The article "The Struggle to Ease Jail Overcrowding" (May 3) discusses a number of strategies being tried in New Jersey, like parole, work release, home confinement and weekend sentences. But it makes no mention of what I believe to be the most successful strategy of all -- the Intensive Supervision Program (I.S.P.) conducted by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
I.S.P. differs from most other alternative sentencing programs in that it is tailored to the needs and circumstances of individuals, provides close supervision and support and actively strives to rehabilitate people rather than simply monitor them. Since its inception in 1983, nearly 1,000 people have completed the program, and less than 5 percent have been involved in any subsequent criminal activity.
The key to the program is the close supervision and support that each person receives. I.S.P. officers, who are more a combination of cop and social worker than the typical parole officer, have small caseloads, usually not more than 20. They are able to keep in close touch with their charges, meet with them several times a week to determine how they are getting along and help them solve problems that might get them into trouble. They also check to make sure all requirements are being adhered to.
Careful selection is another important factor in the program's success. Most of those accepted are experiencing their first incarceration in a state prison. A screening board carefully reviews the applicant's record to make sure there is no evidence of violence in the person's past. The screening board conducts a personal interview with each applicant to ascertain the person's motivation and likelihood of success. About one applicant in five is admitted to the program.
Before the interview, an applicant must prepare a case plan with the assistance of an I.S.P. officer. He or she must have a community sponsor as well as a support network. All applicants enter into a contract with the court agreeing to get and hold a job, to remain drug free, to observe a curfew, to keep a diary and a budget, to perform 16 hours of community service each month, to attend a specified number of counseling sessions (including A.A. or N.A. where appropriate) and to make restitution to victims or catch up on delinquent child support payments, where feasible.
Those accepted into the program must adhere to the conditions for 16 to 22 months. Those who successfully complete the program are returned to society without any further restrictions.
I am intimately familiar with the I.S.P. program as a result of my five years of service on the screening board, having been appointed by Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz in 1987 as a representative of the public. I have been greatly impressed by the success of I.S.P. as a rehabilitation strategy. Nearly two out of three people admitted to the program successfully complete it.
It costs about $5,700 to supervise someone in the I.S.P. program as compared with $25,000 to keep someone in prison.
I am aware that other programs are being tried in an effort to relieve prison overcrowding. Unfortunately, most of these fail to adequately monitor or provide support to those who have been released.
In view of the demonstrated success and cost-effectiveness of the I.S.P. program, I would urge that the program be expanded in New Jersey and adopted by other states. I.S.P. does more than relieve prison overcrowding. It helps those who are motivated to turn their lives around. BEN SHIMBERG Lawrenceville