Washington County Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program
For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 17, 2018
Washington County One of Five Oregon Counties to Pilot Family Sentencing Alternative Program
The Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program (FSAPP) was created in 2015 by the Oregon legislature in a comprehensive effort to divert custodial parents facing one year or more of prison time into community-based intensive supervision and supports. The program is designed to promote reunification of families, prevent children from entering the foster care system and reduce the likelihood of further involvement in the criminal justice system by the individuals or their children.
In 2016, Washington County was chosen as one of five Oregon counties to pilot this 10-year initiative, working closely with the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Human Services (DHS) to administer the program and evaluate the outcomes. The participating counties which also include Deschutes, Jackson, Marion and Multnomah, each receive State funds to cover the costs of a probation officer to manage the additional, specialized caseload and to pay for treatment and housing costs associated with the program. In July of 2017, all were awarded a one-year continuation after demonstrating support for FSAPP from local leaders in the criminal justice system including their sheriff, district attorney, presiding judge and a representative of the defense bar.
Since it launched in April of 2016, Washington County's FSAPP, administered by Community Corrections, has served 36 corrections clients and 70 of their children, including 29 children who were directly diverted from non-relative placement in foster care. While the majority of the clients are women, a few have been men.
Potential participants are carefully screened by Probation Officer Erin Gladstone for eligibility based on their criminal history and referrals from various system partners. (Those with current convictions for felony person crimes or any convictions for sex crimes are not eligible.) Close collaboration with DHS Child Welfare is necessary to confirm eligibility and ensure that the children's needs are included in case planning. According to Community Corrections Program Supervisor Sheila Clark, "Our strong, existing partnerships with the District Attorney's Office, DHS, CODA Recovery Center, Bridges to Change and House of Hope have been invaluable in creating a multidisciplinary team approach which provides a network of supportive services and strong accountability."
Once accepted, clients undergo risk and needs assessments to guide the development of an individualized case plan which includes treatment and other services deemed appropriate for each person. Participants are required to commit to the program for at least 12 months of intensive supervision and are assessed for placement in alcohol and drug treatment, parenting skills classes, mental health services, trauma-related care and life skills training. Each client is required to participate in small groups which provide staff and peer support. They are encouraged to take responsibility for their criminal behavior, provide community service, find pro-social employment and seek additional educational opportunities.
Six of the 36 offenders served to date in Washington County have been revoked and sentenced to prison for committing new crimes or violating the terms of their probation. Even so, Community Corrections Director Steve Berger considers the program to be an overall success for Washington County, and the State in general. "Even if you only look at the financial impact of keeping 29 children out of foster care, that adds up to more than $770,000 in cost avoidance for just one year alone, not to mention the prison costs avoided," said Berger. "Many other outcomes are being continuously measured but we know that this program has increased engagement and motivated our clients to do the hard, life-changing work required to be better people and perhaps most importantly, better parents. We know that children of incarcerated parents face extreme challenges related to their mental health, social behavior and educational success. Anything we can do to prevent that type of trauma—while keeping the community safe within this level of intensive supervision and support—is a huge win."
Recently, Officer Gladstone was invited to co-present at the nation's first ever National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference held at Arizona State University in April. Joined by Oregon Dept. of Corrections Assistant Director Jeremiah Stromberg and Counselor Marnie Sadek, MA, LMFT, of CODA Inc. Recovery Centers, the three were given an opportunity to share Oregon's preliminary results associated with FSAPP. According to Gladstone, more and more communities across the nation are taking notice of the approach and seeking to replicate it. "This is really an innovative and cost-effective way to reduce the number of children entering foster care, reduce childhood trauma and stabilize at-risk families. In my previous job at DHS Child Welfare, I saw firsthand how stressful and stigmatizing it is for kids who have parents in jail. What we're doing now isn't new but I think we'll see more and more communities opting for this type of sentencing alternative as a best practice based on positive results from Oregon and other states that have tried it," said Gladstone.
Although optimistic in their January 2018 report to the Oregon Senate and House Committees on Judiciary, DOC and DHS made note that "More time is needed to look at completion rates, recidivism, housing, employment stability and maintaining custody of minor children." A research study is being developed that will encompass client and system feedback with examples of what has been working well, along with areas for improvement. For Washington County, the program provides a unique opportunity for offenders to receive the services and support needed to become successful and self-reliant members of the community while keeping their children out of the foster care system and enhancing community safety.
Media Contact:Joe Simich, Assistant Director, Washington County Community Corrections