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Civic Report
July 2000

Transforming Probation Through Leadership: The “Broken Windows” Model



In many respects, probation is the “dark figure” in the criminal justice world. Though responsible for nearly two-thirds of offenders under correctional control, amazingly little in-depth research has been conducted on its activities or impact, except in the limited area of intensive supervision programs (Petersilia 1999). Very little can be said with confidence about what probation does and to what effect. On the other hand, probation (like its law enforcement cousin) protects the public around the clock. Probation is the untapped giant of the public safety arena and has greater potential to control the behaviors of offenders than any other criminal justice component.

Similarly, probation has neglected the area of constructing a “theory of practice” to guide practitioners. Mission statements call for enforcing court orders and providing treatment options in the service of reducing recidivism. Extraordinarily little has been put forth regarding the most appropriate supervision strategies for achieving these goals. When this is compared with the richness of the available practice theory in such domains as counseling, social work, and even police work, the extent of inattention to the “how” of probation supervision becomes manifest.

To make matters worse, those in the field with responsibility for supervision have little control over who is placed on probation or why. In too many jurisdictions, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges negotiate plea bargains based on little to no information or on cursory assessments that determine placement for treatment and supervision. It is not unusual to see the worst of offenders being placed in the community with charges reduced down via the plea bargaining process, while high-risk youth go to prison because “they have an attitude.”

In the face of public and political climates that have grown steadily more conservative on crime, probation is poorly positioned — both in terms of know-how and resources — to meet the challenge posed by staggering and surprisingly high-risk caseloads. If nearly one-fifth of all felony arrests are of active probationers, those in the field must be prepared to make a better accounting of their work than is possible under current circumstances.

How might probation reinvent itself and, in doing so, become a credible justice system disposition? While adequate resources are critical for doing an effective job, they are unlikely to be generated until such time as the public — and its key elected representatives — are persuaded that probation is more than a “get-out-of-jail for free card,” a hollow experience that trivializes the offense, demeans and enrages the victim, and emboldens the offender.

The transformation of probation from the anemic intervention it too often is now to a sentencing option worthy of public support — both moral and financial — depends critically on the capacity of probation to define itself and its mission coherently and convincingly. It must endeavor to align its practices with what the broad middle of the American people expect from their justice system. In essence, the practitioners of probation will have to learn how to work “smarter” by devising supervision strategies that are informed by a vision rooted in community values and outcomes that have clear public relevance.

Community Justice and a New Narrative for Probation

This transformational effort will require that probation practitioners develop a plausible narrative of community-based supervision. This narrative must convey, both in what it says and what it does, how the risk offenders present while under supervision can be addressed in a credible fashion in the community. A sound narrative in probation must confront and provide an accurate accounting of the problem of crime, its extent, and what can be done to address it. The story it tells must also recognize and be responsive to the “rationality demands” that are placed on the system. It must clearly articulate the goals that the system is pursuing and defend its strategies and practices as viable means of accomplishing those goals (Corbett 1996; Rhine 1997).

A narrative provides a vehicle for communicating to the citizenry what probation does. The new narrative must give the public reason to believe in probation’s capacity to control offenders under supervision in the community. Even more, the narrative must be framed as a story that connects the efforts of probation to important public values. A new narrative for probation must, of necessity, convey a vision of important public values to be realized through the work of those in the field (Burrell 1999a; 1999b). As part of this vision and the story it tells, the narrative must necessarily explain the outcomes that will be produced through probation, as well as describe the strategies that will be used to achieve these results.

In essence, the reinvention of probation requires that practitioners develop a new narrative grounded in a coherent and convincing vision. They must also embrace and employ methods and strategies embedded within the narrative that will engender the public’s confidence and support. What, then, needs to be considered in constructing such a narrative? What are those key strategies that will move probation from an under-valued, and ineffectual correctional option to one that is “at the table” when criminal justice policy is crafted and that plays a preeminent role in promoting public safety?

The discussion that follows places the answers to these questions within a community justice framework. The principles and core values associated with community justice provide the context for the strategies and practices that are essential to the reinvention of probation. Given the importance of this framework to what follows, it is necessary to distinguish this approach from that of restorative justice. Both the community justice and restorative justice movements have been gaining momentum during the past decade (Nicholl 1999). Both developments call for approaches to crime and delinquency that depart dramatically from current justice system practices. Though community justice draws from restorative justice, the former suggests a more expansive and community-centered framework for responding to the problem of crime and criminality.

The concept and practices called for by restorative justice differ fundamentally from traditional justice system responses to crime in the emphasis placed on the harm done to victims. Restorative justice views crime first and foremost as an offense against human relationships. The community’s need to sanction, viewed most often in terms of retribution and punishment, is redefined within this perspective to focus on the nature of the harm suffered by victims of crime. Crime is sanctioned most effectively when offenders take responsibility for their crimes and the harm caused to victims, when offenders make amends by restoring victims’ losses, and when communities and victims take active roles in the sanctioning process. Within this perspective, justice professionals, victim services providers, community representatives and allied professionals are called on to work together to assess victim needs, and to provide timely and sensitive services that offer short- and long-term support following a crime. Restorative justice practices seek first and foremost to respond to the full extent of the harm caused by criminal offenses, thereby promoting healing, reparation and reconciliation among those parties suffering from such harm (Zehr 1990; Umbreit 1994).

Community justice is a concept closely related to but clearly distinguishable from restorative justice (Barajas 1995; 1998; Clear and Karp 1998; Carey 1999). Both perspectives share a focus on repairing harm and both concepts direct attention to victims’ needs and issues. However, as defined in a recent position statement by the American Probation and Parole Association (2000), “community justice is a strategic method of crime reduction and prevention, which builds or enhances partnerships within communities.” The crime fighting policies that are called for under this approach emphasize proactive, problem-solving practices intended to prevent, control, reduce and repair crime’s harm. The overriding goal of community justice is to create and contribute to healthy, safe, vibrant and just communities and to improve citizens’ quality of life.

In practice, community justice is concerned with fostering partnerships between and among the public agencies that share responsibility for public safety and with forging new relationships with community residents and community organizations. Striving to repair the harm caused by crime and promoting community protection are critical benefits to be provided by the justice system working in concert with individual communities. Interventions designed to change offender behavior are part of the overall strategy. The pursuit of community justice requires the formation of working partnerships between and among the various public agencies and community groups that have a stake in public safety. The courts, prosecutors, law enforcement and corrections agencies, along with probation and parole agencies, must necessarily work in tandem with community-based organizations to sanction offenders, prevent crime and increase public safety.

Community justice, defined in this way, is a conceptual framework that draws collaboratively from restorative justice. As this discussion shows, the latter is crucial to the success of the former. The principles governing community justice, as well as restorative justice, move away from the unproductive debate between punishment and treatment. They offer an alternative that is neither retributive in focus, nor offender-centered. In terms of probation, a commitment to community justice recognizes that communities are necessarily active participants in co-producing the outcomes associated with justice. Such a commitment seeks to draw on the greater operational and resource capacities of local communities in responding effectively to the problem of crime. Within this framework, the community serves as the ultimate customer and partner of the justice system.

Several jurisdictions have embraced a commitment to community justice in their vision statements and in their practices. The following presents a vision statement, a mission statement and the beliefs created by a working group of community members and probation and justice system practitioners in Iowa. It was developed over a one and one-half year period and reflects a clear commitment to community justice. It illustrates how the perspective of community justice differs from the more traditional response of the criminal justice system.


Cedar Rapids is a safe and just community, where we actively care about each other and gladly assist in restoring community members who have been harmed. We promote justice for victims, public safety for the community, accountability for change in the offender, and respectful treatment for all involved. In such a community, we have fewer victims.


Community justice seeks to enhance community safety and well-being using a model of personal responsibility. Community justice creates an environment where:

  • Victims are acknowledged and included;
  • Offenders are held accountable, and given the opportunity and encouragement to change; and
  • The community is actively involved in the process.


