Mar 13, 2020 in Justice
Evidence Based Practice

There have been concerted efforts to come up with intervention programs in community corrections that when applied appropriately can reliably result in sustained reductions in re-offense. Such efforts have led to interventions supported with good research and, thus, considered essential for evidence-based practice (EBP). EBP use research-tested codes and established principles to inform intervention. One of the EBPs is the Proactive Community Supervision. The practice was developed in Maryland in 2000 with the aim of promoting community safety and returning offenders to socially acceptable lifestyle. The main goals of the program were: to promote public safety, make offenders responsible for their actions and to their victims, and help the offenders become responsible. The PCS promotes individualized behavioral contact that considers the needs and the risks of the offender. Besides, there are valid and research-tested tools such as the LSI-R, O-SELF, and QCS used in the assessment and implementation of PCS. If applied appropriately, PCS can lead to the reduced rate of recidivism, particularly technical violations and chances of arrests. Through goal-focused contact that exists between the supervisee and the agent, positive outcomes are highly likely to be achieved.

 

For a long time, community corrections have lacked research that could identify established methods of minimizing offender tendency. However, concerted research efforts have now helped to overcome such barriers; thus, there are now indications to better ways of reducing reoffending. Importantly, there are programs or intervention approaches that when applied appropriately can reliably result in sustained reductions in re-offense. The effective interventions together with their principles and concepts are currently being used by various community supervision agencies. Nonetheless, the interventions that are supported with good research can be essential for evidence-based practice.

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It is worth noting that evidence-based policies and practices (EBPP) have become a major strategy in the provision of human services that focus on outcomes. EBPP use research-tested codes to inform intervention. In community correction, interventions can only be effective if they end up in reduced offender risk or subsequent reoffending, thereby contributing to a positive long-time public safety. Therefore, EBPP have had to rely on the established principles that offer effective interventions. Such principles help to reduce the possibility that a client under probation will re-offend. In this essay, a student not working in the corrections field identifies  and discusses one of the evidence-based practices found in the literature (option 2), namely the Proactive Community Supervision.

Community Corrections

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), the organization that has been supporting the use of EBPP for many years, identifies eight principles that can be applied in community correction institutions. The eight principles include: assessment of actuarial needs or risks, enhancing intrinsic motivation, target interventions, skill training that has directed practice, increasing positive reinforcement, engaging constant support in natural communities, measuring relevant processes or practices, and provision of measurement feedback. The eight principles support one another.

The rising costs of incarceration demand effective correctional options. As such, community supervision has been identified as a possible option, even though it may require an elaborate training of officers. Besides, the majority of offenders may need to be exposed to some level of community supervision, because those who are sentenced to imprisonment end up being released on community supervision orders, as a result improving the systems can produce worthwhile benefits. Bettering community supervision can be helpful in managing offenders efficiently and may partly contribute to significant fiscal savings.

Our Process

Background on Proactive Community Supervision (PCS)

In 2000, the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation (MDPP) developed the Proactive Community Supervision (PCS), an intervention strategy that was meant to reengineer supervision. The strategy integrated research-based findings relevant to protecting community safety as well as returning offenders to a more pro-social lifestyle. The Proactive Community Supervision has three main goals, namely: protecting the safety of the public, ensuring that offenders are held accountable to their victims within their community, and, finally, helping offenders take responsibility and become productive. To promote social learning, the PCS approach is crafted in a manner that allows supervision officers to be active in promoting offender change.

The offender is engaged in a change process that helps him or her to acquire social skills. Also, a change process is commenced using supervision tools and treatment options to address criminogenic behaviors of the offender. Lastly, the offender is assisted in sustaining the initiated change by involving him/her in community support networks such as family, mentors, or civic organizations. This implies that the role of the agent in the PCS intervention program is expanded from surveillance to engaging in the process of change and facilitating the involvement in treatment programs and/or prosocial activities, which help to build skills for the individual to become useful in society. The social learning environment s promoted in the PCS strategy is research-based and allows the probation managers to come up with pertinent ways of helping the supervisees to identify realistic goals. Notably, the process is designed in such a way that the supervisees also take part in the process of supervision and increase their ownership of the behavioral goals. The supervisees have an opportunity to adapt the supervision to their own needs or goals while meeting public safety objectives of supervision. Simply put, the aim of the supervision is to empower the offender.  The PCS shifts focus away from the traditional accountability mechanisms; instead, it promotes shared-decision making where the offender chooses the best methods to improve on negative outcomes. 

According to Byrne (2012), the existing generation of PCS strategies is based on the notion that community supervision can only be effective if such supervision is concentrated on offender, time, and location. The PCS anticipates that community corrections officers have to manage offenders found on their caseloads in a basically different way, which recognizes the need for supporting informal social mechanisms that operate both at individual and community levels. Nonetheless, programs and line-officers do not have to stop using formal control strategies to ensure accountability and compliance. The relationship between the offender and community corrections officers, who have to perform the twin role of treatment and supervision, remains the most overlooked informal social control mechanism. Therefore, reducing caseload has the likelihood of permitting supervision staff to work even closer with offenders. However, it is the duration and nature of the officers’ work that change in a rigorous supervision model of corrections where the relevant staff create new roles and functions, which emphasize the critical roles of the relevant community corrections officers in offender and community change processes. By strengthening informal social control mechanisms both at community and individual levels, proactive community supervision mechanisms bring a new approach to the supervision of community offenders.

