Reimagining Probation Reform: Applying a Coaching Model to Probation Departments
in Handbook of Issues in Criminal Justice Reform in the United States
Not only did these changes have a significant impact on the number of people under supervision and how long they stayed on probation, but they also had a profound effect on probation officers’ day-to-day activities (Taxman, 2002). Once interested primarily in behavioral change, the role of the officer became more focused on monitoring compliance of rules (e.g., drug testing, treatment compliance, paying fees/fines/restitution, monitoring movement) and reporting any noncompliance to the court (Taxman, 2013). While rehabilitative principals were never fully abandoned, they were definitely curtailed for the “trail’em, nail’em, and jail’em” strategies that became more pervasive and engrained in the fabric of probation. This shift was underscored by the broken windows version of probation, which is centered around community safety via neighborhood surveillance and swift sanctions rather than rehabilitating the individual (Taxman & Byrne, 2001). All in all, the focus for officers became monitoring an ever-growing list of conditions in an effort to reduce criminal behavior more so than behavioral change.
Over the past 10 years, probation departments have begun to shake off the remnants of the tough-on-crime era and have refocused their efforts on behavioral change. From framing probation within the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) principles to adopting core correctional practices, research has begun to show that public safety may be better achieved through building relationships with people on supervision, teaching new skills, and reinforcing positive change (Bonta et al., 2011; Cullen et al., 2017; Skeem et al., 2007; Smith et al., 2012). But as suggested by Lovins et al. (2018), a greater shift is needed for the benefits of these new practices to be fully realized, a shift from the dichotomous view of probation officers as either a social worker or law enforcement officer to the “probation coach.”