DeschutesSafe, the community crime-prevention effort initiated by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, is narrowing its focus from crime at large to recidivism.
The group decided to train its sights on people re-entering the criminal justice system after confronting the sheer volume and complexity of information available on crime in the county, Hummel said.
“We had to focus because we don’t have unlimited resources,” Hummel said in an interview Tuesday. He said offenders are an identifiable group because they’ve previously come into documented contact with the public safety system.
“The bottom line is most crime is committed by people who have previously committed crime,” Hummel said. “And so we can get our hands around the world of people who have committed crime in Deschutes County, it’s doable, these people are knowable.”
He said a successful recidivism-reduction program could show the community how a broader crime prevention program might work.
DeschutesSafe coordinator Kathleen Meehan Coop said during a meeting of DeschutesSafe’s working group Thursday that the analysis of recidivism will focus on five major crime groups: driving under the influence of intoxicants, drug crimes, theft, assault and domestic violence.
First, DeschutesSafe will collect data on recidivism in those offense groups and then identify and evaluate possible interventions for people convicted of those crimes. DeschutesSafe has submitted an application to the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to help it gather and analyze information about those offenders.
Andrew Doyle, a criminal defense attorney with Bend-based firm Crabtree & Rahmsdorff, pointed out that in Oregon domestic violence is not a violation of law but is tacked on to offenses such as assault or harassment. The circuit court already has diversion programs for domestic violence and DUII cases. The focus of DeschutesSafe would be to figure out whether the county can find a way to prevent people who serve time for offenses like assault and theft from committing new crimes.
The decision to focus on recidivism coincides with a report the state’s Criminal Justice Commission issued last month looking at recidivism rates in each county.
The data is based on a new definition of recidivism coined by Oregon House Bill 3194 in 2013.
That bill outlined ways for the state to divert money that would have been used to build and maintain a new state prison to pay for local services instead.
Under that new definition, the commission considers people who have been arrested, convicted or incarcerated for a new crime in Oregon within three years of their release from a county jail or state prison as recidivating, according to the report.
Ken Hales, director of Deschutes County Community Justice, said his agency, which oversees Adult Parole and Probation, deals on a daily basis with getting offenders back on their feet.
“Our mission is to constantly adopt new practices that contribute toward reduced recidivism,” Hales said.
Hales said it can be a challenge to find time to consistently train parole and probation officers, who have hefty caseloads, in soft skills such as role-playing exercises. Such exercises may help offenders stay out of prison or jail for new crimes by helping them avoid risky behaviors — for example, an offender will have practiced how to respond to old friends who encourage him to drink or use drugs with them.
Each officer can handle 45 to 70 cases at any given time, though a caseload is typically 50 to 60 cases, Hales said. A few specialty caseloads are smaller, such as that of a probation officer who works with offenders who have been convicted of a crime in connection with an incident of domestic violence. Offenders in those specialty cases meet more often with their officer.
“Well, you know, any help (DeschutesSafe) can give, any analysis or understanding they may derive, is fine and great,” Hales said in a phone interview Thursday.
“It’s true, we do this as a business, we examine recidivism, but … if they can get into it and do some analysis or maybe some unique research, we may find use for that.”
Hummel said he expects it will be at least nine months before the group comes up with “something tangible.”