  • The community owns the process of justice.
  • A fundamental role of the community justice system is to define and produce positive results.
  • Standards for acceptable behavior are agreed on and expected to be modeled by the whole community; not imposed by a part of the community on the rest of the community.
  • When individuals violate the acceptable standards of behavior, they must be held accountable in ways that demonstrate respect and allow people to change; a community must build on all of its assets.
  • Victims are at the center of the process of defining the harm done to them and play an active role in determining how their needs can best be met.
  • Offenders are responsible to understand, acknowledge, and to the extent possible, repair the harm done to victims and their community.
  • Keeping a balanced focus on victim, community and offender deepens our understanding and commitment to justice.
  • Understanding, respecting, and promoting racial and social diversity is our strength.
  • Community partnerships must be developed and strengthened to foster understanding and accomplish our goals.

The value of a community justice framework is in its connection to the broad middle of public expectations regarding justice system outcomes and its call to move beyond offender-centered activities to be inclusive of communities’ and victims’ needs. It provides a principled and pragmatic approach to transforming the entire system of justice. The strategies and practices for probation that are presented below are housed within this framework. The Reinventing Probation Council believes that reengineering probation will be successful to the extent it is consistent with the principles and values associated with community justice.

Embracing Key Strategies for a Rational Probation System

In December 1998 the Office of Justice Programs of the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored a two-day forum designed to facilitate a strategic discussion on rethinking the future of probation and parole. Innovators and leaders gathered from across the country to debate, among other things, whether the timing was right and the knowledge base sufficient to argue for a major reinvestment in probation or parole. The participants discussed whether the field was entering a period of great risk and vulnerability given the scale of correctional resources allocated increasingly to imprisonment. They asked whether probation was positioned to improve the supervision of offenders in the community in a manner that would make a difference and create something of real value to the public. In essence, the meeting brought together a focus group of knowledgeable practitioners to consider the state of community supervision at the close of the 20th century and its strategic position heading into the first decade of a new century (Dickey and Smith 1998).

Most of those in attendance felt that the moment represented one of “dangerous opportunity” for probation and parole. At the same time, there was tremendous concern about the field’s muddle relative to its purpose and mission. In fact, there was a widespread consensus that the greatest threat to probation (and parole) resided in the absence of clarity about purpose. According to a summary of the meeting, the “lack of clarity emerged as [a] confusion of means with ends: is placement in drug treatment the objective, or does supervision fall short of its purpose unless treatment leads to durable sobriety, which in turn reduces recidivism? Is speedy revocation of a violator’s probation a purpose (a demonstration that offenders are being held accountable), a failure of supervision, or a means to induce self-regulation in the offender? Uncertainty about purpose also led to argument about what problems the field should ‘own’: is it safe to ‘own’ the public safety problem when success so much depends on co-ownership of that problem by others?” (Dickey and Smith 1998: 1).

The Reinventing Probation Council believes that probation must be clear about its purpose and own the problem of public safety. Probation’s practices must be driven by a clear and convincing set of values, values that are held dear by the American people. Meeting these expectations is problematic in that many probation practitioners have for too long been indifferent to local community values and norms and largely inattentive to achieving outcomes that matter to the citizenry. Until these issues are addressed with conviction and consistency, probation will not achieve public legitimacy or significant community support. The importance of addressing these concerns was underscored by one of the participants early in the two-day forum on rethinking probation and parole.

    Despite a proliferation of outstanding cutting-edge programs, for the most part and in most places public regard for probation is dangerously low, and for the most part in most places what passes for probation supervision is a joke. It’s conceptually bankrupt and it’s politically not viable. I’m very optimistic in the face of that, because I know the models [that people around this table have] developed, and I think they can add up to a regenerated probation that will have real public value. I throw in with those who think our crisis is not primarily one of finance — though those issues are real — and not primarily one of technique, but one of value: we have to recognize that we won’t have a broad public legitimacy, that people won’t buy into what we’re selling [unless we] connect with a set of values and purposes that people choose to invest in. I’m confident we can do that (Dickey and Smith 1998: v).

The Reinventing Probation Council shares the speaker’s confidence that a regenerated probation that has real public value is possible. The public value of probation, however, and the scale and durability of its reinvention are dependent on adopting a broadly shared purpose and strategies for supervision that carry credibility in the local communities and neighborhoods most directly affected by the problem of crime and social disorder. What follows embraces the ownership of public safety as the primary purpose of probation. It highlights seven key strategies, inclusive of the need to place public safety first, that are critical to fully implementing a “Broken Windows Probation” model.

Strategy #1: Place Public Safety First

Practitioners in the field have yet to agree on the mission of probation. When asked to articulate a mission, many practitioners are likely to say that probation exists to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable, rehabilitate the offender, enforce the orders of the courts, and perform a host of other laudable activities. In the end, insufficient emphasis is placed on the critical role probation must play in promoting public safety, a role that the American people expect it to fulfill. Until probation practitioners reach widespread agreement that public safety is their primary mission, and act accordingly, the practices of the field will not resonate with core public values.

In reinventing probation it is critical that those in the field be always mindful that the primary concern of the public is to be free from crime. To the members of the community crime rates, arrest rates, and conviction rates are not as important as what safety looks like in the neighborhoods where they carry on their daily routines. In view of the public’s expectations expressed above, probation practitioners must be responsive to the following questions.

  • Can community members walk around the block in the evening without fear?
  • Can their children play at the local playground safely?
  • Are their schools safe?
  • Are offenders living in their neighborhoods? If so, are they being properly managed and held accountable?
  • Are probation practices providing effective treatment geared toward offenders’ safe reentry to the community?
  • Are there going to be fewer victims in the future?

The only way that those in probation can begin to answer these questions is with an emphasis on public safety first. Probation must build strong partnerships to make certain that the public is protected to the greatest extent possible from those under community supervision. Even more, probation agencies must start thinking outside the box for public safety, and design supervision strategies and programs that provide for crime prevention and community betterment. Many law enforcement agencies moved in this direction several decades ago through a commitment to community policing. In so doing, they bolstered their public recognition and confidence ratings and they increased substantially the funding streams available for developing new programs that provide public safety at the grassroots level in the community (Nicholl 1999). Probation must do likewise.

What this means is that the outcomes that are sought by probation professionals must contribute measurably to the goal, if not the accomplishment, of public safety (Burrell 1998; Rhine and Paparozzi 1999). Given this focus, it is important from the outset to define clearly what constitutes public safety. The concept of public safety and the supervision strategies associated with its achievement must be fundamentally reconceived if its pursuit is to create clear public value in the minds of the citizenry. Recent developments in Wisconsin provide such a redefinition and in so doing offer strategic guidance on how best to accomplish the task of reinventing probation.

In December 1996, a gubernatorial task force in Wisconsin submitted a remarkable report to the Governor calling for a fundamental paradigm shift in its correctional system. The heart of its approach proposed a far-reaching redefinition of public safety, one that is inclusive of the whole social ecology of crime. It offered a set of proposals for strategically reallocating the system’s resources, arguing especially for the need to concentrate corrections resources on community supervision. The work of the task force is unique in its vision and breath. The implications and guidance provided by the task force report for retooling probation are enormous (Proband 1996; Smith and Dickey 1998).

The significance of the task force’s efforts begins with its definition of what public safety is and what it is not. According to traditional political discourse, public safety is viewed as an outcome accomplished by the activities of the justice system. Public safety is achieved by virtue of increasing rates of arrest, the interdiction of drugs and the confinement of ever more offenders for longer periods of time. In this view, the justice system is positioned, if it receives sufficient resources and support, to contribute directly to public safety. Accomplishing this expectation ever more effectively requires a continuous expansion of the criminal justice system’s capacity to identify, arrest, and incarcerate (or revoke) those individuals who break the law.

