By Dr. Brian Lovins
Community corrections is at a crossroads. Over the past 20 years, every aspect of our criminal justice system has been challenged. The “get tough” era of the mid 1980s has led us down a path to the largest criminal justice system in the world. With criminal justice involved populations growing exponentially throughout the 1980s and 90s, we were faced with some dire challenges. Incarceration became the theme of this time period—but it came with a significant number of collateral costs. Overcrowding of jails and prisons became a predominant issue. Families, communities, and lower risk justice-involved individuals were affected at higher rates. Women were incarcerated at 700% increase. People of color were disproportionally locked up. All while the nation’s crime rate, even violent crime, continued to drop. But one of the biggest costs of the “get tough” era was to probation and parole. During this time period, the number of people on probation and parole tripled. Subsequently, probation and parole became focused more on control and surveillance than behavioral change. With nearly 4.5 million people under some form of supervision, probation and parole has become the focus of recent reform.
While there are some calling for the shuttering of probation and parole, many of us recognize the strength in the profession. We have passionate people who are interested in making a difference in our communities. We have leaders who continue to challenge the status quo and work hard to provide the most effective interventions for justice-involved individuals. We can no longer sit back and watch while others define our work. It is time to step up and make a difference for our field, our staff, and the individuals we serve.
For these reasons, I have decided to leave Harris County CSCD and join Justice System Partners as a Principal. My work at Harris County CSCD with Dr. Teresa May provided an amazing opportunity to explore new ways of delivering community supervision. Her work in Harris County has been transformative. The staff at HCCSCD is awesome to work with and the changes they made over the past 6 years have been incredible. We have consistently reduced new law violations and revocations while providing hope to those we serve. We can always do better and I am excited to be moving to the National level with JSP.
Not only will my work at JSP provide opportunities to shape the juvenile and adult corrections system, but I have also decided to run for President-Elect for the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA). APPA has been a mainstay for community corrections for nearly 50 years. It has provided opportunities for community corrections staff across the country to learn and collaborate with each other. We are at a pivotal time for community corrections reform and I believe APPA is the path forward. If elected, I will work with APPA staff and members to develop three core areas of focus.
First, we must improve people’s understanding of the work we do and the impact that we have on people’s lives. We need a voice to describe the great work our staff does every day and the positive changes we make in our communities. We need to discuss the advancements in our field and the impact those have on justice-involved individuals, families, and communities. If elected, I will push our organization to develop a Center for Success and Innovation (CSI). CSI will be a nationwide hub in which agencies can share the great work they do every day. The Center would house APPA’s public relations staff as well as manage our social media presence. CSI will become the voice for local, state, and national issues that arise around probation and parole and a space where community members, media, and stakeholders go for answers regarding community corrections related questions.
Second, we must establish APPA’s voice as a national leader in community corrections. We need to develop a set of standards or practices that provide support for departments and stakeholders to continue to improve their agencies. As a profession, we need to develop a consistent set of practices that, if employed, can provide the best opportunities for our agencies to be successful. Too often our work is defined by the system around us. We must come together to define the context in which our system can be the most successful. Under my presidency, APPA will create a set of national standards that will guide our work and ensure that we are all doing the best we can with the resources available.
Third, we must prepare the profession for the future. We need to attract and grow the next generation of community corrections leaders. We need to develop an infrastructure that draws people to us, one that provides professional development through expanded eLearning, leverages technology to improve virtual connections, and provides up-to-date information regarding our field. When agencies and staff think about training and professional growth, APPA needs to be where they turn.
I am excited about the future of community corrections and I am excited to be running for APPA President. APPA has a long history of supporting the work that we do in the field. I envision pushing that forward, standing on the shoulders of past Presidents and the members of this great organization to make a difference in the lives of our staff, our communities and the individuals who are involved in the justice system. I am here to answer the call and I hope you are as well.
Voting starts the first week of June. To vote, you must be an individual member of APPA. You can register to be a member here. Once registered, you will be eligible to vote. Please consider me for your next APPA President-Elect.