Alaska Community Corrections Residents

Alaska Community Corrections Residents

N.E. Schafer and Michael P. Tubbs

Schafer, N. E. and Tubbs, Michael P. (Winter 1992). "Alaska Community Corrections Residents." Alaska Justice Forum 8(4): 4-7. The Cordova Center is a 90-bed community corrections facility in Anchorage administered by Allvest, Inc. It opened in 1986 as a traditional reintegration facility, and by mid-1991 served multiple clienteles including misdemeanants, probationers, and parolees. By mid-1991, more than 3500 people had been in residence in Cordova Center, the majority of them for short periods. This article presents findings of a study of Cordova Center residents other than detained misdemeanants who had ended their center residency between January 1989 and July 1991.

The Justice Center recently conducted an analysis of offenders in residence at a community corrections center in Anchorage. The research, which was carried out for Allvest, Incorporated, sought to identify those offender characteristics which might be associated with successful completion of the reintegration program.

The forerunner of today's residential community corrections center was the halfway house, which provided a transition period between imprisonment and freedom for newly released prisoners. Although such facilities existed in this country as early as the mid-19th century, primarily under the aegis of religious groups, the concept of reintegrating the offender was not widely accepted until 100 years later, when corrections professionals recognized that their duty to protect the public from the activities of convicted felons might not end at the prison gate. Traditionally, American prisoners had been released, sometimes with $25 "gate money," at the end of their sentences. It was not the concern of prison officials how these released felons got from the prison to their home communities, whether they got jobs, or how they lived until their first paychecks.

In the 1950s and 1960s the importance of a pre-release transition period was widely recognized and the number of halfway houses greatly increased throughout the county. Most programs required that residents be employed, pay room and board, contribute to the support of dependents, and save a portion of their wages. Residents were permitted more and more access to the community as they demonstrated their ability to handle this access responsibly. They were provided with the means to succeed without resorting to crime when they reached the end of their sentences.

Soon halfway houses were called upon to provide services to offenders other than those in pre-release status. Some were "halfway-in" houses whose residents were probationers needing more control than traditional probation supervision could provide but less than imprisonment imposed. Program services were also extended to pretrial offenders and to offenders in diversion programs. Because the term halfway house is so closely associated with, and so descriptive of, pre-release programs, many multi-purpose facilities now are called by the more generic term community corrections center.

The Cordova Center is a 90-bed facility in Anchorage, which opened in 1986 as a traditional reintegration program. The center quickly became a multi-purpose facility, and it now serves detained misdemeanants "furloughed" from the local jail to complete short sentences doing supervised community service, probationers who have never been incarcerated, probationers released from prison on "split" sentences (e.g., five years in prison, three on probation), prisoners furloughed from the institution prior to their release date, and parolees or probationers who require more restraint than field supervision can provide. Furloughed prisoners may apply for center residence or may be placed there by the Department of Corrections under a prison crowding policy. Those placed by the department are usually within six months of their release date. By mid-1991 more than 3500 people had been in residence in the Cordova Center. The vast majority of these had been in residence for short periods—usually detained misdemeanants assigned to a week or two of community service.

For our study of Cordova Center residents we excluded detained misdemeanants because they did not participate in the center's programs. All other residents who had been terminated from the center between January 1989 and July 1991 were subjects for this study, which was begun in the summer of 1991. Center staff had estimated that the 1.5-year time frame would yield as many as 400 cases but, in fact, the sample was only 297 people.

Client data are presented in three groups: demographic characteristics, legal characteristics and programmatic characteristics. The demographic characteristics are presented in Table 1. Age was computed by subtracting date of birth from date of entry into the center. The mean age was 33.65 years (median 33.0), a bit higher than the average age of the incarcerated population; the range was 19 to 74. Center clients were overwhelmingly male (84.2%). Slightly more then two-thirds were white (67.2%), with black and Native residents comprising 16.6 per cent and 12.2 per cent of the total. These racial characteristics do not at all reflect the demographic profile of the Alaska prison population, which for both FY1987 and FY1988 was 54 per cent white, 34 per cent Alaska Native, 9 per cent black, 2 per cent Hispanic, and 1 per cent Asian/ Pacific Islander.

Many of the residents (36.4%) were not high school graduates. Together, high school graduates and recipients of General Education Diplomas were 45.1 per cent of all subjects. Only four clients had four-year degrees while 51 (17.2%) had completed some college work.

