2018 POP Conference
November 5–7, 2018
Providence, Rhode Island

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PHASE 3: Notification

Because FDI success depends heavily upon high-risk offenders comprehending the consequences of their actions—whether to persist or desist in offending—you need to carefully consider the content and delivery of core messages to them. In essence, the message to targeted high-risk offenders in FDIs is that:

Your persistent and serious offending has called you to special attention. The government and the community insist that you stop your offending because it is hurting people and the community. If you are willing to stop, you will be provided with all the necessary assistance to create a successful, law-abiding lifestyle for yourself and your family. If you are not willing to stop, you and your criminal associates will be subjected to all available enforcement means to compel you to stop.19

Ideally, communicating with the high-risk offenders occurs individually and in a group setting. In most early FDIs, the twin promises of intensive enforcement and social assistance are delivered directly to high-risk offenders in meetings called offender-notification meetings, call-ins, or forums. But first, high-risk offenders must be compelled to show up to a meeting. This can be done by sending them a carefully worded official letter, perhaps from the police chief, making a persuasive invitation to the meeting. That can be reinforced by persuading individuals’ family members to encourage the high-risk offenders to attend. And, of course, if the high-risk offenders are on conditional release, their probation or parole officer can insist they attend. All efforts must be made to get the individual to the meeting on the date and time set, which is often a difficult task. Assuring them that they will not be arrested at the meeting certainly helps in this regard.

Most often, high-risk offenders are mandated to attend by their probation or parole officers, inevitably creating a coercive aspect to the proceedings. Preferably, these meetings are held in somewhat neutral public facilities, such as courthouses, schools, or community centers, rather than in police facilities, to reinforce the idea that the approach is not solely about using coercive authority. Delivering the message in such an open fashion—in front of so many officials, community members, friends, families, other high-risk offenders, and perhaps even the press—helps remove any sense high-risk offenders might have that they and their crimes are well hidden or that no one cares.

Key components of the intensive enforcement message include the following:

  • The prospect of intensive enforcement must be credible: idle threats that are not carried out under the conditions promised will undermine the entire effort
  • Each criminal justice agency represented should specify the actions it is prepared to take against high-risk offenders and their criminal associates if they persist in offending
  • Assurances should be made that all the different criminal justice agencies—at local, state, and federal levels—will be communicating and coordinating with one another about each high-risk offender
  • The enforcement message should be delivered in a civil and respectful but firm tone20

Kansas City No Violence Alliance Call-in Meeting
Kansas City No Violence Alliance Call-in Meeting

It is imperative that all speakers at notification meetings adhere consistently to this multi-faceted message. If speakers go offscript and convey inconsistent messages, it undermines the impact of the notification.21

Having a notification meeting coordinator can help ensure that the meeting goes as planned. A coordinator can keep to a tight agenda, ensure that speakers stick to the scripted messages, communicate the meeting’s ground rules (e.g., high-risk offenders may not leave and may not ask questions or negotiate during the main part of the meeting), ensure that there is adequate security at the meeting, and ensure that everyone is seated in an appropriate place.

The core message should be reiterated, whether on the street or in follow-up meetings with offenders, by whatever means available (e.g., verbally or through printed flyers, signs, or letters).

Chula Vista, California SPI Case Study: Notification

Warning for Domestic Violence Offendors

Focused deterrence is a central part of the Chula Vista (California) SPI project to reduce repeat domestic abuse. Modeled after domestic violence (DV) reduction efforts in High Point (North Carolina), West Yorkshire (United Kingdom), and Fremont (California), the Chula Vista effort focuses on both ‘verbal-only’ calls and DV crimes because in more than half of DV calls in Chula Vista no crime has been committed. Offenders are considered “Level 1” upon an initial verbal-only call, “Level 2” after a second verbal-only call, and “Level 3” when a crime has been committed. Level 3 offenders are asked to sign a written warning that includes seven key points that the responding officer reads to them (see reference graphic, also provided in Spanish).

If Level 3 offenders ignore the warning and re-offend, they are elevated to Level 4. Level 4 offenders receive a personalized “call-in” notification by the DV project coordinator (a Chula Vista police officer). The DV coordinator goes unannounced to the offender’s home to make this contact. If the offender is not home, the officer will leave a card to let the suspect know she has stopped by and attempt to contact the offender by telephone or at another location, such as place of employment.

As part of the notification, the DV coordinator also talks to any family members present at the home. For example, the DV coordinator spoke with the mother of an offender (who was babysitting at the time of the home visit), a sister (who was allowing the suspect to live with her), and a brother who worked with the suspect. Most family members have been supportive of the DV program and appreciative of the contact.