Study: New probation Day Reporting Centers are reducing relapses

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It's a one-stop shop.

That's the way Frank Scherer, deputy director for Allegheny County Adult Probation, describes the county Day Reporting Centers, one in Pittsburgh's Arlington neighborhood and the other in East Liberty.

Under the traditional model, a person on probation reports to a probation officer, and is referred to other agencies for services such as drug and alcohol evaluations, GED classes, anger management training and requirements for job searches, life skills training and completing community service hours.

At the Arlington center, which opened in 2009, and the East Liberty center, which opened in 2011, all those resources are in one place. The focus of, and the reason for, the new model is giving offenders assistance in re-entering society to keep them from returning to jail.

"We want to turn them into nonviolent, regular, tax-paying people," Mr. Scherer said.

Since 2009, 7,404 people have gone through the Day Reporting Centers. The approach, still relatively new, seems to be working.

Offenders who received services through a Day Reporting Center had better outcomes in convicted violations and rebooking into the Allegheny County Jail than those assigned to a traditional probation office on the North Side, especially those offenders classified as high or medium-risk to re-offend or violate probation, according to an analysis conducted by researchers for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

"We're very much encouraged by the reduction in re-arrests, or recidivism," said Ron Seyko, probation office director.

The analysis looked at 519 offenders who received referrals to a Day Reporting Center for interviewing skills training, employment search or community service and the 1,294 offenders assigned to the North Side offices between March 1, 2011, and Jan. 17, 2013, according to an executive summary of the report. It also looked at probation violations data from Adult Probation and records of bookings at the Allegheny County Jail between March 1, 2011, and April 15, 2013.

The report found that for people classified as high-risk offenders, a categorization determined by taking into account a person's age, age of first arrest and number of prior arrests, the average convicted violation rate was 7 percent for those who went through a Day Reporting Center, compared to 29 percent for the North Side offenders.

The 12-month rebooking rate, meaning the percentage of offenders returning to the Allegheny County Jail for either a revoked probation sentence or a new arrest, was 34 percent for people going through the Day Reporting Centers and 48 percent for the North Side.

Medium-risk offenders who use the Day Reporting Center also were less likely to violate probation and commit new crimes. The study showed less difference for low-risk offenders.

Overall, the lower rebooking rate and duration of jail confinement for people who went through the Day Reporting Center resulted in jail bed savings of $105,548, the report said.

A final version of the report will be published within the next several weeks, Mr. Seyko said.

"We're encouraged by the results, and we'll continue to study the results, and do additional evaluations," he said.

Day Reporting Centers of varying similarity to the ones in Pittsburgh exist throughout the United States, but Mr. Seyko said he was optimistic about the potential of Allegheny County's version.

"This is going to be the model in Pennsylvania, and the rest of the country," Mr. Seyko said.

The two centers, started with help from grants from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania, receive funding through court costs and probation fees paid by offenders. They also receive $300,000 annually from the Department of Human Services for programming, Mr. Seyko said.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Mr. Scherer gave a tour of the East Liberty center, designed to feel like a typical office setting in a building on Baum Boulevard. It had some of what a person might expect in a probation office setting, such as a room for drug and alcohol testing and fingerprinting and a electronic monitoring setup.

But Mr. Scherer also pointed out a classroom, where a GED class taught by an instructor from Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania was set to get underway. Nearby, a computer lab, where offenders can create resumes and search for jobs, was staffed by community monitors, staff who help people who visit the center and also communicate with probation officers.

"While we have their attention, we try to equip them with tools," said Dante Works, a supervisor at the center. That includes providing them access to life skills training, domestic counseling and addiction recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

The probation officers themselves are mobile, working in the community rather than in offices, but at the Day Reporting Centers, they also have space set aside to do their work.

The center is open during the week from noon to 8 p.m., with some hours on Saturday, too, especially during the warmer months, when the center organizes service projects for offenders to meet their court-mandated requirements. About 150 men and women on court-ordered probation pass through the center each week, staff members estimated.

The new centers represent a different way of thinking about probation, where the focus has long been on rebooking people who violate their probation or are arrested for another crime, Mr. Scherer said.

"What we were not good at is actually helping people and getting them out of the system," he said.

They've started to improve, he said.

Case in point: A longtime heroin user, Sandi A., 45, of Whitehall -- who requested that her last name not be used -- spent about a month in the Allegheny County Jail last year after she was arrested for drug possession, access device fraud and theft by unlawful taking.

Released from jail eight months ago, she was on probation for the fifth time in her life. She said the difference this time was that she went to a Day Reporting Center to get help in doing a job search.

"There were real helpful in helping me get my resume together, because I hadn't had one in 20 years," she said.

Clean for eight months, she attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the center, and still visits the East Liberty site regularly for mandated drug testing. Earlier this month, she landed a job working for a market research firm.

"Nobody's ever put in any time to try to help me succeed, except at this center," she said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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