State officials tout re-entry system changes, say more work to be done
State officials gathered at Howard R. Young Correctional Center in Wilmington Monday to report on what they call progress in reentry services for offenders.
The Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission has accomplished roughly half of the nineteen objectives Gov. John Carney set for the group he created just over a year ago, says Department of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis.
Carney’s 2018 executive order aimed to reduce recidivism through increased access to education and vocational training for offenders, more coordination of housing, healthcare and counseling services, and more data sharing among agencies.
“This isn’t a victory lap by any stretch. We still have a lot of work to do,” said DeMatteis of the Monday press event, which was based on an interim progress report the Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission (DCRC) presented to Gov. Carney in late December.
According to that report, DCRC has improved behavioral health referrals and access to Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use, while establishing data sharing agreements across state agencies.
The commission is still rolling out a Transition Accountability Plan system, which tracks services and supports for each incarcerated individual from prison entry through post-release supervision discharge.
“And we can get that offender on a GED track and continuing education, as well as vocational skills training while incarcerated,” said DeMatteis. “DOC has started planning for an offender’s release during his or her first two months of incarceration, rather than the last two months. ”
“This is something that’s a little bit deeper than a program,” said Delaware Department of Labor Secretary Cerron Cade. “We are fundamentally changing the way we do business in the state, which has been a long time coming.”
Cade says more coordination of services for ex-offenders as they are released from prison will help them access employment.
“In the past, what has occurred— nobody’s fault—is individuals have been released from incarceration and they call the Department of Labor and they say, get this guy or gal a job. Not focused on mental health concerns, housing and other social service needs that exist in that person’s life which make obtainment of a job difficult and make keeping a job extremely difficult,” he said. “So the work that’s being done here is ensuring a sound handoff.”
“We’re going to connect the dots, we’re going to collect information, we’re going to share information,” said Maureen Whelan, director of adult and prison education resources workgroup at the Delaware Department of Education and a member of the DCRC education sub-committee. “Last but not least we’re going to monitor those results.”
Whelan predicts not every idea will work. “Some things are going to be good, some things aren’t going to be good. But we’re going to talk about it and figure out what the good things are, endorse those, support those and go forward.”
DeMatteis says the state is also changing how it tracks its recidivism rate, which has traditionally been measured in the 60 to 70 percent range.
“What we don’t want to do is include in that number an offender who’s on probation who violates his curfew, say, or has a dirty drug test, and they’re sent back to prison for a weekend. That’s not returning to crime,” she said. “It’s not good, but that’s not truly returning to crime. That person is still working, paying child support, being a father or a mother.”
DeMatteis says the state plans to track this return-to-prison rate, now around 20 percent, over the next few years to gauge the efficacy of re-entry services.
The three-year re-arrest rate for offenders released in 2015 remains around 70 percent, according to the Delaware State Analysis Center’s annual recidivism report released last month. Three-year rearrest, reconviction and recommitment rates have trended downward slightly in recent years.
The Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission sunsets at the end of 2020.