From the task force’s point of view, this traditional yet widely accepted definition of public safety equates its outcomes with a falling crime rate, the intensive surveillance of offenders in the community, and/or a significant increase in the prison population. If, however, the paramount goal of the justice system and probation is to achieve outcomes that speak directly to the concerns of the citizenry conveyed earlier, then this definition is fundamentally flawed. It promises what the justice system cannot deliver because it remains focused inordinately on individual offenders, whether they are adults or juveniles.

An offender-centered approach to public safety concentrates its efforts and resources exclusively on controlling those individuals already identified as lawbreakers. With respect to probation, it is of critical importance to monitor offenders closely and hold them accountable while they are at liberty in the community. Yet, as the task force points out, this alone will not achieve public safety. In part, this is because those individuals subject to arrest are often the least skilled at committing their offenses. Even more, new cohorts of adolescents land each year on the lawns of those neighborhoods and communities where public safety is most desperately in need of repair. Within these groups of adolescents, many of those who transgress the law will not come to the attention of law enforcement until long after they have harmed repeatedly either the persons or properties of those who live nearby (Smith and Dickey 1998). Needless to say, targeting individual criminal offenders for correction or confinement will forever remain a necessary but not a sufficient response if the goal is to provide the citizenry with assurances of public and personal safety.

This conveys only part of the public safety equation. It may include but is not synonymous with a higher dosage of incarceration, a lower crime rate, or the effective rehabilitation of those individual offenders who have compromised it. For the task force, public safety is defined as the extent to which persons and property are free from attack or theft, that is, from the threat or risk of harm in particular places at particular times. This definition requires a systemic, yet local focus on the social ecology of crime. With respect to probation practitioners, it requires a commitment that extends well beyond individual offenders on assigned caseloads. In fact, it requires a proactive and daily engagement in the wider arena of community and victim vulnerabilities relative to those locales and times of the day where the threats to public safety are greatest. It requires, ultimately, an approach to probation that is community-centered and neighborhood-based.

Strategy #2: Supervise Probationers in the Neighborhood, Not the Office

For too long, probation has embraced a “fortress” or “bunker” mentality, where supervision, such as it is, takes place in the office setting of probation officers. For probation supervision to be effective, it must take place where the offender lives, works and engages in recreational and other activities. While the office is rightfully the base of probation supervision, the neighborhood should be the place of supervision (Clear and Corbett 1999). Firsthand knowledge of where the offender lives, his family, and his immediate and extended environment are critical elements of meaningful supervision. In addition to just being in the community, probation should be highly visible, and this visibility must be positive in nature.

Effective supervision must focus on achieving public safety. For probation officers, this requires reaching out beyond the management of their individual caseloads to form active partnerships with the local police, community members, offenders’ families, those persons who are important to offenders, neighborhood associations, and other indigenous organizations and groups. Offender-based classification systems targeting risk must be augmented by place-based classifications that address in a meaningful fashion the specific crime problems that compromise neighborhood safety and the quality of life of those who live there.

What this suggests is that effective supervision is active, engaged, community-centered supervision. The strategies and methods relied on by probation officers must reach outward beyond their individual caseloads to the community. By adopting this type of approach to supervision, probation practitioners will end up devoting a significant portion of their energies to steering offenders toward socializing institutions, and connecting them with prosocial peers, mentors and other adults. At the same time, probation officers must draw on the informal sources of neighborhood and community social control to monitor and respond proactively to the public safety risks presented by those offenders who live there. Effective supervision then is attentive to the social ecology of neighborhood life (Rhine 1998; Clear and Corbett 1999).

Community-centered supervision activities call for the development of supervision strategies that carefully monitor in concert with others the whereabouts and behavior of offenders. Such activities should serve to connect probationers to their local neighborhoods and thereby draw on the influence and leverage presented by the prosocial peers and adults who live there. This approach to supervision requires that probation officers “widen the community net.” The adoption of this approach requires that probation officers redefine their role to serve as a “catalyst” for building these relations, rather than relying exclusively on the techniques of traditional case management for monitoring and enforcing the conditions of supervision (Rhine et al. 1998). In performing such a role, probation officers, in effect, align their efforts with the greater operational and resource capacities that communities exhibit, supplementing the more limited internal resources that are available to probation (Dickey and Smith 1998).

Supervision activities that are community-centered must, of necessity, move beyond the monitoring of offenders on probation caseloads towards the establishment of relations with individuals who may serve as “guardians” in the neighborhoods and areas where such offenders reside. Guardians are found in the relationships significant others have with probationers (e.g., spouse, family members, parents, employers). They are also found in protective relationships with persons who might become potential victims and in places that may be vulnerable to the risk of victimization (e.g., security guards, teachers). The development of active relationships with the various guardians that may be found in the locales where offenders reside furnishes enhanced leverage relative to the enforcement tasks of supervision. At the same time, it represents an invaluable but more complex form of community engagement (Smith and Dickey 1998).

Clearly, by widening the community net, probation officers reduce the anonymity that offenders all too often enjoy while they are under supervision. In sharp contrast to passive case management, active, community-centered supervision requires that probation officers work the neighborhoods where the greatest concentrations of offenders live. It also means acting in a preventive capacity to rebuild the informal resources of social control that are lacking in a given neighborhood or community. Lastly, it means focusing on creative problem-solving at the local level, as well as the pursuit of community-enhancing or neighborhood development activities.

Within this approach, meaningful and effective neighborhood-based supervision must be conducted at times that are not confined to the traditional 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, workday. To be effective, it must be delivered at nights, on weekends, and on holidays. Two Arizona probation departments — the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department in Phoenix and the Pima County Adult Probation Department in Tucson — have experienced successful offender supervision efforts by increasing the level of offender contact in the community and by working nontraditional hours.

In addition to nontraditional work hours, the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department has created a “virtual office” out of its South Port site. The adult probation officers share the building with juvenile probation officers. When in the field the officers are equipped with cell phones and laptop computers where they can plug into the office to receive email, print documents or enter data. They work where their work is located, namely, in the community. In fact, without the traditional office setting, the officers must conduct their work in different community-based locations, seeking out offenders, local residents and others. This approach, if successful, will be expanded throughout the department.

The Juvenile Probation Department in Maricopa County under the Superior Court in Arizona implemented “Virtual Office Probation Officers” as well to increase the officers’ productive time in the community and to rationally allocate the department’s resources. These officers only spend one day a week in a traditional office setting. Their virtual office is a briefcase on wheels that carries their laptop computer, cellular phone, and other support materials. The department’s Juvenile On-Line Tracking System has been transformed into field book application. The results of drug tests, restitution payments, compliance with other conditions of probation, safety alerts and scheduled court hearings are kept up to date and transmitted to the field book for use by the officer and/or by the court. The probation staff also work as teams to establish collegial groups within the community, allowing juvenile probation officers to develop relationships with businesses, schools, and community organizations within specific neighborhood areas. The project has increased meaningful interaction with juvenile offenders and their families and enhanced the quality of information provided to the court.

Strategy #3: Rationally Allocate Resources

The need for probation departments to rationally and strategically allocate their resources is interdependent with meaningful, neighborhood-centered supervision. Conducting supervision in local neighborhoods and communities must be guided by a commitment to rationally allocate staff and other resources where they are needed the most. Probation practitioners must focus on those offenders who are most at risk to violate their conditions of supervision and on those whose offenses or affiliations pose a public safety risk (e.g., sex offenders, gang members, drug dealers, and those with histories of violence). The rational allocation of resources involves both an accurate knowledge of the offender and the rational assignment of field staff to those areas of the community where such offenders present the greatest risk to public safety.

The importance of accurate, information-driven decisions when dealing with offenders under community supervision cannot be overstated. Probation practitioners should develop as much information as possible on the offenders they are expected to supervise through comprehensive presentence investigation reports, juvenile records, psychological evaluations, and risk and need assessments. Probation agencies must rely on sound assessments at the front end of the system to make placement decisions and they should continue to use a variety of assessments for specific offender types to monitor their progress and maintain a proper match relative to programming. Two systems that place considerable emphasis on assessments are the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department in Dallas, Texas, and the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

In Dallas County, Texas, a Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment Services (CATS) program was implemented in 1998 to address the gap in substance abuse and mental health treatment for probationers. The goal of the CATS is to provide early assessment and treatment in order to increase the successful completion of probation. Under this program all felony probationers must be screened. Those who cannot afford the services they require are provided those services by the county. CATS has already screened 4,400 probationers. Of those screened, 62 percent were referred to treatment for substance abuse and 9.5 percent were referred for mental health treatment.

The Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services in Iowa has developed a computerized “matrix” that allows probation and parole officers to select supervision and treatment options for targeted offenders based on an assessment of their risk, need and responsivity to programmatic intervention. The matrix uses several assessment tools for this purpose, including the Level of Services Inventory (LSI-R), the Client Management Classification (CMC), the American Society of Addiction Medicine Scale (ASAM), and the Iowa Risk Classification System. It synthesizes this information and uses it to plot a position on a sixteen-grid matrix. Using a mouse to “pop the screen open” the officer finds the most appropriate supervision and treatment strategies available to work with particular offenders. After several years of good results, the district has embarked on developing an enhanced “New Millennium” version of the matrix. This version will include additional assessment instruments, provide special tracks for some offenders (e.g., sex offenders, career criminals, gang members) and more accurately identify resource gaps in the service delivery system.

In addition to the need for accurate knowledge regarding offenders, probation officers should be strategically assigned for supervision purposes to specific geographical areas. This will foster a more rational allocation of probation’s resources. Such a practice, however, stands in marked contrast to the more typical method of randomly assigning offenders to the next officer on the list as they are placed on probation. The focus on targeting resources to particular localities, referred to earlier as “place-based supervision,” affords an excellent opportunity for developing law enforcement and corrections partnerships (Clear and Corbett 1999). The agencies can jointly supervise offenders in particular geographic areas, work with neighborhood groups, share data, and cooperate in numerous other ways to enhance public safety. Several probation departments, including COPS in Spokane, Washington, and the Community Outreach Project of the Juvenile Probation Department of the 23rd Judicial Circuit in Hillsboro, Missouri, have developed meaningful partnerships with police and have strategically placed probation officers in areas thereby achieving greater efficiencies in the rational deployment of their resources.

A commitment to place-based supervision, in contrast to traditional case management, recognizes that the rate of crime actually reflects the aggregate of many different crime problems, scattered about in hundreds of neighborhoods, located within jurisdictions that may display sharply different rural, suburban and urban characteristics. It is premised on a key assumption highlighted above in the discussion of the Wisconsin task force report. The threats offenders pose to public safety are by definition “local in nature,” disproportionately affecting some neighborhoods, bedrooms, street corners, and public buildings and parks, far more so than others (Smith and Dickey 1998). To ensure that public safety is achieved and the risk of harm thereby reduced requires a strategic redeployment of correctional and community supervision resources. It also requires a major redefinition of the traditional methods of case management that frequently govern the assignment of cases and the efforts of field staff in probation.

Place-based supervision strategies seek to counter passivity in case management with a commitment to managing offender risk in those neighborhoods and other locales where probationers present the greatest public safety hazards to those who live or work there. Such strategies call for the rational allocation of probation resources in a manner that is responsive to local crime problems and community concerns. In terms of the actual place of supervision, field staff should be housed in communities, and neighborhoods where the greatest concentrations of offenders carry on their everyday lives. Small field offices should be established in such places as community centers, municipal offices, public housing projects, police precincts, mental health centers and local storefronts.

A commitment to public safety and the adoption of place-based supervision strategies requires that resources be allocated with a sustained focus on managing the risk of harm posed by probationers at those times and places where community and victim vulnerabilities are greatest. It is well known, for example, that juvenile crime occurs disproportionately in certain areas and neighborhoods and at times that range from mid-afternoon to early evening. In this instance, addressing the risk of harm posed by those under supervision requires a response that is sensitive to established patterns of juvenile offending within given geographic locales or neighborhoods. The Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Department in Cook County, Illinois developed Evening Reporting Centers. The centers are community agencies that have been identified to supervise and provide structured social and recreational programming during the critical hours between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The program targets minors placed on home confinement who face the consequences of having failed to appear on juvenile arrest warrants, having violated probation, or as ordered by the court. The success rate, as measured by remaining arrest free during the 21-day program, is 95 percent. The same applies to adult offenders.

Three years ago the Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department identified the 20 zip codes with the highest rate of referral to the Juvenile Court and sought funding for community crime prevention efforts in these areas. Six projects have now been funded for two years through the county. Profiles of the youth are provided to the community, along with promising prevention practices based on empirical research. During this time referrals to the juvenile court have decreased 12 percent overall in the 20 zip codes and violent juvenile crime referrals have been reduced by more than 30 percent. An analysis determined that the project has realized a potential cost reduction savings of $6 million.

Another good illustration of a far-reaching, place-based approach to supervision is found in the Davidson County Juvenile Probation Department in Nashville, Tennessee (Rubin 1997). The department has decentralized its operations and has placed its 27 probation officers throughout selected public housing projects, community centers, schools and mental health centers. The chief probation officer shares offices with three intensive supervision officers in a public housing apartment. Seven to eight probation officers form “self-directed work teams” within reasonably contiguous parts of the county.

Reflecting community justice principles, the agency has embraced a philosophy of supervision that views probation officers as agents of prevention with responsibility for improving the neighborhoods in which probationers live. The officers are not limited to working their assigned caseloads, but become engaged with children of any age, families that may need some form of assistance, and local neighborhood associations. The probation officers work in concert with the community-based policing strategy of the Nashville Police Department. The strategic focus and rational allocation of staff resources involves a tangible reaching out in selected areas and neighborhoods in the interest of community involvement, delinquency reduction, and crime prevention.

These examples illustrate place-based supervision strategies in practice. Such strategies require that probation administrators redirect staff, resources, and intervention efforts toward a carefully considered, rational and strategic targeting of communities, places, and times where the threat and reality of harm presented by offenders under supervision is the greatest.

Strategy #4: Provide for Strong Enforcement of Probation Conditions
and a Quick Response to Violations

All too frequently offenders on probation come to the realization that they can expect two or more “free ones” when it comes to dirty urine samples, electronic monitoring violations, or failure to comply with their supervision conditions. As was discussed above, offenders subject to probation learn that behavior in violation of the rules, even serious violations, will not necessarily result in their revocation and removal from supervision (Clear and Cole 1990). Recall that one study showed that nearly one-half of those on probation violate the conditions of their supervision, yet only one-fifth of them are incarcerated as a result (Langan 1994). It is also the case that hundreds of thousands of probationers abscond from supervision annually. The best available data suggest this figure reached ten percent in 1998. While a majority, if not all, jurisdictions issue warrants for such violators, little is done systematically to locate absconders, serve them with warrants or hold them in any way accountable for compliance with their sentence.

For probation to be meaningful, this permissiveness and laxity in enforcement practice must be reversed. In its place, probation practitioners must be committed to the strong enforcement of all probation conditions and to providing timely responses to all violations. If offenders know they have several “bites at the apple” before they are held accountable, they have every reason to feel relatively safe in continuing those behaviors that caused them to be placed on probation. Each and every condition of a probation sentence must be enforced, and all violations must be responded to in a timely fashion. A critical part of enforcing the conditions of probation is the cooperation of the courts, where the violations are usually addressed. Those probation programs that strictly enforce the conditions of supervision and enjoy a supportive relationship with the courts tend to have fewer problems with offender compliance issues.

The key is that the response must be swift and sure. This does not mean that each violation will or should result in the revocation of probation. There are myriad violations that represent significant non-compliance with the expectations of probation, but do not warrant the offender’s return to prison. The revocation of probation is the ultimate and most coercive sanction available to probation. There are many avenues short of reincarcerating the offender that represent appropriate and proportionate graduated responses to the violation (e.g., an increase in reporting requirements, curfew or house arrest, electronic monitoring, mandatory drug treatment). A carefully calibrated continuum of graduated sanctions offers probation officers a range of measured responses short of revoking and returning the offender to custody (Morris and Tonry 1990; Petersilia 1999). What is critical is ensuring a timely and appropriate response when violations are detected.

