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Civic Report
July 2000

Transforming Probation Through Leadership: The “Broken Windows” Model



Probation will change when those who run probation departments are held accountable for achieving — or failing to achieve — specific outcomes. The paramount outcome for probation is public safety. There are also other valued results that must be addressed if probation is to be successfully reengineered. These include balancing commitments to achieving just and proportionate punishments, crime prevention, and a restorative commitment to victims and communities. These outcomes express the public’s expectation that the justice system is doing its job. These are the outcomes that matter and that require ongoing and careful measurement by probation practitioners. Accomplishing these results through the efforts of probation, working in concert with others, will produce public value.

The reinvention of probation must provide a credible narrative of how offenders in the community will be supervised, and how the strategies and practices that are adopted will contribute to public safety. Ultimately, what is envisioned must also be produced. This represents the sine qua non of a value driven organization. In measuring outcomes that create public value, corrections in general and probation in particular must apply business principles to everyday and long-term operations, except, of course, the principle driving the pursuit of profit or financial gain. A crucial step in this process is to clearly define the bottom line.

The Application of Business and Market Principles to Probation

Most modern management texts define four basic approaches to improving the bottom line. The first focuses on the product, a focus that translates into a sustained effort to improve service delivery. In practice, this emphasis results in organizational efforts aimed at enhancing the delivery of services by improving the components, raw materials, or the engineering process. For probation, the traditional product improvements, many of which were developed during the 1980s, included adding tougher conditions of supervision, creating boot camps, imposing shock probation, or making probation more like prison and thus more attractive to political stakeholders and the public (e.g., intensive supervision, electronic monitoring).

The second approach is to improve the bottom line by focusing on production, that is, on making the service more efficient. In the private sector this often involves an assessment of the manufacturing process, and the engineering of changes to tighten it up — using cheaper raw materials, relying on new technology, or automating a growing array of functions. In government, the response in terms of production is often times an effort to reduce the costs by increasing the work expectations. If probation is too expensive a service at 90 offenders per officer, then increase average caseloads to 180. Or, conversely, build more manufacturing plants (that is, hire more probation officers) and increase production (that is, supervise more offenders). This presumes, of course, legislative support.

The third strategy is to increase the sales and advertising associated with the product. This is designed to make the customers believe that the product being manufactured is the one they want. In probation, this issue has often been taken for granted. Probation practitioners have often assumed that given the growing numbers of offenders placed under supervision, there is and will continue to be a pressing need for the “service” or “product” they provide. As a result, they frequently underestimate the extent of public and political discontent with their “business.”

The fourth approach, and the one least often taken, is market research, that is, a disciplined commitment to understanding the needs of the market. This strategy involves finding out what the customers of a particular product want. Once this is known, then steps are taken first to change the product to meet the needs of the customer, then to change the sales message to respond to such needs and, finally, to shift production to achieve the bottom line. The product may be redesigned or new products may be invented.

The latter strategy involves an element of risk. In the public sector, it also means stepping into relatively uncharted territory. Government bureaucracies usually do not assess or consider the needs of the markets they serve. They generally do what they are told to do by executives and legislators. Elected officials often serve as de facto market representatives, listening and recording what their voters tell them and drawing on these expectations when dealing with public sector agencies.

Fortunately, as the earlier discussion of the public’s expectations showed, surveys and market research have revealed a good deal about what the citizenry expects from its system of justice. These surveys and the efforts to tap into the public’s desires confirm that the current operation of probation and its lack of focus on the bottom line (that is, public safety) are held in rather low regard (Perry and Gorczyk 1997). By reinventing probation (through the adoption of the strategies proposed in this report), it will be possible in time to more effectively meet and even exceed the public’s expectations.

As in business, the focus on clearly articulated results would drive a myriad of everyday supervision practices designed to be relevant to the accomplishment of such results. Three key business practices must be given due attention, however, if this is to occur. These include:

  • Research and development — identifying state-of-the-art strategies for achieving effectiveness with maximum efficiency, and the ongoing pursuit of evidence-based best practices;
  • Staffing — ensuring that the values, vision and competencies of staff are supportive of the desired results; and,
  • Management information systems — developing mechanisms for measuring intermediate performance indicators and organizational practices, as well as the reporting of accomplishments related to the desired outcomes.