Most residents were single (48.1%), while the second largest group was divorced or separated. Almost 23 per cent were married at the time of residence. Because support of dependents is one of the goals of the employment requirement in the community corrections center we also looked at the number of dependents. Approximately half the residents had none, while 17.5 per cent had one and 19.2 per cent had two. A very small proportion had four or more (4.3%).

The legal characteristics of the residents (Table 2) include status (furlough, probation or parole), prior record and instant offense. Nearly two-thirds of the sample were furloughees; parolees comprised the smallest proportion (11.1%). More residents had committed crimes against persons than any other category of crime. Offenses were collapsed into four categories: personal, property, drug and "other." The "other" category included crimes against the public order, traffic offenses, and some "white collar" crimes (e.g., fraud, forgery).

Thirty per cent of the residents were first offenders (i.e., had no prior record). Almost as many (29.6%) had had four or more prior arrests. The remainder (40.4%) had been arrested one to three times prior to the commission of the instant offense.

Length of time served was computed in months using the program entry date and subtracting sentencing date. The mean sentence time served by all persons in the sample was 24.54 months, or slightly more than two years, but the range was one month to more than eight years (96 months). Mean time served was compared with other variables. In a comparison by status probationers served a mean time of 7.74 months (less than one year); furloughees, 25.73 months (more than two years); and parolees, 39.24 months (more than three years). The mean time served by females was considerably less than that served by males in the program—15.67 months compared to 24.08 months. The mean time served by Alaska Natives was longer than that for either whites or blacks—26.36 months compared to 22.75 for whites and 19.73 for blacks.

The residents were also profiled according to programmatic characteristics (Table 3). Each resident had a contract which might involve paying restitution, seeking employment, attending school, or a combination of these. The coding was not entirely accurate vis-a-vis combinations, since the files were not always clear; i.e., the contract read "seek employment" but restitution was mentioned elsewhere in the file. A very small proportion of residents attended school as part of their contract (6.1%) and we identified only 15.5 per cent (N=46) who were required to pay restitution. It may be that since the majority of residents had served prison time, restitution was not part of the original sentence. Clearly the primary requirement overall was to seek employment.

Table 1. Resident Profiles: Demographic Characteristics Table 2. Resident Profiles: Legal Characteristics Table 3. Resident Profiles: Programmatic Characteristics

Because the study period covered a weak period in the state's economy, and because it is axiomatic that offenders have difficulty finding jobs, we attempted to measure the effort made by residents to find employment by counting the number of employment-related activities. Since residents had to indicate where they would be at all times when they checked out of the center, it was possible to count the number of trips for each resident who signed out to make applications or to attend job interviews. A substantial number (N=77) had no interviews in their files either because they had jobs prior to entry or because they were required to attend school. Of the remainder, 23 residents signed out for at least twenty employment-seeking activities, but most checked out for five or less before finding a job (N=122). Fifty-one residents reported 6 to 10 employment efforts, and 24 signed out for 11 to 19 job-hunting-related excursions. Although some job seekers left the program (either voluntarily or involuntarily) before finding a job, employment opportunities seem to have been available for those residents who put some effort into finding them.

In order to assess adjustment to halfway house residence, the number of infractions in the first month of residence was counted and is included in Table 3. Most residents had no infractions (76.8%) and only 5.7 per cent had more than one.

Because alcohol and drug abuse were substantial problems among residents, programs related to substance abuse were stressed at the center. Nearly three-fourths of the 229 residents who were required to attend alcohol counseling during their stay satisfactorily completed the center-required treatment. Forty-nine (21.4%) of those undergoing treatment failed and a small number were still in treatment upon termination from the program.

The amount of time residents spent in the Cordova Center program was another factor considered in assessing program completion. Length of stay was coded in days and recoded into thirty-day months. More than a third of our sample (37.0%) were in residence for less than two months and almost two-thirds (61.2%) were in residence for three months or less. Twenty-five per cent were in residence for three to six months, and 13.5 per cent for more than six months.

Table 4 provides comparisons of outcome with other social and legal variables. Residents who left through administrative removal have been deleted from the tables, leaving a total sample of 267 residents.

