Grant County, a rural county in north central Indiana, has a population of 67,979 (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). The county seat is Marion, located 65 miles north of Indianapolis. The county’s population is 89.1% white, 7.3% black or African American, and 4.0% Hispanic or Latino (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). Healthcare, education, retail, and manufacturing are the primary employers (Statistical Atlas, 2016). The median household income is $40,234 (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). Twenty percent of the population lives below the poverty level (2015 U.S. Census Bureau).
The Grant County felony criminal docket is divided among four courts: the Grant Circuit Court and three superior courts. The county’s sentencing options include probation services (funded by county tax dollars, user fees, and state and federal grants), community corrections (funded through an annual grant from the Indiana Department of Correction), the county jail, and behavioral health services provided by Grant-Blackford Mental Health, Inc., or Family Service Society. Grant County is among only 15 counties in Indiana with probation and community corrections services integrated into a single agency. There are no pretrial services, although an early risk screen designed and implemented in 2013 is administered at jail booking for purposes of early identification of defendants for diversion and specialty (drug, veterans, reentry) courts.
|Profile of Grant County’s Justice System||
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Grant County was selected as a pilot site in part because many policy officials already had worked together to plan, secure funding, and implement drug and veterans courts as well as a child advocacy center. Court officials and correctional managers also began, as early as 1998, to attend trainings on evidence-based practices and to apply what they learned to improving correctional supervision and service approaches, with the goal of reducing reoffending.
Grant County’s interest in the EBDM initiative was driven by a desire to significantly broaden stakeholder involvement in realizing the benefits of evidence-based practices—to engage the police, jail management, prosecution, defense, university community, victims’ advocates, and county council in improving public safety through the EBDM process. Despite a solid history of applying evidence-based practices in the courts and corrections, Grant officials saw the opportunity to do much more.
GRANT COUNTY’S EBDM MISSION AND TEAM
The Grant County criminal justice system’s mission statement is to “promote risk and harm reduction by utilizing collaborative decision-making and interventions founded on evidence-based research.”
The policy team spearheading the EBDM initiative is a subgroup of the Community Corrections Advisory Board. This board, established by statute to advise local correctional programs, has been in existence since the early 1980s and has monitored a variety of grant-funded services over the years. The EBDM policy team is composed of the following members:
- felony court judges;
- the county prosecutor;
- the jail administrator;
- the police chief;
- a victim advocate from the prosecutor’s office;
- the director of county correctional services;
- the director of community corrections;
- public defenders;
- representatives from the county fiscal body; and
- a mental health agency representative.
GRANT COUNTY’S CHANGE TARGETS
In addition to the change efforts highlighted in this case study, the Grant County EBDM Policy Team also:
- improved the effectiveness of the interventions provided by community (non-criminal justice) agencies by aligning them with evidence-based practices; and
- analyzed the statutory and legal issues regarding the use of a pretrial assessment tool, the Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS), to inform pretrial release and detention decisions. (See also the text box below “Grant County: Supporting Statewide Pretrial Reform.)
Grant County’s EBDM policy team, with assistance from their EBDM TA provider, started along the Phase II planning roadmap to assess the degree to which research evidence guided their decisions, and to identify strengths, challenges, and targets for future policy and practice change. By the end of Phase II, the policy team had agreed to a set of change targets and developed logic models and a detailed plan for implementation. This case study offers a review of Grant County’s Phase II/III efforts as they relate to the following change targets:
- reallocating probation caseloads to optimize the supervision of higher risk probationers;
- developing a data dashboard; and
- revising the probation violations process and expanding alternatives to revocation.
For more information on the full range of change targets developed by Grant County, see their Phase III implementation plan.
Based upon an analysis of community supervision caseload size and an intentional focus on risk reduction, the Grant County EBDM Policy Team undertook an effort to reduce supervision caseloads and increase positive outcomes among probationers through the application of effective interventions. Policy team members came to agreement on the purpose of community supervision as “reducing offenders’ risk of future criminal behavior by addressing offenders’ assessed risks and needs.” The caseload reallocation strategy included placing felony low/moderate risk offenders on unsupervised probation after they had completed their risk reduction conditions or programs (other conditions would be monitored by civil judgments) and reserving misdemeanor probation for high risk offenders, domestic violence cases, and moderate risk offenders with substance abuse problems (and monitoring other misdemeanant probationers for new arrests only). In December 2014, Grant County’s caseload reallocation strategy was implemented. Clear policies were established defining differential supervision standards for felony and misdemeanor probationers based upon risk level, along with expectations for community supervision staff regarding the steps to effective supervision meetings as well as risk-based performance measures.