An excellent example of a structured, graduated sanctions program is found in the Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition, the Massachusetts Office of Community Corrections, a newly formed agency mandated to develop intermediate sanctions for high-risk offenders, has in a relatively short period of time opened six regional community corrections centers providing comprehensive programming, including a full menu of sanctions and services coupled with round-the-clock accountability. Probationers who have failed or are inappropriate for standard probation must comply with this strict regime or face incarceration. To date, field managers using the program estimate that 95 percent of all referrals are coming out of probation violation hearings.

Another very good example is the Special Probation Program operated by the Family Court of the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit in St. Louis County, Missouri. This is a nine-month intensive supervision/surveillance program relying on electronic monitoring for older juveniles at risk to reoffend and who would otherwise be committed to the Missouri Division of Youth Services. Two St. Louis County police detectives provide the surveillance while the Deputy Juvenile Officers implement the offender’s treatment plan. If any violations of probation occur, consequences are imposed the same day they are discovered. The consequences range from warnings, to strict house arrest, to a drop in program level, to issuing a warrant to have the juvenile detained. The program is designed to permit “at risk” juveniles to remain in the community under strict accountability to ensure public safety.

From the point of view of deterrence, an agency’s willingness to respond by revoking those offenders who repeatedly violate certain conditions of supervision may prove effective. In Iowa a decision was made by officials operating the community-based corrections system to “draw a line in the sand” relative to those offenders placed in residential facilities who tested positive for drug use. A decision was made to revoke all those who tested positive. Initially, correctional officials feared that the shift in policy would contribute to high revocation rates that, in turn, would create significant crowding in the state’s prisons. In actuality, compliance with the residential facilities rules increased, drug abuse subsided, and the actual extent of revocations to prison for drug violations dropped over 70 percent.

Probation agencies need to focus with steadiness and consistency on offender accountability and compliance with all supervision conditions. Officers’ violation reports must be completed in a timely manner to ensure that the sanctioning imposed is swift and appropriate to the level or degree of noncompliance. If an offender needs more structure, the response must be timely or the offender may commit new offenses, thereby creating new victims. The public expects that “the system” is holding probationers accountable to the terms of their sentence. Even more, it believes the offender got a break by not going to prison in the first place. It is a slap in the face to the public generally and to victims particularly if an emphasis on accountability is not an important component of the supervision strategy.

Another good illustration of a program that is premised on maintaining offender accountability through the strict enforcement of the conditions of supervision is Operation Night Light in Boston, Massachusetts. This program began as a collaborative partnership between line-level probation and police officers in the early 1990s in response to escalating levels of juvenile and gang violence in certain areas of the city. The goal of the program was to reduce juvenile recidivism and gang-related violence through the aggressive enforcement of curfews and other conditions of probation, the imposition of meaningful restraints on a youth’s movement and associations and the provision of community-based intervention services.

In terms of partnering with law enforcement, probation officers and police visit the homes of 10-15 youthful offenders in teams four to five nights a week. They focus on those youth doing poorly on probation or who are thought to be at risk to engage in serious misbehavior. The teams stop at public areas (e.g., parks, street corners, and other areas) where youths are known to congregate. A preliminary evaluation of the program found that the overall approach was effective. Violent crime decreased, and probation obligations were taken more seriously by youth. In addition, the parents of the youth targeted by Operation Night Light, as well as residents in the neighborhoods affected by such violence, appreciated the steady and consistent presence of the teams (Corbett et al. 1996; Corbett 1998).

The success of this program required and continues to require the strict enforcement of curfew and area restrictions through unannounced home visits, field work conducted during the evening hours and a sure and swift response to those offenders found to be in violation. Early on in the life of the program, probation officers began asking judges to impose probation conditions that included curfew and area restrictions on the movement of the youthful offenders. The judges responded by toughening the terms of supervision. Not surprisingly, the number of recorded violations went up, from 400 in 1990 to 600 in 1991. The benefit of this change, as probation officials expected, was that the increased intensity in responding to violations lowered the number of violations for new arrests as compliance with curfews and other collateral conditions of probation improved. Though the trend has been modest, in the Dorchester jurisdiction, where Night Light has been operating the longest and with the most intensity, probationer arrests declined by nine percent, while the state as a whole experienced a 14 percent increase in the number of probationers who were arrested. A more recent study in Massachusetts indicates that since the implementation of Night Light and similar strategies, probation recidivism has declined 19 percent.

Alongside the strict enforcement of supervision conditions, probation agencies also need to adopt tough-minded and proactive policies relative to apprehending absconders from probation. Many jurisdictions not only have a high percentage of absconders from supervision, they do not aggressively try to apprehend them. If it is easier for an offender to abscond than to comply with the terms and conditions of probation, then the agency’s policy simply encourages this behavior. Probation administrators need to develop specialized units that work continuously with law enforcement to apprehend offenders who abscond from supervision.

Given the scale of the problem across jurisdictions, can probation do anything about the absconder problem? Or are probationers free to roam the community without supervision, immune from accountability and in open defiance of the expectations of the public, the court and their sentence?

The experience of Williamson County in Texas suggests an answer. In 1997, a decision was made by the local probation department to aggressively pursue absconders from supervision. By employing a variety of technology and databases to track the missing probationers, the department arrested 470 probation violators during the first year of operation. In addition to bringing these offenders to justice, the absconder unit recovered nearly $15,000 in outstanding fees. By 1998, the unit was successful in arresting 605 probationers and collecting nearly $51,000 in unpaid penalties, a significant jump in just one year. This rather notable accomplishment was made possible through the formation of a two-person unit, staffed by one officer and a caseworker!

Another good example of a specialized absconder unit is found in McLennan County Community Supervision and Corrections Department in Waco, Texas. Two more examples include the warrant unit in Suffolk County, New York and the adult probation department in Maricopa County, Arizona. Suffolk County Probation has a warrant unit consisting of specially trained probation officers with full-time responsibility for the location, apprehension, and arrest of probation violators who have absconded. In 1997, the unit, sometimes with assistance from other probation officers, made 209 arrests of absconders. That number rose to 331 in 1998. Large urban jurisdictions that are well managed can achieve even greater results. In 1998, Maricopa County Adult Probation served an astounding 2,200 warrants for felony probationers.

Strategy #5: Develop Partners in the Community

The justice system has over the past several decades come to rely increasingly on the expertise and specialized vocabulary of numerous professional groups (e.g., psychiatrists, social workers, probation and parole officers, criminologists). In terms of probation, the language and acronyms adopted by practitioners to describe the conduct of supervision has become disconnected from the normative concerns and desires of the communities and neighborhoods to which offenders return. Local community values and expectations have been pushed aside by internal performance measures defined by the needs of probation to demonstrate technical effectiveness and accountability (e.g., the frequency of contacts, the number of drug tests, the number of employment referrals). The current focus on managing high-risk offender populations and the system’s nearly exclusive reliance on professional expertise has served to marginalize, if not exclude altogether, community involvement in decision-making about offenders (Simon 1993; Simon and Feeley 1995).

Within a community justice framework, the need to establish enduring partnerships with the citizenry, other agencies, and local interest groups is critical to the success of probation. Forming such partnerships increases probation’s leverage in dealing with offenders and contributes to a shared co-ownership for managing the risk such offenders present under community supervision. What this demands is that the community be involved in the business of community supervision. In sharp contrast to the trend toward the insulation of the justice system from the community, this shift will require that probation agencies practice inclusiveness by reaching out well beyond the traditional boundaries that currently guide their organization’s interactions with others (Hinzman 1999).

