Feb 25, 2015 5:25 AM
A criminal justice advocate wages his own battle with crime
The Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The CEO of a Utah company that has emerged as a key player in a national movement to overhaul the justice system is a repeat offender himself.
Sean Hosman's dual roles as advocate for change and repeat visitor at county jails provide a striking case study in an expanding national effort to use insurance industry methods to help predict future crimes and steer defendants toward treatment.
His company, Assessments.com, has won 100 contracts with state and county governments from Florida to California. He has spoken at justice forums in Texas, Idaho and Washington state.
At the same time, Hosman has been arrested at least nine times since 2010, four for DUI and one for cocaine possession. Just like tens of thousands of defendants undergoing this process known as risk assessment, he has been booked, assessed, jailed and sent to rehab.
He said he has been clean since July 5, 2012, the date of his last DUI.
"It has changed my perspective on a number of things," Hosman, 48, said from Salt Lake City, where his company is based. "But in some ways it has strengthened my belief that the work I've been doing is even more necessary than it was. If anything it underscores the need for individuals to be treated like individuals, and not like the crime they committed."
As he spun through the justice system, his company kept winning government contracts.
In six states alone California, Florida, Washington State, Wyoming, Texas and Delaware Assessments.com won contracts worth more than $10 million, The Associated Press found. Although a significant goal is cost savings, some saw the price rise, such as Florida, where the contract eventually tripled in cost over its initial estimates.
Some encountered problems.
In California, a grand jury examining conflict-of-interest questions in Yolo County reported that Hosman once showed up to a training session bruised and smelling of alcohol. In Wyoming, officials said they plan to handle some functions in-house once the contract ends in June, saving the state thousands of dollars.
Hosman's company is part of a national effort that has received little public attention.
These assessments sometimes include questionnaires with more than 100 items, probing the defendants' work history and family background, circle of friends, how often they moved and whether their neighborhood is crime-infested. The idea is to build a richer portrait to predict whether the defendant will commit future crimes and find the right treatment. Advocates say the programs save money by easing prison overcrowding, and help defendants stay clean.
The AP examination spotlighted breakdowns.
Assessments work only if every other piece of the system does, too. Some critics fear the assessments punish people for poverty, weighing employment history and family background. The AP's investigation found instances when inmates were released from prisons in Arkansas and Texas and deemed low-risk but later charged in separate crimes of raping an elderly woman and being a serial killer.
Hosman's company has developed tools for the juvenile and adult systems. One questionnaire, known as Positive Achievement Change Tool, is designed for juveniles and includes more than 120 questions, exploring the youth's view on the value of education, use of free time and connection to anti-social friends.
In Broward County, Florida, the Public Defender's Office files a motion in every juvenile case seeking to block use of the tool.
"It's like playing future cop. It's throwing darts at a dartboard," said Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender of Broward County's Juvenile System.
California probation official Brian Richart, who worked with Hosman as president of Assessments.com in 2010 and 2011, said the tools replace "gut-level" instincts with an approach akin to a "medical model."
As Hosman's company expanded, he said, he fell into addiction.
Hosman took the stage before a group of inmates and prison officials outside Seattle last March and opened with a surprising message. "Hello, my name is Sean," he said. "And I am an alcoholic and an addict."
Moments later, he gave a second opening at the Monroe Correctional Complex. "Hello, my name is Sean Hosman, and I am the president and owner of a company that works closely with criminal justice."
Though he shared his fight with addiction, Hosman did not mention his arrests.
Public records describe four alcohol-related driving arrests since 2010, along with charges for drug possession, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and violating a domestic court order. Hosman was booked at Utah county jails eight times, along with other jails in the West. He said he had a full risk and needs assessment after completing a rehab program, was deemed low risk to re-offend and hasn't offended since.
"I have definitely turned a corner," Hosman said in an interview. "I've been clean and sober since July 5th, 2012. But, I work at it every day. I think it's a lifelong sort of journey."
Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst, Don Thompson in Sacramento, California, and Alex Sanz in Atlanta contributed to this report.