Since implementing the caseload reallocation strategy, Grant County has seen a decrease in its misdemeanor probationer population (356 in 2012 vs. 238 in 2016) as well as felony probationers (1,220 in 2012 vs. 1,053 in 2016). These cases include both those supervised by officers and those pending probation revocations, transfer outs, home detention, and incarceration. (There are some challenges in measuring the change in caseload sizes, including the inability to disaggregate data in meaningful ways, and major and ongoing adjustments to the composition of officers’ caseloads due to staff turnover and shifting supervision levels.) The county also reports a decline in the number of new referrals to supervision (1,037 in 2012 vs. 860 in 2015). While imperfect, this data suggests a downward trend in the number of cases under supervision and a decrease in officer workload, which in turn enables officers to spend more time focusing on behavioral interventions with higher risk probationers in order to have the greatest impact on reoffending.
Early in the EBDM process, the Grant County Policy Team recognized the importance of developing an improved data infrastructure to capture process and outcome data, as well as to feed a data dashboard, or criminal justice system reporting mechanism, for the county. Only through data collection and analysis was the policy team able to explore and refine its change targets, yet they were hampered by siloed information systems. The county made great strides in developing a data dashboard for centralized reporting and was able to secure a partnership with the Indiana Supreme Court to complete the dashboard’s development.
“The local dashboard provides stakeholders with up-to-date information about the jail population and probation demographics and outcomes. Users can select a general data point and drill down to the individual case level. For the first time in local history, stakeholders have the ability to access data and information to help them do their jobs more effectively.”
—Cindy McCoy, Director of Grant County Correctional Services
The dashboard acts as a centralized reporting system on key indicators of criminal justice performance for justice stakeholders. The dashboard provides information updated regularly (usually every 30 days) on probation case closures, active probation cases, average length of stay in the jail, and average daily population in the jail.
- The Probation Case Closure Summary dashboard item displays a pie chart of the probation cases that closed during the previous month, broken out by closure type.
- The Active Case Summary dashboard item provides information about all active probation cases, as of the last day of the previous month, broken out by probation risk level.
- The Average Length of Stay in Days dashboard item provides the average number of days incarcerated individuals are held in jail, along with the raw number of inmates that factor into each average.
- The Average Daily Population dashboard item displays the average number of people incarcerated in jail in the previous month.
The data dashboard enables data filtering and reporting. In addition to data available at the dashboard level, the system enables deeper operation and trend analyses. While court data is not accessible in the dashboard, the Indiana Supreme Court has since implemented a separate application to allow judges across the state to view and manage case processing times for civil and criminal cases.
“I would count our reforms on probation violation responses a resounding success. Most violations are now resolved quickly by agreement. Responses are consistent, fair, and quick. The result has been less court time devoted to probation violations, more violations receiving responses, and violations resolved with much more expediency. The initial experience with probation violations led us to expand the approach to our Community Corrections Department with similar excellent results. Based upon my observations from the bench, I believe that our early interventions (violation responses), focusing on both therapeutic responses as well as sanctions, have allowed us to get many offenders on the track toward successful completion of probation or community corrections, where they might have otherwise failed in the past.”
—Mark Spitzer, Grant County Circuit Court Judge
Data analysis revealed the impact of violation practices on court processing time (judicial, prosecutorial, and defense) and justice resources, including the volume and proportion of jail bookings and lengths of stay for probation violation holds (6% of all jail bookings and 13% of inmates sentenced to jail). The use of jail bed days for probation violators was determined to cost over $300,000 annually. A baseline probation recidivism study was conducted by an independent researcher who tracked 524 adult probationers whose probation terms concluded in 2011. Of these, 77% successfully competed supervision. Among those who successfully completed supervision, 13% were rearrested within one year of discharge from supervision, and 30% were rearrested within two years of discharge. A work group composed primarily of probation line staff was established to address these concerns. The purpose of the new approach was to respond consistently, swiftly, and fairly to all violations with responses appropriate to the offense, probationer risk level, and severity of the violation. Grant County’s approach to this work is unique in that their assessment of noncompliant behavior takes into consideration both proximal and distal goals and the identification of accountability and behavior change responses to address the criminogenic needs that drive violation behavior. Probation officers respond to every violation with a one-page violation report submitted to the court. The report includes a suggested judicial action, or response, to which the defendant has already agreed. If the judges accept the action, the violation report is recorded and a hearing is avoided.