Probation administrators should include community participation whenever there is a need to develop policies, initiate new programs, craft supervision strategies, or deliver services. Their participation may take a variety of forms, including community advisory boards, local neighborhood associations, community justice centers or citizens’ boards of directors. In essence, the community needs to play a vital and participatory role in community corrections. Bringing in the community as a significant partner will, however, require a major redirection in focus and thinking on the part of probation practitioners.

As was shown earlier, the need to maintain a paramount focus on achieving public safety requires active partnerships with community and neighborhood groups and with law enforcement and human services agencies. Focusing on and achieving public safety goals is premised on the very necessity of engaging the community in offender supervision and accountability. If the goals of crime prevention, reduction and control are to be pursued, and if reparation of the harm caused by criminal actions is to be addressed, then it is vital that community members be involved in new and meaningful ways with those agencies and professionals responsible for the business of supervision.

The commitment to solicit the active participation of the citizenry makes an assumption that is more often implicit than explicit, yet it is one that carries significant implications for the future of doing supervision, if not more generally, the business of criminal and juvenile justice. It presumes there is a pressing need to bring-in the expertise of community-based, non-professionals as full participants in justice system processes if those outcomes most valued by the citizenry are to be achieved (Rhine and Hinzman 2000). Addressing this need will of necessity require that the practitioners of probation connect to the communities they serve. As noted in an earlier section, it also means finding out what the public expects, and what outcomes it wants to see achieved through the intervention provided by community supervision. Ultimately, real partnering requires that professionals and non-professionals willingly share their expertise in a non-traditional, problem-solving and decision-making capacity (Clear and Karp 1998).

In some agencies, a commitment to restoring the community-to-community supervision is already underway. Administrators and field staff are replacing traditional, office-bound case management techniques with innovative supervision strategies and programmatic initiatives that are more firmly connected to local communities and neighborhoods. These initiatives share in common a commitment to restore the community and by implication the expertise that resides at the local level to a prominent role in offender supervision. Though the trend towards greater partnering and community involvement still exists largely in the margins of contemporary supervision practices, it is taking hold at an accelerating pace.

Five Community Justice Centers have been created by the Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department located in areas with the highest concentration of juvenile offenders under supervision. The staff assigned to these centers cross division lines and work as a team with the surrounding community in community-organized cleanups, economic development, and the development of accessible and needed services within the neighborhood. Probation offices are used for tutoring, community and treatment groups, and as a meeting place for Community Justice Committees. The latter involve 400 plus volunteers who meet in panels of three with a Juvenile Probation Officer, victims, and individual offenders and their families. The committees seek to achieve a consensus on the consequences for cases approved for diversion and supervise the completion of those consequences.

Probation agencies must move such collaborations and partnerships from the margins to the center of what they do. In so doing, they must work with other agencies and community groups to establish a shared co-production for managing the risks presented by offenders under supervision. This is simply too big of a job for any one agency to try to resolve alone. Probation administrators have an obligation to share information about offenders, and participate in task force and interagency work groups that monitor offender behavior, thereby providing for enhanced public safety. These groups include criminal justice agencies, as well as child protective services, churches, and schools. Probation agencies have access to vital information that should be shared with the community.

Probation administrators have an affirmative professional responsibility to work in partnership with other agencies and community groups to coordinate public safety efforts. The development of strategies for “place-based supervision” efforts, for example, may be firmly woven into an existing network of community policing practices (Malcon 1997; Minetti and Malcon 1997). Partnerships may be developed with schools to address the student dropout population and with workforce development or community colleges to prepare offenders for work. All such partnerships, properly managed, are more efficient and more cost effective.

There are many other potential partners with whom to collaborate. When probation agencies build these collaborative relationships, they are more often able to effectively supervise offenders, impose greater leverage and accountability over them and return them safely to the community. Each collaboration that is formed contributes to the provision of greater public safety and a growing set of probation practices that are regarded as more credible given their deepening ties to the social ecology of neighborhood and community relations — both formal and informal. These collaborations serve to expand significantly the limited operational capacity of probation by drawing on the “social capital” furnished by local community groups and institutions.

The importance of social capital has been addressed by DiIulio (1995) and Rose and Clear (1999). DiIulio has defined social capital as the “socializing forces, civilizing institutions, or cooperative mechanisms for achieving collective social purposes (e.g., families, schools, churches, civic associations, community organizations) and the pro-social, community-oriented, public regarding norms, values, virtues and behaviors that they foster, facilitate, and enforce” (1995: 454). Rose and Clear define social capital as “the social skills and resources needed to effect positive change in neighborhood life” (1999: 455). The experiences associated with the neighborhood, family and schooling are central ingredients of social capital. As they point out, social capital is rooted in relationships grounded in trust and binding obligations that constrain certain actions by community members and encourage and assist others. It fosters a sense of collectivity at the local neighborhood level uniting individuals. Where communities have insufficient supplies of social capital, they suffer from crime and other forms of social disorganization. Nonetheless, social capital may be found even in the most disorganized communities where social order is in serious disrepair (Bazemore 1999).

Establishing collaborative relationships that draw on the social capital available in the communities where supervision efforts are targeted will enhance the effectiveness of probation. Several very effective collaborative relationships have been formed by probation departments in Boston, Massachusetts, in Suffolk County, New York, in the eight community-based corrections districts located throughout the state of Iowa, in the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department in Phoenix, Arizona, and in the Oakland County Youth Assistance Program in Michigan.

In Boston, since the implementation of Operation Night Light and related community partnerships, homicide rates (the intended target) have dropped dramatically. In the years leading up to the redirection in supervision strategies, the city averaged a hundred or so homicides annually. Since 1995, when the program began, the drop in homicides has been the steepest in the nation. In 1996, the city experienced 61 murders, down from 96 in the previous year (1990 was the high water mark with 153 homicides). In 1997, the toll fell to 43, in 1998 to 35. By August 1999, the number stood at 19.

The fruits of such strategies are also evident in the neighborhood-based operations of the Maricopa County, Arizona Adult Probation Department where residents have declared they would as soon have probation officers working in their community as police officers. In the conference referenced earlier in Washington, D.C., in December 1998, the chief of the Maricopa County adult probation department, Norm Helber, discussed the benefits attached to “doing probation” in the community by the residents of the Coronado Neighborhood Association after approximately three years. As he explains:

    [W]e met again with all the community leadership and said, “What can we do in this neighborhood?” I was moving three probation officers in there . . . and they started working on things I never would have thought of in my life were things the community was concerned about, [like] the speed of cars going down back alleys between the rows of houses — a danger for their children. Well, now we’ve completely rebuilt the Coronado Neighborhood Association headquarters, re-roofed it, painted it, gave them a landscape that gave something they were really proud of in that neighborhood. And when the probationers were all done [with that] work, the president of the Neighborhood Association invited all those people on probation over to her house for a cookout . . . . A year later, about a month ago, my wife and I were at a charity event and were getting ready to leave and a woman approached me and said, “You’re the chief probation officer, aren’t you?” And I said yes and she said, “Well, you probably don’t remember me. We met at this meeting.” And she said, “I just want to tell you about the three probation officers you have in this Coronado neighborhood” — and she proceeded to name them, which I couldn’t do. She named them, and she said, “Let me tell you about what they’re doing and what they have done . . . . You know, our neighborhood association met just a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about the impact the probation department has had in this community. It came down to this: If we had to lose one or the other, we would rather keep the probation department and lose the police.” And I thought, it’s kind of gone full circle” (Dickey and Smith 1998: 18).

Communities expect offenders to provide reparative services and to participate in programs that ensure some form of “pay back” for the harm they have done. These same communities also want resources such as grants and revenue sharing money to maintain the quality of life in their neighborhoods. If they are invited in to participate with probation practitioners and others in the justice system, they can and will become valuable assets in fighting crime. Through collaborative partnerships, the citizenry can and will play a critical role in providing public safety through participation in crime watch groups, as volunteers and mentors, as community service monitors, and by serving on victim impact panels, sentencing panels, mediation panels, and community reparative boards.

