Nov/Dec 2009

State News: August 2009


innovations 2009


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Kentucky Inmates Staff Statewide Hotline Assisting Former Inmates

Kentucky: Department of Corrections’ Reentry Hotline
For people leaving prison in Kentucky, a small credit-card sized piece of plastic may offer help at times when it seems so hard to get back to living a normal life outside prison walls.
The card is simple; nothing fancy. But the message on the front speaks to a major issue that’s often overlooked. “Going home is an adjustment … Make yours easy …” it says. The card includes the number to Kentucky’s Re-entry Hotline, a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week support line, printed in bold red letters on the front. The hotline won one of eight national Innovations Awards from The Council of State Governments.
“Right now it’s tough for all of us, let alone those who are coming back into the communities that have been out of the work force and out of society for a while,” said Sheila Rucker, who runs the hotline from one of the state’s prisons.
People fresh out of prison or jail can call the hotline to get in touch with needed social services, financial services, emotional support, substance abuse treatment, community resources and much more.
Because when someone leaves prison, they often find themselves in an overwhelming world.
“Usually the men and women who call are typically at the end of their hope,” Rucker said. “And so they’re very thankful to have a live person on the other end.”
When former inmates call, they’re not speaking to people who can’t identify with their situations—they are speaking to inmates or parolees. The hotline is completely staffed by those housed at the Roederer Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Ky., just north of Louisville. The inmates who answer the phones are in the final phases of the Substance Abuse Treatment Program there, the one Rucker runs.
“Sometimes it is just an ear,” Rucker said. “These folks can identify with these callers and understand feeling stuck.”
“We did not want this to be something that we could hang our hat on that says this will stop recidivism. We wanted this to be another way to provide helpful information at any given time of the day or week so that people who were released from our jails and prisons would be able to access that information easily,” said Kevin Pangburn, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programming in Kentucky.
The hotline began in August 2007 and in the first year, it received more than 3,000 calls; that grew to more than 3,800 calls in the second year. Funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Formula Grant Programbasically pays to have the cards printed—the only long-term costs of the program aside from the phone lines and Internet connections.
What started as just a simple resource line designed to help ex-offenders in need turned into much more. The hotline also reaps dividends for the inmates staffing the lines. The inmates get a sense of giving back to the community, Rucker said.
One inmate answering the phones put it this way: “At first, I was a little nervous thinking what if someone calls and I can’t find the information for them that they need or not find it fast enough. People were happy to wait; they would call and have no place to go, no food, no clothes, transportation, job … they were happy with any information we could give,” the inmate said.
“… It made me feel good that I could at least listen and give some feedback that would help. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment to be able to help someone instead of being a burden to society.”
­—Mikel Chavers


West Virginia Cuts CDL Test Cheating with High-Tech Tools

West Virginia: eCDL Program
Not too long ago in West Virginia, it was too easy to cheat when it came to getting a commercial driver’s license. In one instance, a test examiner took several applicants out for a road test, but they never even left the parking lot of a rest stop on Interstate 64. Yet the truck drivers still passed the test.
“Under the old CDL process, everything was paper-based and a lot of fraud was committed on paper,” said William Totten, director for the state’s commercial driver’s license program, or CDL for short. “They would forge papers and in some cases the applicant never did receive a CDL test.”
And the state just lacked the manpower needed to keep a watchful eye over testers and examiners taking the truck driving test on the state’s sprawling highways.
“It wasn’t so much this state—other states really had a problem with the paper-based system,” said Stephen Shelton, manager of CDL testing. “You were never sure that test even took place unless you were there watching the examiner.”
But the state had to cut half the staff overseeing the tests and the CDL program was forced to do more with less.
It’s just hard to be in two places at once.
Or is it?
With the new eCDL program, winner of an Innovations Award from The Council of State Governments, virtually all West Virginia’s CDL testing is paperless, using laptops equipped with global positioning system technology and video and audio recording to track trucks’ movements through the entire test. The state wants to make sure truck drivers really do take—and legitimately pass—the CDL driver test.
Test examiners, who are usually third-party contractors, use laptops to upload the driver’s scores and test results. The laptops time-stamp phases of the test, so officials know how long test-takers spend completing portions of the test. If a test is uploaded in an abnormally short period of time, for example, the program raises a red flag.
State officials even get fraud alerts on their cell phones when something is fishy, clueing them in to possible cheating. When the program enters the next phase this year, those alerts will all be real-time so investigators can actually go to a test site immediately and determine whether fraud is taking place.
“With eCDL we’re monitoring the movements of that truck, so if the truck is sitting in the parking lot, we can tell by the GPS monitoring that we have in the eCDL system, that that truck never left the parking lot,” said Wilbur Thaxton, IT manager. “We know whether or not (the approved) route was followed by the GPS point. And every time there is a mistake made, it tells us what that mistake was and where it was made at and even tells us how fast a vehicle was going at a particular spot.”
The new phase of the project, solely funded by federal grant money from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, calls for the laptops to capture video and audio during the test from inside the truck’s cab as proof the driver honestly passed and the examiner legally tested the driver.
As the program continues, the eCDL testing process will also interface with the accident reporting system and the citations system—so the state can tell whether the road tests and test questions are adequately preparing drivers.
“There is a direct correlation with the issuance of the written, the skills and how they actually perform on the road. So there’s a direct correlation with accidents,” Thaxton said.
­—Mikel Chavers



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