Residents who were able to continue working in a job which they held at entry were more likely to succeed than those who were unemployed at entry. Ninety per cent of those with jobs successfully completed the Cordova Center program, while 80 per cent of the unemployed succeeded.

Table 4. Comparison of Program Success with Program Failure

Furloughees and parolees had a higher rate of program completion than probationers. It may be that adjustment to halfway house residence is easier for those who have made an adjustment to prison than for those who have not experienced a period of confinement.

Prior record as measured by arrest history does not appear to be particularly indicative of success. While 85.5 per cent of residents with no prior records (N=83) successfully completed the program so did 81.5 per cent of residents who did have prior records (N=184).

Success and failure are also compared in Table 4 by instant offense, i.e., the type of crime for which Cordova Center residence was part of the sentence. The highest rate of program success was for persons convicted of crimes against persons (90.5%) followed by drug-related offenses (84.8%). Conventional wisdom suggests that offenders involved in drug abuse are more difficult to rehabilitate, but that does not appear to have been the case with this sample.

Length of stay by program completion is also presented in Table 4. It is clear that residents who fail do so very early in their tenure. Thirty-nine per cent of the failures failed in their first month of residence; 67.4 per cent failed in the first two months. Four residents failed after spending five or more months in the program: two walked away and two were removed for cause. Since failure is, by definition, termination from the program, the tables for length of stay are skewed by the failures. It is obvious, however, that adjustment in the first month of residence is crucial to satisfactory completion of the program.

The number of infractions in the file for the first month of residence holds some interest. Nearly 91 per cent of those with no infractions were successful while only 39.5 per cent of those with one infraction were successful. In other words, more than half (56.5%) of the clients who failed to complete the program had violated the rules in the first month of residence, while only 11.3 per cent of those who successfully completed the program had any infractions in their files. This is further indication that adjustment in the first month is crucial to program success.

The success or failure of the clients in this study has been measured in terms of program completion. This is not a particularly good measure of the effectiveness of the center's program, especially since a substantial number of the clients (37%) were in residence for no more than sixty days.

However, the information available about the clients does provide some items of interest. The low percentage of Alaska Natives in the sample (12.2%) in conjunction with their rather high rate of program success suggests that Native prisoners are less likely than other racial groups to apply for community center placement but are good candidates for such placements. It may be that Anchorage is not viewed as a desirable location by Native offenders. If such placement were available in a bush community more Alaska Natives might apply for halfway house placement.

The reverse is probably true of black prisoners, for whom Anchorage is a desirable location, making them likely to apply for placement. Certainly the proportion of Cordova Center residents who are black (16.6%) is proportionally much higher than their representation in either the Alaska offender population or in the population at large. However, their failure rate as Center residents is higher than that of either whites or Alaska Natives.

The relationship of education level to program success or failure mirrors the findings of other studies—47.8 per cent of the program failures had not completed high school. Because education appears to have an impact on employment and salary, Cordova Center residents without high school diplomas might be directed to G.E.D. preparation programs in the community.

The composition of the sample vis-a-vis several legal characteristics was also of interest. The bulk of the residents were on furlough from Alaska correctional institutions (65.3%); the smallest group was on parole. Only 30 per cent of the sample were first offenders, while 39.7 per cent had had at least three prior convictions. More residents had been convicted of crimes against persons (42.4%) than of any other type of crime. These "violent" offenders successfully completed the program at a much higher rate (90.5%) than property offenders (70.4%), and those with prior records were almost as successful as those without (81.5% compared with 85.5%).

The overall success rate of 74.4 per cent might be related to the generally short length of stay, since refraining from criminal activity for two or three months is perhaps easier than for longer periods. Since 61.2 per cent of the clients were in the program for 90 days or fewer (N=182), and of these 63.7 per cent (N=116) successfully completed the program, it would be of interest to know if any of the 116 were subsequently rearrested. Program completion is not a widely accepted measure of program effectiveness; a better one is whether the offender remains crime-free after release. Recidivism, therefore, would provide a better means of assessing program effectiveness than any of the variables in the current data set.

In general, the data suggest that the community corrections center is effective in providing a transition period between incarceration and release. The program requirements provide opportunities for residents to develop and practice skills which will help them to remain crime-free after release.

Nancy E. Schafer is a professor with the Justice Center. Michael P. Tubbs is a recent Justice graduate of University of Alaska Anchorage.