According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at the end of 2013 there were an estimated 4.75 million adults under community supervision. While this was down nearly 30,000 from 2012, it still means an average of one in 51 adults is in such a position. Those high numbers have strained the caseload of community corrections departments, many of which do not have a large number of probation or parole officers.
That was the exact problem facing Lee County Probation Department (LCPD). The ongoing goal of LCPD is to increase the number and length of face-to-face contacts with probationers for the purpose of reducing rearrest and probation violations, but with just 14 probation officers and nearly 3,000 cases, its resources were strained. LCPD realized it needed help.
“The overall goal in requesting assistance was to best determine which risk instrument tool should be utilized to classify probationers in accordance with risk factors,” says Ms. Liza Maldonado, Lee County Criminal Division Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. “We recognized the fact that we needed to utilize our resources in the most efficient manner.”
LCPD sought assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) to ensure those who needed the most oversight were receiving it and help the department make the best possible use of its resources.
Cultivating Change in the Probation Process
To help better understand and analyze the problem, and offer solutions, BJA selected Mark Carey and Madeline (Mimi) Carter from The Carey Group to provide technical assistance (TA) to LCPD. Mr. Carey and Ms. Carter noted from the outset that LCPD was very well-equipped for change—it had a strong leadership team that wanted to improve and a progressive-minded staff. The primary outcome LCPD sought to achieve through this TA was to differentiate the level of supervision based on risk to reoffend, allowing them to spend more time on high-risk cases and less time on low-risk ones. To help, LCPD was interested in implementing an actuarial risk instrument that would support classification of probationers by risk. To this end, The Carey Group spent two days onsite with LCPD, conducting interviews, surveying staff, and observing operations, to see how LCPD could better improve their processes and select/implement such a tool.
“We could tell they wanted to make sure they did the best possible job in terms of public safety,” noted Mr. Carey. “In the course of our work with them, it became pretty clear what needed to happen.” Although there were a number of recommendations stemming from this work, The Carey Group emphasized the overarching need for LCPD to prioritize its supervision services.
Review the current caseload and restructure it based on need: The Carey Group recommended that for a short period of time LCPD implement the use of a tool called the Proxy Risk Triage Screener in order to gather information about the recidivism risk of the population typically supervised by the agency. Data from the first 60 days of collection identified 46 percent of LCPD’s cases as low-risk, 36 percent as moderate-risk, and 18 percent high-risk. This information is being used to support LCPD’s reallocation of caseloads and establishment of differential supervision levels to ensure each risk level is managed in accordance to the risk principle (increasing levels of supervision level for higher risk cases).
Establish differential caseloads based upon assessed level of risk: The average LCPD officer manages nearly 250 cases at any given time, with each probationer seen by LCPD an average of five times over a six- to 12-month supervision period. While the Proxy Risk Triage Screener was used to develop a preliminary understanding of the current caseload, LCPD seeks to establish a long-term strategy for assessing risk and assigning probationers to supervision levels accordingly. As noted by the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA):
“Not every offender needs the same type or amount of supervision. To be effective and efficient, there must be varying amounts of supervision provided to offenders. The more serious or higher priority cases are assigned a greater level of supervision, meaning that the officer will be expected to have more frequent contact with that offender. Lower priority cases demand less time of the caseload officer.”
Effective supervision requires that officers invest greater time and resources, particularly with moderate to high-risk probationers, while low-risk probationers could use less contact. APPA sets the following standards for case to staff ratios: 20:1 for intensive supervision caseloads; 50:1 for moderate to high-risk cases; 200:1 for low-risk cases. By choosing a tool to help them prioritize its cases, LCPD can work toward achieving these caseload standards, reduce recidivism rates, and ultimately save time and resources.
The Carey Group’s TA culminated with specific recommendations to help LCPD achieve its primary goal: to begin to implement data-driven decisionmaking into the day-to-day processes of the probation department. According to Maldonado, LCPD has implemented the Proxy Risk Triage Screener for initial probationer classification and is in the process of finalizing a differentiated case supervision model. LCPD hopes to implement the model this spring.
Both Mr. Carey and Ms. Carter see a positive future for LCPD. “We were incredibly impressed by how responsive and progressive they are,” Mr. Carey noted. “We were extremely pleased with their engagement and level of involvement in the technical assistance.”
If you would like more information about prioritizing probation in Lee County, or if your community is in need of similar assistance or you know of a community that would benefit from these types of offender supervision strategies, please contact BJA NTTAC at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.
To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future BJA NTTAC TTA Spotlight, please email BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.