Criminal Justice Assessment concludes with final community meeting

statue of lady justice on top of a courthouse

Benton County’s yearlong criminal justice system assessment concludes with a final community meeting where CGL, consulting project director, and Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI), consulting project manager, will present the final assessment report on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott Corvallis, 400 SW 1st Street, Corvallis, OR 97333.

The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the program begins at 6:00pm. Parking is available in the on-site garage. Community members will have an opportunity to meet and network with Commissioners, Steering Committee members and the consultants directing and managing the assessment before the program begins.

The Board of Commissioners called for a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system with the primary purpose of providing a vision for a trusted and accessible system of justice that provides a high degree of safety and confidence. The assessment occurred over four phases during 2018, with multiple public engagement opportunities. They secured consulting expertise in quantitative data analysis, forecasting methodologies, community engagement, and evidence-based practices for preventing and reducing crime. The consultants conducted this work in consultation and partnership with the Board of County Commissioners, the Steering Committee, an Operations Team, and feedback from community organizations, agencies, and residents.

The draft assessment report was presented to the public in October 2018. The assessment report identifies that the community has high support for a balance of accountability and rehabilitation services. Current conditions in the County’s justice system, however, make effective performance in these service areas problematic.

In terms of corrections responses, the ability to hold offenders accountable is compromised by dated facilities, reliance on services outside the community, and limited use of evidence based responses. Release and service decisions do not use a risk assessment tool to identify individuals at high, medium and low risk to reoffend. Defendants fail to appear at a substantial number of court-ordered hearings because there is often no consequence for their absence. In addition, key justice system facilities, the jail, the courthouse, and the law enforcement center, are all in poor physical condition and have serious operational deficiencies.

Regarding rehabilitation responses, current treatment does not use the risk, need, responsivity approach shown to result in significant reductions in crime. Community-based substance abuse services and mental health treatment are limited. Also, incarcerated offenders have little access to rehabilitative programs such as mental health, substance abuse treatment, educational support and other services that reduce the likelihood of repeat offending. Upon leaving the jail, offenders are not linked to treatment and other support services thereby increasing the likelihood they return to an environment that places them at higher risk to re-offend.

These issues have developed over time and have multiple, complex dimensions. The potential consequences of failure to address these conditions range from the catastrophic−in the cases of the potential collapse of the courthouse in an earthquake or the early release of an inmate who commits a serious, violent offense−to the less visible, long-term impact on local crime of a justice system that does little to address the risk factors that put people at risk for involvement in the justice system, and releases offenders potentially posing a risk to repeat victims.

As such, an effective plan to improve justice system performance will require a comprehensive approach that addresses program needs and opportunities for improvement in enforcement, justice, and accountability, and coordination of program strategies among social service agencies, law enforcement, custody, the courts, and community corrections.

Three distinct approaches to address future system needs were developed for the final report.

  • Scenario 1 – Best Practices. This plan relies on research into “best practices” in justice system programs and features a comprehensive approach to investment in community-based social services for persons at risk for justice system involvement, as well as development of evidence-based programs within the jail to ensure accountability and facilitate rehabilitation. Initiatives will include expansion of current services as well as development of new programs such as a Crisis Stabilization Center, Sobering Center, and Pretrial Release. Underlying the approach is a commitment to objective assessment of offender needs, and the development of program strategies that respond to these needs. New facilities would include a courthouse, jail, and law enforcement center to better support justice system operations. In support of this approach, the plan also includes an initiative for collection of data to support a robust evaluation of program outcomes and creation of a Citizens Advisory Group to foster improved communication between the public and the justice system as programs are implemented. This plan projects capital costs of $85 million, an annual operating cost of $11 million with a 20-year cost at $213 million.
  • Scenario 2 – Invest in Prevention. This plan focuses on expansion of current services in the community as well as development of new programs that will prevent at-risk persons from entering the justice system. The plans includes development of additional transitional housing, expansion of current community mental health and community substance abuse treatment, as well as development of Crisis Respite and Sobering Centers. New courthouse and jail facilities will support justice system operations, and the plan includes the program data/evaluation and Citizens Advisory Board initiatives outlined in Scenario 1. This plan projects capital costs of $56 million, an annual operating cost of $8 million with a 20-year cost at $165 million.
  • Scenario 3 – Invest in Accountability & Rehabilitation. In this scenario, the plan focuses on development of programs for offenders after they have entered the justice system. A pretrial services program will divert low-risk offenders from entry into the jail. Those offenders booked into the jail will receive evidence-based rehabilitative programs, including in-custody mental health and substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and education. Additional alternatives for sentenced offenders such as work release and electronic detention will also be developed. The approach assumes construction of a new courthouse and jail, and like Scenario 1 and 2, includes a data/evaluation component, as well as a Citizens Advisory Board. This plan projects capital costs of $58 million, an annual operating cost of $8 million with a 20-year cost at $152 million.

The project team’s review of Benton County services in these areas indicates a number of program needs and opportunities that will improve the current system and make progress on justice system goals. The analysis in the final report advances the “best practices” scenario as the plan that will most comprehensively meet the community’s vision of safety and rehabilitation.

The assessment’s final community meeting will conclude with an overview and rough timeline of the transition into next steps for Benton County’s criminal justice system.

A complete copy of the final report will be made available at www.co.benton.or.us/criminaljustice on January 16. Presentation materials and video from prior community meetings and workshops are available online at co.benton.or.us/criminaljustice/page/assessment-timeline.