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Community Corrections – Helping support safe and successful community transitions

July 14, 2021

By Rachel Ericson Communications Office
Woman and dog

Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, Community Corrections Officer Jolene Agostini participated in community events like National Night Out. An event that enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement to bring a sense of community. (Photographer unknown)

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At Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC), the overall mission is to improve public safety by positively changing lives. The focus of the entire department is on ensuring better neighbors return to society. DOC believes that reentry starts at reception. When an incarcerated individual first enters a receiving facility, they begin programming and classes and receive job assignments that all go hand-in-hand with positive change.

Most individuals who are incarcerated will return to their communities, but reintegrating can be challenging. Because Corrections is committed to being reentry-focused, resources and programs have been established to ensure individuals currently in and leaving the system are able to have a safe and successful transition to the community.

Thinking for a Change

Community Corrections Division (CCD) utilizes these resources and programs to better help those on supervision. One program offered by CCD is called Thinking for a Change (T4C) (pdf), which is an evidence-based behavioral program, providing participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to change their behavior and reduce recidivism. With this changed behavior, there is an ability to reduce future victimization and make communities a safer place, while providing those on supervision with skills and tools to successfully navigate tough situations, conversations, and life events in positive pro-social ways.

Those who go through the class learn new thought processes, coping skills and how to take responsibility for their actions. Those who go through the entire program successfully are 57 percent less likely to recidivate.

Trained facilitators take a group on a journey together through 25 classes structured around the idea that it is possible to change the pattern of thinking that can lead to criminal behavior. As these individuals go through the classes, they learn to identify their risk factors and to be self-aware enough to approach their experiences differently.

By working on these skills, graduates of this program are able to think completely differently when faced with challenges. Additionally, those who complete the program successfully, are 54 percent less likely to recidivate.

Community Corrections Officers

Those who work in CCD have a passion for keeping their communities safe and for helping people. DOC supervises an active caseload of approximately 16,500 persons in communities across the State of Washington and Community Corrections Officers (CCO) work directly with those on supervision to hold them accountable to their imposed supervision conditions as they resume life within the community.

Jolene Agostini has worked for DOC in the community for the past 25 years and while she is transitioning into a new role with the Muckleshoot Tribe as a lead probation officer for the Tribal Courts, she believes strongly in the positive influence CCD has in the community and in the lives of those under supervision.

“Sometimes we’re the only positive influence in someone’s life and it’s up to us to help them learn new skills, such as how to be on time for appointments, fill out applications and generally be an example of how to integrate into society by being a role model,” Agostini said.

“Some have family support, but there is broken trust in their family unit and it’s up to us to help navigate these family dynamics,” Agostini added. “It’s a matter of building understanding that we are here to help avoid future mistakes, not judge you for your past mistakes.”

The work can be challenging, but it is also rewarding. Sarah Lewis, a Community Corrections Supervisor, started her career with DOC ten years ago, working as a CCO. She started with CCD for the same reason many others did. She has a passion for helping others. Now as a supervisor, she is committed to assisting officers with being the best they can be and ensuring they understand the importance of being committed to helping others.

Mac Pevey, CCD’s Assistant Secretary, has worked under various roles in this division of DOC for 22 years. He credits the success of his team with the work of each committed person who is dedicated to positively changing lives. He attributes this work to a “higher calling”, which he says is what brought him to CCD in the first place. Wanting to know that he was making a difference in other people’s lives.

Pandemic and Partnerships

During the pandemic, much of the way CCD operates had to change due to the importance of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This meant that often phone calls took the place of in-person visits, a transition that Jack Robarge, Community Corrections Supervisor, says was challenging for everyone.

“You miss so much by not being out there and in person,” Robarge said. “It’s tough not having the opportunity to get out there and see people face to face. Not to catch them doing things wrong, but to catch them doing things right.”

Robarge added that while the pandemic brought its own set of challenges, it also provided positive opportunities to further build the strength and teamwork of their division. Many CCO’s were able to assist the prisons division at DOC when they were understaffed. Pitching in when additional qualified hands were needed.

In addition to internal partnerships between divisions, CCD has strong partnerships in the community with local law and justice councils, local community colleges, community mental health, and other state departments including Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources and Veteran Affairs. CCD also works with business in communities to find workplaces willing to hire those trying to rehabilitate their life.

All of this work combined tells the story of a highly committed group of people who care about keeping communities safe, while helping those who have committed crimes avoid repeating those mistakes in the future and instead become contributing, positive members of society.