Promoting Success on Community Supervision: Strategies for Improving Outcomes and Reducing Revocations
With support from Arnold Ventures, a non-partisan philanthropic organization, the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) assessed supervision practices in four states: Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and Montana. Each was selected to represent different characteristics of community supervision populations, including the size, demographic composition, and regional environment, as well as to include different mechanisms for a person to be put on supervision, including states that have parole and probation, states with just probation, and states that have additional supervision types.
Improving Outcomes and Safely Reducing Revocations from Parole Supervision in Colorado
Improving Outcomes and Safely Reducing Revocations from Probation Supervision in Colorado
Improving Outcomes and Safely Reducing Revocations from Community Supervision in Florida [SCF-specific]
Improving Outcomes and Safely Reducing Revocations from Community Supervision in Mississippi
Improving Outcomes and Safely Reducing Revocations from Community Supervision in Montana [SCF-specific]
Responses to Behavior
In addition to analyzing each state’s condition setting and modification process, CJI examined states’ policies and practices surrounding the use of responses to behavior and overall procedures for initiating a revocation. Research has found that when behavior responses are not applied in a timely, clear, and proportional manner, supervised individuals can struggle to achieve compliance because they may be left unsure of expectations or consequences. To achieve swift, certain, and proportional responses, officers need autonomy to address behaviors—both prosocial and antisocial—in objective, impartial ways that reinforce positive behavior change.
Studies have shown that the inclusion of incentive policies has proven to be effective at motivating positive behavior changes; the most impactful of which reduces time off a person’s sentence. Resources such as graduated response matrices assist officers in delivering timely, neutral, and proportional responses that function to both reinforce positive behavior and respond to misconduct that ultimately assists supervised individuals in successfully completing their sentences.
Challenges Exist with Implementation of Graduated Response Policies
All five supervision agencies have a graduated response policy in place to guide decisions around responding to supervision violations, but consistent implementation of these policies has been a challenge. While implementation challenges vary from state to state, a common theme was the varying use of behavior response matrices. For example, while Montana has a clear matrix for supervision officers to use to guide their responses to violations, the Montana Incentives and Interventions Grid (MIIG), officers expressed frustration with the limited guidance on exhausting responses prior to seeking revocation. This not only results in regional variation of how the MIIG is used, but also creates a great deal of frustration among supervision officers with the lack of clarity about how to execute the policy.
This varied use of graduated responses is also present in Florida where state statute authorizes each judicial circuit to independently establish an Alternative Sanctions Program (ASP) that outlines responses to technical violations. A review of the ASP in Florida’s 20 judicial circuits indicated notable differences across jurisdictions, including different lists of violations that are eligible for a non-carceral response. Colorado Probation similarly experiences regional variation in implementation of its graduated response matrix, Strategies for Behavior Change (SBC), as several jurisdictions have opted out of using the case management system that SBC was built into. Supervision offices noted that this is especially challenging for individuals whose probation is transferred from one jurisdiction to another as officers may use different sanctions in response to the same violations.
An additional implementation challenge found in relation to graduated responses was that supervision officers are not tracking when behavior responses are being used, which impacts agencies’ ability to assess the use of this policy. This was particularly evident in Colorado Probation, where an easy mechanism for data collection using its case management system has been established. A case file review found that in 19 out of 22 judicial districts using this data system, only 41 percent of supervised individuals had an incentive or sanction recorded in the data system. This causes difficulty in monitoring the fidelity of the policy and ability to make improvements.
In addition to regional variation and inconsistent tracking, agencies’ struggle to maintain and update their graduated response policies was also leading to implementation challenges. For example, Colorado Parole implemented the Colorado Violation Decision Making Process (CVDMP) in 2011, but staff expressed that it has not been updated since its initial rollout. This has led to frustration from staff, who noted a lack of appropriate sanctions to respond to the behavior exhibited by individuals on their caseload. Supervision officers provided the example that drug testing violations lack a graduated response (for example, the first missed drug test has the same available consequence as the 50th). Officers reported viewing this as a lack of accountability for individuals on supervision and found it particularly frustrating considering that monitoring compliance of this condition requires a great deal of their time.
Lastly, implementation specific to the use of incentives proved to be an obstacle for all four states. While best practices require incentives to be delivered objectively, focused on the behavior, and used to reinforce continued behavior, consistent and clear application of the existing incentive mechanisms continue to be a challenge. For example, in Colorado Parole, there are formal incentives available, such as the awarding of earned time credits for demonstrated compliance and completion of certain programs. However, when parole officers and supervisors in Colorado were asked about the incentives available to motivate behavior change for individuals on parole, earned time was very rarely discussed and it does not appear to be seen as a mechanism for promoting behavior change by staff. In addition, CJI’s review of case files for those on parole in Colorado revealed that loss of earned time is one of the most used responses to violations, resulting in earned time being used more as a sanction rather than as an incentive. Colorado Probation, on the other hand, does have compliance incentives tied to its current graduated response system. Possible incentives include fewer office visits, fewer required urinalysis tests, bus passes and vouchers, verbal praise, food or gas gift cards, and progress certificates. However, while incentives are available, interviews with both officers and supervisors indicate that incentives do not appear to be used consistently throughout the state. In both Mississippi and Montana, officers reported effectively using the incentives available in their graduated responses grid. However, in Montana, the more formal incentive policies of conditional discharge and early termination for parolees had strict eligibility criteria and a confusing process.
Varying Degrees of Discretion for Officers to Respond to Violations
The varying degree of discretion officers have in responding to violations is a critical component of the inconsistent implementation of the graduated response policies in all four states. In some states, officers are afforded little discretion in making decisions about how to respond to violations and they expressed a need for more discretion. For example, in Montana, violation responses are governed by the MIIG; however, when asked whether the MIIG was an effective tool, only 58 percent of officers replied that they follow the formal response system when becoming aware of a technical violation and indicated a need for more discretion. In other states, the inconsistency in responses is not driven by officers departing from formal guidance, but instead by regional differences in the response guidance itself. The ASP in Florida, for example, is established independently by each chief judge, meaning responses inherently differ by each judicial district. Officers in Florida overwhelmingly reported a need for more discretion to swiftly respond to violations but that they feel constrained by the existing non-uniform system. In Florida, unlike most states, probation officers do not have the authority to respond to behavior independently without approval of the sentencing judge as part of the approved ASP.