It is vital then that probation develop collaborative relationships between key players such as law enforcement, other corrections agencies, human services (both public and non-profit), the faith-based community, and neighborhood groups. However, such partnerships must be entered into with proper planning. There are a number of issues to be resolved when forming new relationships with others, if the outcomes that are sought are to be achieved. When partnering with other agencies it is necessary to consider formal reciprocal or sharing agreements for resources, joint personnel and operations, joint information and communications systems, and joint treatment strategies and the sharing of treatment resources. Most of all, there must be a joint vision and mission to create an environment where there are fewer victims in the future.

Strategy #6: Establish Performance-Based Initiatives

Probation practitioners have a crucial need for information-based decision-making. This information pertains, in part, to conducting comprehensive offender assessments to facilitate the targeting of high-risk or problematic offender populations for appropriate programming and supervision. Even more, the strategic and rational allocation of resources by probation agencies must be premised on developing, adjusting, and retaining programs based on performance. This means that probation administrators must rely increasingly on evidence-based practices when justifying the continued operation or retention of particular programs.

Likewise, good evaluation models must be developed to measure program effectiveness. Sound evaluation models consider not only the achievement of clearly defined program outcomes, but also planning and implementation issues associated with the administration of the program. A good program may prove unsuccessful if there is a poorly developed or ambiguous action plan, weak or inconsistent implementation, or staff who are not properly trained or did not understand the program’s philosophy.

A commitment to performance-based initiatives requires that probation agencies develop appropriate and effective programming, draw on research that speaks to what works, and pay careful attention to program design, implementation and evaluation. What follows addresses the need for developing effective offender programming as a key component of performance-based initiatives.

Achieving public safety within a community justice framework means more than reducing the recidivism of offenders. However, its accomplishment is enhanced significantly through effective programming for offenders. Reducing the threat or risk of harm presented by offenders requires the development of programmatic interventions that connect offenders to environments that have prosocial supports and structure. As Ole Instrupp, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, notes, “There is no difference between reintegrating offenders and protecting the public, because we’re not talking about reintegrating people, no matter what they are like, back into society. We’re talking about reintegrating people back into society as law abiding citizens” (1999: 27).

If performance-based initiatives are to be successful relative to offender intervention and treatment, probation administrators must be mindful of the “what works” literature in corrections. They must seek to incorporate the findings and the principles established in this research into community-centered supervision strategies and practices. Academicians and researchers from Canada and the United States have published a voluminous literature on what works when dealing with adult and juvenile offenders (Gendreau and Ross 1987; Gendreau and Paparozzi 1995; Gendreau 1996; Andrews and Bonta 1998; Cullen and Gendreau, forthcoming). Starting in the 1980s and continuing ever since, these researchers have systematically reviewed hundreds of studies using meta-analytic techniques. These studies have involved controlled evaluations of community and correctional interventions with results that sometimes showed substantial reductions in recidivism. In terms of probation, it is notable that the greatest reductions were associated with community-based programs, not programs found in institutional settings. The best interventions are able to reduce offender recidivism on average by 30 percent (Andrew and Bonta 1998).

Clearly, there is an impressive wealth of literature that probation agencies may draw on in developing meaningful programs; programs that will, if designed properly and implemented with “therapeutic integrity,” produce significant outcomes relative to reducing offender recidivism. The findings show that some things work in correctional practice — certain types of programs are effective vehicles for rehabilitating certain types of offenders. Those programs that are most effective target such dynamic risk factors as antisocial attitudes, values and beliefs, delinquent and criminal peers, self-control, self-management and problem-solving skills. Significantly, the research has also identified three principles that are most closely associated with effective correctional programming: risk, criminogenic need, and responsivity.

The application of the risk principle allows probation practitioners to identify offenders’ risk levels and to thereby target supervision strategies appropriately. The level of risk is determined by taking into account a number of static and dynamic factors that help predict the likelihood of reoffending. The assessment of risk answers the question of who to target for the greatest amount of supervision. Criminogenic needs represent dynamic risk factors or behavioral areas that can be changed as a result of correctional interventions. The criminogenic need principle directs attention to what should be targeted for programmatic interventions (e.g., antisocial attitudes, thinking patterns and values, procriminal associates, weak problem-solving skills).

The principle of responsivity addresses the need to match offenders’ learning style with appropriate program placements. It highlights the importance of the quality of the interpersonal relationship between the offender and correctional staff member. The research shows that programmatic interventions are most effective when those working with the offender are respectful, caring, concerned, interested, enthusiastic, and engaged. Correctional workers must also model behavior and reinforce prosocial alternatives to antisocial styles of thinking, feeling, and acting. They must provide concrete assistance to the offender, help the offender in problem-solving efforts, and advocate for the offender in community settings. The most effective interventions are those responsive to individual differences.

According to this research, those interventions that begin with a general assessment of risk, target criminogenic needs and match programming appropriately with offenders’ learning styles and needs are more effective than those that do not. In addition, the research speaks to the importance of program design and implementation. If a program is to be effective, the program administrators must ensure a consistent and sustained focus on “therapeutic integrity.” Those programs that work continue over a fairly long period of time and do what they set out to do (Gendreau, Goggin, and Smith, forthcoming).

A commitment to performance-based initiatives requires that probation administrators be attentive to the level of support for the programmatic initiatives adopted by their agency. This includes measuring staff attitudes towards the tools used for offender assessments and treatment and staff understanding and buy-in with the program goals and outcomes. It also means that probation administrators must understand the importance of developing good action and implementation plans.

Proper program implementation necessarily starts by collecting base-line information, followed by program and staff assessments. The next step involves developing time frames for the management and implementation of an action plan. It is essential that effective oversight occur to guard against program drift, or informal efforts by staff that by intent or lack of understanding seeks to change or modify the original goals or design of the program.

Probation agencies need to employ performance-based initiatives that are properly implemented and that meet their stated goals. In doing so, managers and staff will be better positioned to deploy their limited resources more effectively. The development and implementation of strong program models are essential elements of managing probation agencies now and they will remain so in the future.

Strategy #7: Cultivate Strong Leadership

This monograph has identified the key strategies that are necessary for building a rational and effective probation system. In the final analysis, however, leadership is the most important element in reengineering probation towards a system that has clear values, emphasizes public safety, rationally allocates resources, provides meaningful supervision and a quick response to violations, practices inclusiveness and assumes accountability for results.

As Beto, Corbett, and DiIulio (2000) point out, probation leadership does not come from some unwieldy state bureaucracy, nor does it emanate from the work of committees. Leadership comes from individuals — individuals who care about probation, and who are not satisfied with the status quo. It comes from those who possess the courage to acknowledge that all is not well with the profession and the vision and dedication to do something about it.

There is a wealth of talent in the probation profession, yet much of the talent remains unchallenged, untapped, and misdirected. If practitioners are content with having probation remain under funded, under appreciated, and unknown, then they need to do nothing but remain on the current path; one that has produced ineffectual practices and increasing irrelevance. If though they want probation to assume its rightful place in the criminal justice system, then it is incumbent on practitioners to step up to the task of leadership (Beto, Corbett, and DiIulio, 2000).

Stepping up to this task will, however, require that probation administrators carefully consider the topic of leadership and what it will demand of them. This is because the definition, the methods, and the expectations of leadership have changed dramatically during the past several decades. If, as many believe, there is a void in public leadership today, it is the result of several factors (Seiter 1999). First, the presence of leadership is much harder to identify today than it was in the past. This is because the process of leading organizations and agencies is more long-term and less situational. Second, as many leaders in the public sector have found, their personal character is often challenged, and their flaws or failings used to undermine their good faith efforts to produce meaningful change. Finally, given the close scrutiny correctional leaders experience from legislators and the public alike, those who attempt to go too far too quickly in terms of innovation and change run the risk of becoming controversial, if not vulnerable, to removal from their position.

