NADD Bulletin Volume IV Number 6 Article 4

Complete listing

Diversion/Creative Sentencing & Behavioral/Psychological Programming in a Model Program Addressing the Special Needs of Dually Diagnosed/Developmentally Disabled Offenders Living in Community Based Services in Pueblo, CO

Lawrence A. Velasco, M.Ed., Lamar Trant, Psy.D.

It has been over fourteen years since the Pueblo DD/MH Consortium was established as a volunteer network of agencies willing to work cooperatively with one another in an endeavor to provide effective quality services and supports to individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health needs who are also classified as offenders. The Consortium became a reality in the Spring of 1987 after Colorado Bluesky Enterprises Inc., formerly known as Pueblo County Board for Developmental Disabilities, received a visiting professor grant from the Colorado DD Planning Council for the purpose of receiving consultation from an expert consultant who worked successfully with dually diagnosed DD/MH individuals. Dr. Peter Holmes, from Eastern Michigan University, was the catalyst for bringing together frustrated professionals from Pueblo’s mental health and developmental disabilities agencies, private hospitals, the Pueblo Regional Center for persons with developmental disabilities, the county department of social services, and representatives from the local school districts.

Prior to the grant, agencies played the “hot potato” game. Any individual who had a dual diagnosis of DD/MH who was creating problems in the community belonged to the “other guys”. No one wanted to accept full responsibility for assisting the dd offender who challenged any service delivery system. What developed from a “stone throwing” relationship in 1987 has become a “mutual admiration society” which has been discovering creative means to assist some of the most difficult to serve persons in the community. The very simple goal of coming together on a monthly basis and listening to case presentations about challenging individuals has evolved to the cooperative creation of action plans for individuals, which are communicated to the courts via the individual’s case manager. Consortium members review the individual’s case as presented by the person’s case manager, ask questions, and identify potential resources which may come from any of the participating agencies. No agency is asked to do something it is unable to do and no extraordinary measures are expected where resources are unavailable. Each agency representative knows what they can voluntarily commit to as a resource for any person’s plan.

State agencies assist private non-profit agencies and vice-versa, creatively utilizing resources to the maximum degree. Once the elements of the plan are solidified and verified by the case manager, this is provided to the Judge either through discussion with the Assistant District Attorney or the Public Defender. Generally, both parties and the individual with a developmental disability who has committed an offense agree upon the plan before submitting it to the Judge in court. If there is disagreement, the Assistant D.A. may still present the plan as developed and the Public Defender will object on whatever basis he or she feels is relevant. The Judge may either accept the plan as written or may ask that the parties do additional work and return with possible changes to the plan. The Judge insures that the defendant’s rights are not violated and that the community services are in place when the final sentence is made.

  An important component of the Consortium’s efforts has involved training for the Judges in Pueblo about people with developmental disabilities and their supports and services in this community. They have also learned about the willingness of the Pueblo human service professional community to work together to develop viable plans. These plans include mental health intervention as well as behavioral programs structured to insure individual’s success in closely supervised well-managed services. The individual plans insure the court that each person will have little to no opportunity to re-offend against individuals in the community. The “diversion program” which has been developed by the Consortium is not a formal diversion program. It is tailor-made to fit the individual’s level of functioning and the community service agencies’ ability to provide consequences to respond to each individual’s needs.

  Recently, the Consortium hosted our bi-annual “Judges’ Dinner” where the Judges listened to presentations by mental health and developmental disabilities professionals on the current status of the Consortium and its activities. Also attending this event were representatives from the police and sheriff’s departments, probation and the public defender’s office. The Judges were very positive and commended the Consortium members for providing such an effective diversion process for this target group. They further expressed their thanks because the rate of recidivism for these individuals has been remarkably low in comparison to the norm.

  One of the initial diversion initiatives of the DD/MH Consortium was the development of a small, highly structured community-based residential program for offenders with developmental disabilities and mental health needs. Colorado Bluesky Enterprises (CBE), the local entity responsible for coordination of Developmental Disabilities services, has been responsible for this program. Over its fourteen years of operation the RESULTS (Resocialization through Understanding, Limits, Training and Support) Program has expanded to 3 three-bed staffed homes and one additional placement in another three-bed staffed home. Several successful “graduates” have moved into less structured and more independent settings. The collaborative team process among the various components of the program as well as the coordination between DD/MH service providers and the Legal system has worked well.

