Responding to violations
Research findings are mixed on how violations should be addressed. Previous research pointed to models such as Project Hope to administer swift and certain sanctions. In this model, every violation, regardless of individual circumstances that led to the violation, receives a sanction and receives it immediately. Thus, there was a direct connection to the violation, and the sanction received (Alm, 2016). Early evaluations found this model effective at reducing revocations and increasing probation success (Hawken and Kleiman, 2009). More recent research has questioned its effectiveness by finding that few programs actually reduce violations or recidivism (Cullen et al., 2018).
Graduated sanctions may be another technique used to respond to violations. This involves prescribed escalating responses to violations (O’Connell et al., 2016; Taxman et al., 1999). For instance, a positive drug test may result in additional drug treatment. Graduated sanctions give officers options that can increase in severity if the violations continue. The sanctions are often formulated through sanctions grids or scales that guide the officer’s discretion and gives them choices to address the violations (Burke, 1993). The benefits of sanctions grids are that violations are handled in a more consistent manner between officers as well as allow for an appropriate response to violations based on the risk level of the individual (Steiner et al., 2011a). However, some violations while on supervision will naturally happen and may not need a sanction. Additionally, officers may need to have the discretion to respond to different situations or reasons for the violation (Klingele, 2013). There are limited evaluations on the effectiveness of sanctions grids and the research that does exist is mixed. Some studies find grids useful in reducing revocations or reducing the use of jail sanctions, while others suggest the use of progressive sanctions increases the risk of revocation (Kramer et al., 2008; Martin and Van Dine, 2008; Rengifo and Scott-Hayward, 2008).
Potentially similar to sanctions grids some European countries enforce formalised national guidelines for probation officers in order to standardise revocation and curtail probation officer discretion (Beyens and Persson, 2018). These guidelines dictate how many appointments an individual on supervision is allowed to miss, how many warnings may be issued before a revocation, and which reasons are acceptable for excusing an individual’s appointment absence. Even with national guidelines, there is still room for discretion (Beyens and Persson, 2017). In Lithuania, no national guidelines for revocation exist. However, probation officer performance is tied directly to the number of successful completions, so officers may feel incentivised to minimise revocations on their caseloads (Hucklesby et al., 2017).
One factor that drives discretion and sanctions is the availability of community-based options to exercise one’s discretion. Community sanctions may include what are referred to as intermediate sanctions and could include outpatient programs, treatment facilities, or electronic home monitoring (Rhine, 1993). Rural areas commonly have fewer available options (Garland et al., 2011), which might impact officers’ responses to violations. If officers do not feel as though they have community or departmental resources to respond to violations, they may see no other option besides incarceration.