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New evaluation tool aids Day Reporting Centers

By Laurie Anderson/UGA

The road to recovery can be full of detours. Sometimes people need extra guidance to find their pathway to success.

That’s the idea behind Georgia’s Day Reporting Centers. Since 2002, these centers have provided intensive, community-based counseling and rehabilitative services for nonviolent probationers and parolees with substance use and mental health problems. Those who complete programs at the centers have a better chance of staying out of jail and reintegrating back into society.

The Georgia Department of Community Supervision, which manages the state’s 35 centers, wants to enhance the opportunities for positive outcomes but needs to know the right metrics to measure. That has been difficult because evaluation methods typically used for DRCs are outdated and rely on tools primarily adapted from more custodial settings such as prisons, jails and detention centers. As a consequence, administrators have been uncertain of where improvements are needed.

Until now. Recently, DCS partnered with the University of Georgia School of Social Work to develop a better way to assess program quality and participant outcomes.

Led by associate professor Orion Mowbray, researchers from the school developed and implemented a comprehensive process to evaluate operations of centers that serve both urban and rural areas in the state. From the evaluation, the researchers established an authoritative assessment tool and demonstrated that better assessment scores were associated with better outcomes for DRC participants, including fewer positive drug tests, fewer felony charges and fewer probation revocations.

“Day Reporting Centers have the ability to reunite families and restore hope in a participant’s life,” said Nicholas Powell, director of strategic planning and research for the DCS. “I am grateful to professor Mowbray and the entire research team. This evaluation tool will be a mechanism for meaningful change.”

Throughout the state, DRCs consistently scored well in areas of leadership, staff characteristics, program resources, program support, substance use programming, cognitive behavioral programming, mental health services, workforce services and aftercare services. Areas needing improvement included DRC participant assessment, case management and the delivery of family services.

In addition, the researchers found no differences in the outcomes of positive drug tests, felony charges and probation revocations between persons who attended the rural grant-funded reporting centers – GDRCs – and the urban-based DRCs.

“There was concern that many of the services DRCs provide in rural areas are heavily dependent on existing community resources in these areas, and the data show that, despite the differences in levels of community resources in urban and rural areas, most DRCs are making the best of the available services,” said Mowbray. “Our study shows that the DRC Program Assessment Tool we developed should provide valid, reliable scores with little risk of error and be much easier for internal administration and staff to use in the future.”

The Georgia Department of Community Supervision plans to use the new assessment tool to evaluate program services regularly across the state – and that should help everyone find the best route forward.

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