  Persons who are typically served within the RESULTS Program meet eligibility requirements for developmental disabilities services and have a mental health (DSM IV Axis I) diagnosis. Two homes serve men and a third home was opened the end of 2000 for three women. The majority of persons served have a fairly extensive history of involvement in the criminal justice system, often to the extent of having been incarcerated for a lengthy period of time and/or on several different occasions. The offenses of individuals served have included burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault on a child, harassment through obscene phone calls, stalking, and child abuse resulting in death.

  Residential services for these individuals are provided in a highly structured and closely supervised setting in suburban neighborhoods in the community. Each home serves a maximum of three individuals with one male staff member on duty at all times as well as one female staff member on duty at all times in the home for women. Double coverage is provided in all facilities on weekends and evenings to allow more opportunity for outings and appointments. Each individual is provided with an individualized point/level program which is adjusted by the team on an on-going basis.

  Vocational services are provided in an integrated community setting and are also an important component of the RESULTS Program. Work crews typically include three to five individuals with one supervisor. Jobs include grounds maintenance at businesses and a local community college, cleaning a veterinary business, parking structure cleanup, and other active work. Vocational services include the provision of extensive structure and supervision as well as daily communication with residential staff and other team members as needed. In 2000 a RESULTS day program/work component was added for a few of the women and men served in the RESULTS residential program who have continued to have severe assaultive and run away behavior when working on mobile crews in the community. This program primarily takes place on a seven-acre farm and provides a more isolated environment for these individuals to help eliminate undue attention to extreme challenging behavior and to insure public safety. In addition to the work component of this program, individuals also learn to be responsible for the care of miniature horses, pigs, chickens and dogs which are raised on the farm. This aspect of the program is designed to provide individuals with an opportunity to learn compassion for another living being which is dependent on them for food, water, grooming and love.

 Case Management services are also highly specialized and require a case manager with a good working knowledge of the criminal justice system and behavioral programming as well as an added time commitment as an integral member of the RESULTS program team.

  Psychological services provided include coordination of the RESULTS team and responsibility for the development of an individualized behavioral point/level program for each individual served. Individual and/or group psychotherapy services are also provided or coordinated by the team Psychologist. An Appropriate Social and Sexual Expression Therapy (A.S.S.E.T.) group is co-facilitated by the CBE Psychologist and the CBE Chief Executive Officer. This weekly group includes 8 men who have a history of sexual offenses, many against children.

 The Consortium has also recently developed Project A.S.S.I.S.T (Assault, Safety, and Social Intervention Systems Training). This project provides a voluntary, centralized identification and tracking system for individuals with developmental disabilities who are classified as offenders or those who may otherwise come to the attention of law enforcement officers or emergency psychiatric or medical personnel due to behavior which is a danger to self or others. Individuals with medical conditions such as seizures or uncontrolled diabetes, or problems with drug or alcohol abuse may also be included in the tracking system. A contact number is made available to police and sheriff dispatch personnel for immediately accessing critical information and understanding about individuals who may be “picked up” on the street by law enforcement personnel or who may be reported by program staff in need of police or sheriff assistance. Details of this process are shared with the criminal justice system through training sessions and the involvement of law enforcement personnel in Consortium meetings. This process further enhances the “systems” ability to address the health, safety and wellbeing of all of the community’s citizens by maintaining a cooperative working relationship between the human service agencies and the criminal justice system. Several hundred Pueblo police officers and sheriffs officers have been and will continue to be trained at least once a year. Training sessions have also been held with the District Attorneys, Public Defenders, and Probation officers.

Another form of training is being provided directly to persons with developmental disabilities through “Safety First” classes which are coordinated by the Arc of Pueblo, Colorado Bluesky Enterprises and several members of their service agencies. These classes are taught by police officers and provide individuals with developmental disabilities an opportunity to develop a supportive rapport with these public servants. The “Safety First” program has been funded by a grant from the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

  In summary, the Pueblo DD/MH Consortium continues to be a tremendous catalyst for many innovations which have demonstrated a positive affect on individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health needs who are also offenders. In a time of increasing attention to paper and red tape the creative solution-focused spirit of the group serves as a breath of fresh air for everyone involved. We look forward to another successful collaborative and creative year in the future of this remarkable volunteer community network.

For further information:

Lawrence A. Velasco, M.Ed.
Colorado Bluesky Enterprises Inc.
115 W. 2nd
Pueblo, CO 81003
Tel: (719) 546-0572
Fax: (719) 546-0577
Email:larryvelasco@usa.net.