As Corbett notes in a special issue of Corrections Management Quarterly devoted to this topic, leadership is discussed at far greater length than it is understood. And it is to be contrasted sharply with the myriad, yet critical responsibilities that are part of management. In a fitting observation of just how elusive the task of defining leadership is, he states:

    Leadership is poetry where management is prose. Leadership is tomorrow, not today — dreams not realities. ‘What if . . . ,’ not ‘yes, but . . . .’ Leadership means risk and danger, not safety and security. It inspires; it does not mollify. It’s jazz, not classical — hard rock, not easy listening. Leadership will scare you, worry you sick, infuriate you, make you crazy but never bore you and at the end of the day, take you places management has never visited and is not curious about. It is hell bent, over the top, and in your face. It takes no prisoners. It is all high wire, no net. It is a contact sport and when you win, you win big. It is the big dance (1999: vi).

Leadership is by Corbett’s own acknowledgement even more than the metaphor above suggests. Today, leadership is more diffuse than in years past, less command and control-centered. It involves an active commitment to team building and staff empowerment. What this means is that the tasks of leadership have changed as well.

In an important work addressing strategic management in the public sector, Moore (1995) argues that public sector leadership requires a particular commitment by those who are in charge. Those individuals who enjoy direct authority over the allocation of public resources and who are held accountable for performance, that is, those leaders who are the primary stewards of their agencies, are responsible through their work for creating public value. Managerial success and the leadership to achieve such success means “initiating and reshaping public sector enterprises in ways that increase their value to the public in both the short- and the long-run” (Moore 1995:10).

According to Moore, it is the task of those who lead and manage agencies in the public sector to produce “value creating organizations.” In this view, public managers are seen as “explorers” who are committed in their work to discovering, defining and then marshalling the resources to produce public value. Such a commitment goes well beyond figuring out how best to accomplish the various purposes mandated for an agency. It requires that those who lead, if not the workforce as a whole, act as principled players in discovering and defining what it is that is publicly valuable to do.

The stewards of public sector agencies are responsible, of course, for ensuring a certain measure of continuity. But they are also innovators who must of necessity seek to change what their organizations do and how they go about doing it. This may, at times, mean increasing operational efficiencies or adopting new programs that respond to a new public or political need. On other occasions, it may require redefining the agency’s mission or redirecting resources for alternative purposes. Ultimately, it means focusing unflinchingly on how the conduct of the agency and the efforts of its workforce produce clear public value.

The leaders and practitioners of probation must consider how and in what ways their vision and actions move their agencies toward the creation of public value. However, there is another critical element in providing leadership in the public sector. That is the additional and vital need to “embrace accountability” for producing the changes that are necessary (Moore, 1995: 273). Embracing accountability means clearly articulating the organization’s goals with those who oversee its operation and committing the agency to achieving concrete objectives responsive to these goals. In terms of probation, embracing accountability requires a far reaching, if not tenacious, commitment to pursuing outcomes that contribute tangibly to public safety.

Such actions seek to stimulate and focus public expectations rather than to insulate the agency from the incessant and often conflicting demands it invariably encounters. This adds a political dimension to leadership. Yet, in several instances which Moore cites such actions by the leadership triggered significant improvements in the organizations affected. The leadership effected substantial changes by commanding greater political support from the agency’s external environment and by anchoring specific objectives with the agency’s overseers. In so doing, these leaders’ “strategic visions ceased being the idiosyncratic views of transient figureheads, instead becoming a ‘reality’ to which the organizations had to respond” (Moore 1995: 274).

Taking such steps, albeit within a commitment to a long-term change process, will require that the leadership in probation concern itself with the direction it is seeking to move towards. Clear (1999: 14) argues that the “field has a desperate need for leaders who are able to bring the content of the organization’s work sharply to the forefront of everyone’s awareness — inside and outside the organization.” With this in mind, Clear notes that correctional leaders must embrace three major attitudinal shifts if they are to be effective. These shifts or themes have direct applicability to probation administrators who are committed to reinventing probation from within the strategic framework of community justice.

The first shift requires a change from the “get tough” rhetoric that often characterizes public policy pronouncements on corrections to an agenda that targets the community’s quality of life. Rather than seeking how to become tougher in dealing with offenders, Clear proposes asking what it is that corrections can do, and what steps it can take to improve the quality of life in communities across the land. Posing the question in this manner moves the discussion towards the ends of correctional work and away from the means of punishment. It defines the quality of community life as the primary end to be pursued. It provides the context and a focus for building support for community-centered supervision strategies and practices. Needless to say, this redirection offers a more positive pursuit for those committed to making a difference in the field.

The second shift requires a commitment to move beyond professionalism to embrace the democracy of citizen partnerships. Clear argues that the field of corrections, and by implication probation, has become isolated and estranged from those it presumably serves — citizens in the community. Probation professionals and other practitioners in the justice system, as noted in an earlier section of the monograph, have assumed an internal system discourse and a claim to special expertise that effectively excludes meaningful citizen participation or involvement in decision-making about offenders

It is not necessary that those in the field deny the professional importance of their training or the expertise they bring to their work. However, probation leaders must recognize that the work they do represents public policy and must at all times be focused on creating public value. There are numerous publics with which the efforts of probation practitioners must connect. These publics move well beyond offenders and their families. They are inclusive of local neighborhood groups, community organizations, the faith community, and other agencies and organizations that work with or are impacted by the problem of crime.

Finally, Clear notes that effective leadership must encourage staff to step well beyond the standard routines of offender case management to the creativity of problem-solving. The correctional environment has grown more complex during the past several decades requiring decision-making systems that are responsive to the “white water” of incessant change. Offender case management systems are typically designed to deal with the average case in fast moving settings where average cases are not the norm. Such systems offer tools for field staff, but not a problem-solving philosophy. The adoption of a philosophy that emphasizes creative problem-solving draws on and moves beyond a traditional case management approach. As Clear states, “it redefines the worker’s task from implementing defensible policies to locating workable solutions” (1999: 17). The challenge for correctional leadership is to guide staff in the use of effective case management strategies for supervision bounded by a work ethic and philosophy that accents the importance of problem-solving.

Effective leadership is an indispensable element when it comes to reengineering the field of probation. It requires a willingness to create something of public value by steering an agency toward a vision that energizes and a philosophy of management that empowers all staff. Ultimately, it demands that those who are entrusted with the mantle of leadership embrace accountability for producing outcomes that matter.

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Center for Civic Innovation.

Published by the Center for Civic Innovation and the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with:

National Association of Probation Executives.

American Probation and Parole Association.



Probation departments, which supervise over 3.5 million convicted criminals, are on the front lines in our war against crime. This monograph, authored by past and present national leaders in probation, explains how these departments can reform themselves to dramatically reduce crime and improve public safety.






Why Probation is Not Working

The Crisis of Legitimacy in the Justice System

Poor to Dismal Probationer Performance

The Breakdown of Supervision

The Decline in Funding

Probation Reform: Meeting the Public’s Expectations

What Does the Public Want from the Justice System?

What Does the Public Want from Offenders?

Victims: What Do They Want?

What Does the Public Want From Justice?


Community Justice and a New Narrative for Probation

Embracing Key Strategies for a Rational Probation System

#1: Place Public Safety First

#2: Supervise Probationers in the Neighborhood, Not the Office

#3: Rationally Allocate Resources

#4: Provide for Strong Enforcement of Probation Conditions and a Quick Response to Violations

#5: Develop Partners in the Community

#6: Establish Performance-Based Initiatives

#7: Cultivate Strong Leadership


The Application of Business and Market Principles to Probation

Measuring What Matters

Public Safety and Recidivism

Probation as Punishment

Crime Prevention and Creating Safer Communities


Impediments to Change in Probation

Traditional Work Hours for Field Staff

Office-Based Supervision

Traditional Supervision and Accountability Practices by Managers

Probation Officer Hiring and Job Qualifications

Standard Training Practices

Absence of Community and Other Agency Involvement

Caseload Size and Results

Insufficient Use of Available Technology

Case Assignment Practices

Community Mobilization and Capacity Building




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