Following the development of new policies and procedures and a six-month pilot test, in the fall of 2012, the Grant County EBDM Policy Team approved a new violations policy and response matrix. The new policies and procedures were fully implemented at that time.
In interviews with court officials conducted in August 2015, judges applauded the new policy, noting less time spent processing violations and increased consistency in officers’ responses to violation behaviors. Defendants reported an increased sense of fairness. The new violations policy has achieved a 9% decrease in the number of all types of violations filed with the courts (two-year period ending December 31, 2015) and significant progress toward the goal of decreasing technical violations filed with the courts by 10%. Reductions in the volume or length of stay for violators in jail have yet to be realized. Analysis of probationer outcomes following implementation of the violation response guidelines is forthcoming.
Grant County: Supporting Statewide Pretrial Reform
Implementation of Indiana’s pretrial risk assessment tool (IRAS-PAT) was an early EBDM change target for Grant County, and a primary focus of their pretrial work group. Through their efforts, a number of barriers to implementation of the IRAS-PAT emerged. The most challenging among these were limitations on persons authorized to administer the IRAS-PAT pursuant to Indiana’s risk assessment policy, legal and research concerns regarding the tool (i.e., that some items in the tool administered at the pretrial stage could lead to self-incrimination and that the tool had yet to be validated on an Indiana defendant population), and how best to address local reliance on revenues from cash bonds to support critical court and defense counsel services.
Identification of these issues opened dialogue between Grant County and state-level partners, particularly the Indiana Supreme Court. Grant County officials conducted training on pretrial evidence-based practices at the Indiana Judicial Conference Annual Meeting in 2013. In December 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court established the Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release, which was tasked with exploring the need for and avenues to improving pretrial reform in Indiana. Grant County officials continue to play a role in the statewide pretrial reform effort, serving either on the Supreme Court committee or one of its subcommittees. Following more than a year of work and the development of a new criminal rule on pretrial, the Supreme Court committee established a partnership with the statewide EBDM initiative to develop and oversee a multicounty pretrial release pilot project.
In addition to participating in EBDM, Grant County was accepted into the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative-Local (JRI) in 2011. The county’s participation in JRI provided significant resources for data analysis, including an examination of the characteristics of defendants and offenders in jail and on probation (population drivers) and the costs associated with the current use of sanctions. The policy team plans to continue monitoring the implementation of its change targets and examining outcome data in order to further refine its efforts. The county’s dashboard is an ongoing project: the court and probation portions of the dashboard are fully operational, and the court is working with Grant County to bring the final data elements from the jail information system online.
New areas of exploration for the policy team include: improving the jail information system to capture data about the inmate population, bonds, court case numbers and dispositions, and risk information, as well as managing new trends in the use of jail for sentenced inmates and defendants with mental health issues. A particular concern will be the impact of HSB 1006, the revised Indiana Criminal Code, on county resources. The bill mandates that low level felons, formerly eligible for a prison sentence, shall be sentenced to local supervision options (largely probation or jail). As a result, the county is experiencing an increased jail population, as well as an increased demand for substance abuse and mental health treatment, placing greater demands on county services.
Grant County will continue to focus on maintaining a strong collaborative team, and recently invited new members to join the policy team, including a county administrator, additional defense counsel representation, and a city court judge. Further, Grant County has supported statewide EBDM efforts by serving as the state’s first EBDM pilot site, supporting and participating on the Indiana statewide EBDM policy team, and sharing its knowledge, experiences, and products with colleagues throughout the state. The Supreme Court intends to use the Grant County dashboard as a template for other counties. Grant County representatives join a team of state officials in Indiana who together serve on the Indiana State EBDM Policy Team. Indiana’s state EBDM team and eleven partner counties are currently participating in Phase VI of the EBDM initiative.