Feb 19, 2009

"Ideas in Practice:" How to Plan for a Reentry Task Force

One of the goals of this blog is to offer some transparency to practitioners on the process of starting and implementing reentry projects in your own area. By no means the only model for this kind of activity, our Task Force initiative has yielded some interesting results so far, and we thought we'd share some of the key components of our process. [Check out the Problem-Solving Factsheets available from the Center for Court Innovation.]

There are three main stages to planning a typical problem-solving community justice initiative: a needs assessment, a concept paper, and an implementation plan.

Stage I: Needs Assessment

A needs assessment identifies priority problems, goals, resources, potential community-based partners, and other key ingredients that will go into the design of a successful project. An important aspect of the needs assessment is to explore the community’s own perceptions of its needs. Here are some guiding questions to answer:

  • Have you defined your preliminary goals for the problem-solving initiative?

  • Have you defined the community to be served—whether it is a neighborhood, one or more police districts, or an entire county?

  • Have you identified the key stakeholders in the project, including…
    • residents?
    • businesses?
    • justice system players?
    • government agencies?
    • community-based organizations?

  • Have you investigated the views of local residents, merchants, and other community representatives (through individual interviews and focus groups) concerning local public safety and other related problems, as well as community strengths?

  • Have you collected relevant data about current criminal justice practice, including community and defendant demographics, calls for police service, arrest rates, most common charges, and court outcomes?

  • Have you brought stakeholders together for collaborative planning?

  • Based on your research, have you identified what problems you want to address?

  • Have you determined what ideas you will be testing (i.e, that if you do x, then y will happen) as a way to frame your project?

  • Have you summarized the findings of your needs assessment in writing?
At the Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force, this entire process took a year to complete -- in addition to identifying and convening the right stakeholders, we had a lot of research to do. Ultimately, we held 10 stakeholder interviews (including elected officials, law enforcement officers, parole staff, formerly incarcerated persons, service providers, and advocates); conducted 5 focus groups (including persons on parole, parole officers, and community residents; made multiple site visits to other reentry projects; completed a literature review on the subject; and analyzed community-level and criminal justice data that we had requested from the Division of Parole and the NYC Criminal Justice Coordinator's Office.

Stage II: Concept Paper

Using findings from the needs assessment, a concept paper answers why the proposed project is necessary, how it intends to solve neighborhood problems, and what resources it will need to do so. Once developed, it's a tool that can be circulated among target participants to generate buy-in for the project.

  • Have you refined the goals you started with, based upon information collected in your needs assessment process?

  • Have you crafted specific and quantifiable objectives to describe what will need to change
    for your project to meet its goals?

  • Have you described, in a clear, succinct fashion, the approach your project is testing?

  • Have you broken your project down into separate, tangible components and discussed how you will implement each of them?

  • Have you made a flow chart showing how cases currently progress through the system, and how this would change under the new project?

  • Have you listed all the core staff that are essential to realize your project (e.g., project
    director, assessment and case management staff, etc.)?

  • Have you: 1) approached local agencies (government and non-government) and requested
    staff to co-locate at your project, or 2) identified possible community-based partners who will assist your project without locating staff there?

  • Have you articulated the roles community members will play in the project?

  • Have you crafted a budget for the project?

  • Have you developed a marketing approach for selling your concept to funders, justice system stakeholders, and the community?

In Upper Manhattan, one of the most important parts of the process was getting our Task Force members around the table to discuss exactly what our goals and objectives would be, given what we had learned from the needs assessment process. As with any group, there were some important differences of opinion and our quarterly meetings saw some lively debate. This was a good thing -- it allowed us to consider the merits of each of our recommendations and to reality-test our ideas.

Stage III: Implementation Plan

Finally, you need to take all your knowledge and gather all your resources to make the project happen.

  • Have you identified who will have overall responsibility for implementation (e.g., a “project
  • For each objective, have you identified key tasks, named the person(s) responsible for each, and set deadlines—as described on the worksheet on page 4?
  • Have you determined how cases will be screened for eligibility?
  • Have you set up a process for gathering and sharing information about defendants/offenders that will help improve the decision making of judges, attorneys, and other justice officials?
  • Have you developed realistic and informed estimates of annual project volume, both general (e.g., number of defendants served) and for each key type of service (e.g., x mandated to substance abuse treatment, y involved in ongoing post-disposition compliance monitoring, z engaged in transitional employment, etc.)?
  • Have you assembled as many on-site services as possible?
  • Have you established a roster of community-based services to link defendants to?
  • Have you secured cooperation from key justice partners (e.g., judges, prosecutors, defense,
    parole) including both agency managers and relevant line staff (e.g., clerks, line attorneys, local parole officers)?
  • Have you refined the project’s budget, and identified sources of any needed funding?
  • Have you set up training for staff where needed (e.g., complex issues like domestic violence
    and drug addiction)?

For us in Upper Manhattan, this is the phase that we're just starting now. We have a strong implementation plan and we're beginning to enact the work activities necessary to make our recommendations reality. We've budgeted a year to put a few of our ideas into action, with additional activities to be rolled out the year after.