’ll have less to deal with in the backend.”

As part of the Edmonton pilot program, Anderson and Clover send young frontline police officers to check up on parolees. Often, the officers will find nothing illegal.

“The parolee is sober, abiding by the terms of their parole and the young officer comes back disappointed!” Clover said. “This is probably the reason we’re not getting the results we want.”

“Part of my job is to explain reintegration to (police) officers,” Anderson said. “It’s about teaching police officers, taking them to a halfway house or on a ride along.”

In Edmonton, they have divisional police officers who visit parolees with the parole officer.

“The two go down as a team,” Anderson said. Parolees are then told that if they have any police problems or questions for police, the divisional officer is the person they can turn to.

“If the offender knows all these agencies are on the same page,” he said. “It’s effective.”

Stepping into the murky grey
“We can’t arrest them all, we need to manage them, “Clover said. “Parole officers are the experts on this so police need to understand their plan. Once police officers get a better understanding of the reentry process, they’ll realize a bump in the road is one thing, a total breach is another.”

“It’s got to be done on a case by case basis,” Anderson said, citing a theoretical circumstance where a clean, recovering meth addict gets caught stealing lunch meat. The man has broken the law, but should he really go back to jail given the surrounding circumstances?

“It’s that ‘tag ‘em and bag ‘em mentality,” Clover said, “something like one dirty piss test is not going to send this guy back to jail.”

For this to work, Anderson said, it’s important that parole divisions teach police officers that reintegration programs do include forms of discipline and that the only difference is that the discipline is relevant to the individual parolee’s circumstance and not solely the law itself.

This type of talk, however, is not always popular with officers, and for good reason. Once we redraw the law’s black and white lines with expressions like “case by case basis,” we run the risk of smudging the whole system into grey.

Clover, Anderson the rest of the people involved in the Edmonton initiative say that collaborative policing is not about redrawing those lines. It’s about having the courage to stand right up next to them and, using each other’s support to extend reach, leaning across the divide and pulling corrupted citizens back into justice’s bright white light. They have been working to turn this vision into a reality for several years now and have made some excellent process.

Corrections1 will be reporting on their experiences, developments, and insights over the coming weeks.

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