To achieve the goals of the PCS, five major components have been developed. The components include: identification of criminogenic behaviors using a validated risk and need tool, creation of a supervision plan which addresses criminogenic behaviors using effective treatment interventions as well as external control, holding the offender accountable for his or her own progress on the supervision strategy, using a strategy that is placed-based while the probation or parole office only helps to implement the strategy, and creating partnerships with community organizations that offer supplementary services to supervisees.

The parole or probation agent plays the role of a behavioral manager that helps the offender to notice the factors influencing his persistent involvement in crime or criminal traits and develop a supervision plan that addresses criminogenic factors. While discharging his or her role, the agent is expected to monitor the progress taking place according to the plan and work closely with the offender in revising this plan. This way, it addresses the issues that can trigger further the involvement in criminal activities such as violence, substance abuse, or mental health. In addition, the agent is expected to work closely together with the offender in creating prosocial networks in the community. Importantly, the behavioral manager must realize that his or her role refers not only to law enforcement, but also to social work.

The PCS intervention strategy is a reflection of the behavioral management theory. The components of the intervention strategy include: the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) instrument that assesses criminogenic risk as well as the needs that encourage the offender to get involved in criminal behaviors; a plan that responds to the criminogenic behaviors identified during the assessment; a referral to an appropriate selection of educational and vocational treatment as well as other services which can assist the offender in acquiring new skills; a supervision process that helps the offender to learn about the triggers; using motivators or sanctions which shape the offender’s behaviors; encouraging an appropriate communication with the offender; stressing the need for the avoidance of criminal lifestyle or conduct. 

PCS identifies conviction charges, that affect supervision as well involvement in criminal behaviors, and fall into various categories, including: property, possession of drugs, distribution of drugs, violence, domestic violence, technical violations, driving while drunk with alcohol, vandalism, disorderly conduct, prostitution, hit and run, reckless driving, vagabond, loitering, rogue, aggressive panhandling, and animal complaint.

The Model of Supervision

Under the PCS intervention model, each agent is assigned between 50 to 55 high-need or 200 low-need offenders. In the case of high-need offenders, the agents are supposed to perform a thorough assessment or prepare a personalized case plan or a behavioral contract based both on the needs and risks of the supervisee. Besides the LSI-R used for assessment, there is also the O-SELF for performing self-assessment. The instruments give the supervisee a chance to record his input thereby increasing his or her personal share in the case plan. The supervisee invests in the case by highlighting his priorities on family life, education, physical health, relationships, religious involvement, alcohol and drug abuse as well as criminal behavior. 

Moreover, agents (officers) are required to go into communities where they are expected to have frequent interactions with the individuals that they are supervising, work with families, the police, employers as well as community resources. Through the interactions, the agents can learn or acquire additional resources with valuable insights about the supervisee’s life. Building relationships with the supervisee’s family members, friends, neighbors, and service providers can create an environmental of mutual trust. In that way, the agent can be alerted in case of any trouble that the supervisee is trying to move forward. Importantly, the agent who is equipped with the necessary information can intervene so that the supervisee does not commit a new crime. The contact between the agent and the supervisee in the PCS takes a different perspective in comparison to the traditional contact that focused on monitoring compliance. PCS agents use all the necessary contacts or opportunities to guide supervisees in acting both respectfully and lawfully.

How to Define a Case Plan in the PCS Model

The PCS Risk Screener is the scientifically tested and validated tool used in the PCS model. The screener is completed to help determine the correct level to put the supervisee for supervision. The tool does not only save time but also conserves resources because it identifies low-risk supervisees who may not require full assessment for LSI-R risk.

Implementation of PCS Intervention Strategy

The implementation of this evidence-based community correction intervention begins with the development of policies or procedures and the training of the staff on the model (Alexander, 2011). Implementing PCS is meant to go together with the development of new communication, interviewing, as well as contingency management skills that probation staff may require to execute their roles effectively as behavioral managers. As a consequence, the first step would be to introduce inspirational interviewing or communication strategies, which provide parole agents with communication and interviewing techniques not provided in pre-or-in-service training. The Quality Contact Standards (QCS) is a tool used in the PCS model when measuring communication skills. The tool is also essential when evaluating agents or measuring accountability. Such determination is necessary to ensure the communication of the required skills. Line-supervisors are supposed to use the QCS tool when making random observation of supervisees and evaluating the ability of agents to utilize different components of the tool. The QCS tool tests the ability of an agent to acquire skills such as assessment and planning, service referral, deportment, sanctions as well as ground rules.

