Jun 11, 2010

What's new at the Task Force?: Considering "Parolee Notification Meetings"

In our continuing efforts to implement and test innovative criminal justice strategies to reduce recidivism and increase public safety, the Task Force has begun thinking about introducing "Parolee Notification Forums," into Upper Manhattan. To learn more about these meetings, I invited Dr. Jeffrey Fagan, Professor of Law and Epidemiology, to speak to the Task Force this past week about his joint research (with Andrew Papachristos and Tracey Meares) on Chicago's Project Safe Neighborhood's (PSN) "Offender Notification Forums." At the meeting, Dr. Fagan reviewed the design of Project Safe Neighborhood’s gun violence intervention with a focus on the Forums.

As Dr. Fagan explained, PSN is a federally-funded program to bring federal, state, and local law enforcement together with researchers and community agencies to devise strategies for reducing gun violence. Among the most effective of the three interventions involved in PSN were the “Offender Notification Forums,” which had the goal of "1) providing attendees with information regarding law enforcement consequences and available options relevant to crime desistance and 2) altering perceptions of law enforcement." The design of the forum embodied prevailing research on "law and legitimacy" which has demonstrated that individuals are more likely to follow the law when believe in the substance of the law and have positive interactions with law enforcement. For more, see Tom Tyler's work. To promote these ideas, the physical set up of the meetings had an egalitarian design (parolees, law enforcement, offenders sit around a table),the tone of the meetings were respectful, and law enforcement addressed the parolees in a direct and matter of fact way about the consequences of being caught with a gun.

The forums included three sets of presentations followed by one-on-one time with the parolee's that included the following messages:

Law Enforcement Message (Police Department and District Attorney's Office): You are being targeted because of your involvement with gun crimes. You will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if caught with guns. However, you have a choice. Community Providers are here to help you chose the right way.
Service Provider Message: Everyone can make choices to avoid reoffending. We are here to give you the tools to make the right choice.
Formerly Incarcerated Individual: The violence in the community has to stop. It is affecting our families and each other. Few of us will make it out alive. The District Attorney's Office and the Police aren't joking. If you are caught you will go away for a long, long time.

Dr. Fagan's and his team's research indicates that the various interventions created a 37% decrease in homicide and that the forums were the most effective aspect of the campaign.

Many of us at the meeting were struck by the idea that one positive interaction with law enforcement could so significantly alter an individual's behavior. However, most of us seemed to agree that there is something unique and powerful about the idea of law enforcement uniting with service providers to directly communicate the consequences of offending, and tying it to an offer of assistance. As always, it is thrilling to sit in a room with governmental agencies and service providers, many of whom come to the table with such different perspectives, but all share the common goal of improving public safely, reducing crime, and ultimately, improving our communities.