2003 Finalist
City of Knoxville, Tennessee
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Communities and police officers often turn a suspicious eye toward convicted criminals serving part of their sentence on parole. Many parolees commit new crimes, burdening police officers and threatening public order and safety. As a result, even parolees who make serious efforts to reform face suspicion as they go about their daily lives. Meanwhile, due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and stretched resources, some of the most dangerous criminals on parole end up breaking more laws, drawing negative attention to the whole program.

Before 1997, all parole cases in Knoxville, Tennessee, were given to the parole officers in the state Department of Probation and Parole. Their caseloads were prohibitively heavy, reducing their role in the parolee's life to periodic visits to check that minimum conditions were being met. Officers had no time to work on personalized treatment or rehabilitation plans, and parolees were not prioritized based on their likelihood of offending again. The Public Safety Collaborative (PSC), first launched in 1997, pulls together 26 private and public agencies in an effort to focus resources on offenders who are likely to further threaten community safety through repeat crimes.

The PSC identifies offenders who have committed violent felonies or sex crimes, or who have a history of violating parole. Program officials then help create individualized plans for each of these convicts, with specific goals, treatment plans, and assessments of available family and community support. Both parole officers and police then aggressively monitor parolees; a case staffing group reviews the progress of parolees monthly. Community volunteer services play a part in reintegrating parolees into the community and government agencies seek to provide appropriate service.

Most significantly, law enforcement officers have signed on to the program. Previously in Knoxville and elsewhere nationwide, police officers only interacted with parolees when they committed new crimes or while aggressively seeking technical violations of parole. Now, officers are trained to recognize and supervise high-risk parolees, while focusing on informed oversight instead of working against all parolees. As a result, police can keep a close eye on former offenders who are particularly likely to cause more trouble in their community, without seeking to jail parolees who are working toward genuine reform.

The PSC's methods are highly effective. Only 6 percent of parolees in its program were arrested on new charges while on parole, compared to 18 percent of comparable offenders before the program was implemented. Only 12 percent were charged with technical violation of their parole, compared to 65 percent before the Collaborative operated. As a result of the PSC, Knoxville residents suffered fewer crimes at the hands of repeat offenders and parolees were more likely to stay out of jail. The Collaborative has already been adapted for use in Memphis, and other jurisdictions around the country are experimenting with similar programs.