Of note, training programs supported by the PCS emphasize the use of valid risk assessment processes which capture the offender’s existing level of risk. The use of validated risk assessment permits correct resource allocation depending on the risk level of every offender, so that high-risk individuals get more attention. At the initial stages of the supervision, officers get training on how to review and create a personalized case plan. An important component of the process is the clarification of roles, whereby the probation agent discusses the responsibilities that he or she is supposed fulfill while the offender demonstrates that he or she understands that the supervision process includes highlighting expected behavior. The skills necessary for building relationships apart from the salutations and making eye contact also include active listening, giving appropriate feedback, and reinforcing or disapproving behavior. When the relationship between the offender and the probation agent is warm, caring, enthusiastic, fair, trustful, and respectful, the possibility of recidivism reduces significantly. Besides the communication approaches, there could also be guidelines on how to apply socially acceptable behavior while dealing with offenders, for instance, salutations as well as making eye contact. Creating a professional relationship with the offender should be characterized by a positive belief, respect, and warmth for them to remain influential in the process of change. The techniques are designed to create an environment that enables offenders to learn social skills, particularly when interacting with agents.

Our Benefits

The next step involves staff development using the LSI-R instrument alongside the creation of case plans. Such efforts are intended to identify criminogenic behaviors by interviewing the offender. Thereafter, the behaviors are addressed based on the plan from the resulting case. The case plan is supposed to articulate supervision goals focusing on the purpose of supervision. There can also be a supervision toolbox on drug tests, treatment, employment, community services, vocational education, as well as support networks. Having such a plan can support the creation of a proper mix of internal and external control, which can be useful parts of supervision. Staff development can be used to acquaint the staff with a toolbox comprising different tools for improving offender supervision outcomes.

It is, therefore, important to ensure that the staff can use the tools as articulated in the plan, and this can be achieved through supervisor certification. To achieve supervisor certification, relevant staff  are to engage in a process which would enable them to acquire essential principles of Proactive Community Supervision. The PCS intervention strategy prepares staff with new skills and ensures that the organization has a means of reducing recidivism (Pearson et al., 2011). Effective supervision promoted through PCS challenges offenders’ core criminogenic needs. As an intervention strategy fixed on cognitive-behavior, the PCS is believed to have a high chance of success if applied appropriately. Cognitive-behavioral intervention is utilized in addressing antisocial as well as previous criminal behavior and procrminal attitudes. Using cognitive-behavioral interventions significantly reduces recidivism, in fact, Bonta and colleagues (2011) in their research noted that offenders exposed to cognitive-behavioral interventions had a lower rate of recidivism of 19% while those not exposed had a higher re-offending rate of 37.1%.

A major challenge that community corrections managers have to respond to is the greatest risk posed to the community by offenders at the beginning of probation. Since high-risk offenders are more likely to re-offend at higher rates than both moderate and low-risk offenders, it is sensible to channel the most of the limited resources to the high-risk offenders; however, timing applies equally at each level of risk assessment. Concentration according to time focuses on the limited resources available in community corrections, mainly treatment and supervision, at the start of the probation term or during the release from jail/prison. Frontloading treatment and supervision based on the needs assessment depict community corrections managers as proactive leaders who focus their supervisory duties on offenders trying to prevent the violation of a rule or committing a new criminal offense instead of providing supervision after the crime. For the offenders who are leaving prison, subsequent violent activities are rare during the period of supervision. This is an indication that proactive supervision that is frontloaded can help reduce drug and property crime.

Effectiveness of the PCS based Model

Firstly, PCS relies on a valid assessment instrument known as the LSI-R, which can be helpful in developing meaningful case plans for offenders.  Secondly, the case plans developed can be used to target different goals according to criminogenic behaviors. Thirdly, in PCS, offenders can take responsibility for the conditions in their cases, especially if they understand their justification. Moreover, offender non-compliance is possible to manage in a manner that can help reduce warrants, particularly in cases of technical violations as long as public safety is guaranteed. Finally, in PCS, it is possible to adhere to case plans which can help reduce the cases of re-arrest or technical violations.

The results of the PCS model have been remarkable. For instance, offenders who have been supervised under the PCS strategy are less likely to be rearrested or have warrants issued against them for technical violations. As a consequence, the staff working with the offenders have perceived their jobs as those of facilitators of offender change. The officers have also perceived themselves as improving offender outcomes by working closely with the offenders. In the course of working with the latter, the staff have been able to develop the techniques that enable them to work even with very difficult cases of offenders that require long-term interventions with addressing criminogenic risk or need factors.

 

For many years, community supervision has focused on many strategies such as intensive supervision, case management, caseload size as well as specialized programs. Nonetheless, the use of various methods of external control has not resulted in improved offender outcomes. Indeed, there are instances when technical violations have been increased as a result of enhanced offender surveillance. Therefore, PCS offers an effective model for supervising clients using goal-oriented plans based on specific criminogenic behaviors. The agents rely on behavioral management approaches such as the use of case plans, validated needs and risk tools as well as compliance management tactics. These strategies are applied in an environment that focuses on offenders resocialization for them to become useful community members. PCS is supported by theory because it centers around behavioral change, conditioning, and organizational change. The outcomes of PCS have shown that a goal-oriented supervision plan has a high likelihood of reducing the chances of arrests or technical violations associated with warrants and revocations. Importantly, goal-oriented contact between the agent and the offender may result in a positive outcome.

 

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