The discussion above has addressed many of these issues, especially in the call for establishing performance-based initiatives and the need to incorporate the research and principles associated with the “what works” literature into sound strategies for programming and supervision. A major challenge facing the reinvention of probation is to ensure that the integration of these business practices maintains a position of organizational prominence. The reinvention of probation will be a dynamic process. It will demand that those working in the field pay careful attention to state-of-the-art research and evaluation regarding the effectiveness of their own practices.

Measuring What Matters

Fortunately, a good deal has been written regarding the importance of results-driven management and the steps that are necessary to properly implement performance-based measures (DiIulio 1993a; Boone et al. 1995; Burrell 1999c). What follows stresses the importance of measuring those outcomes that connect to the public’s expectations. It also offers some guidance on what should be measured. It highlights what many practitioners in the field know, but all too often fail to emphasize. It is necessary to move well beyond the measurement of process and activities towards results and outcomes that matter to the public. If part of any change process means redefining what the agency measures, then it is incumbent on probation leaders to measure less of what they do relative to everyday activities, and more on those results that connect to public safety, both short- and long-term. The field of probation must concentrate its primary focus on measuring what matters (Rhine and Paparozzi 1999).

A wide array of performance-based results, or performance measures may be used to systematically guide everyday supervision practices. These measures, as well as any others that an agency adopts, must be rationally related to the goals that are sought. The targets — meaning the numbers of units of measurement for satisfactorily meeting an objective — will necessarily vary across states and within the different jurisdictions located at different levels of government. Nonetheless, while the targets may vary, the performance measure remains fixed. There must be a clear nexus between the objectives that are developed by probation and the publicly-valued goals that are being sought and accomplished.

Public Safety and Recidivism

As was pointed out in an earlier section, the citizenry is increasingly demanding outcomes that are important to them and that are attentive to their concerns. Such outcomes are connected to public safety. Probation must demonstrate in tangible ways how its actions address the public’s need to live free of risk or harm in their neighborhoods, at work, at play and as they travel about. Ultimately, citizens want assurances regarding their personal safety — in the places they live, at work, and elsewhere. The outcomes that are sought by probation practitioners must contribute measurably to the goal, if not the accomplishment, of public safety (Burrell 1998; Rhine and Paparozzi 1999).

Throughout this monograph an emphasis has been placed on connecting the work of probation to public safety as its primary product. A critical element in achieving public safety is reducing offender recidivism through the efforts of probation. Whether probation officers apply community-centered supervision strategies, seek to place offenders in rehabilitative programs that reflect the “what works” principles for effective intervention, or draw on other evidence-based practices (Petersilia 1999), it is necessary to focus on offender recidivism. As was noted above, public safety is clearly more than reducing the rate of probationer recidivism. However, when probation “works” it must demonstrate a capacity to reduce the overall rate of reoffending among those individuals subject to supervision.

As part of their public safety mandate, probation practitioners must own recidivism rates for those in their charge. “Owning” offender recidivism rates does not imply the ability to predict with exactness or specificity which offenders will reoffend. Rather, ownership in this context means accepting the responsibility for pursuing aggregate and individual reductions in the overall rates of recidivism. It means embracing accountability for designing supervision strategies and programs that target reduced recidivism as one of the agency’s long-term public safety goals. The adoption of the “what works” principles and evidence-based practices in the day to day business of supervision is a necessary step in the direction of achieving public safety in the long-run.

If the goal is achieving public safety through reductions in offender recidivism, then following performance measures should be employed.

Performance Measures:

  • Rates of technical probation and parole violations;
  • Absconder rates;
  • Quantity of drug use screens and proportion of positive to negative results;
  • Amount of time to an offender’s first new arrest;
  • If there are new arrests, the nature of the new charge(s);
  • Quantity and quality of individual risk and need assessments;
  • Relevance of offender case management plans to risk and needs assessments;
  • Participation and completion of offenders in appropriate treatment programs (versus tracking the number of program referrals);
  • Measurement of the quality of treatment services provided to offenders (that is, are the treatment services grounded in the principles for effective intervention?); and
  • Amount of time that those under probation supervision are engaged in and/or have completed employment, or school, or vocational training.

Probation as Punishment

With some notable exceptions, probation agencies have been slow to implement the “what works” agenda. It is likely that the “get tough” political environment of the past decade has served as a barrier to its dissemination. The phrase “getting tough” on crime is often indistinguishable from punishment. In an effort to appear tough and to embrace supervision practices that are distasteful to offenders, politicians and some within the general public have called for punishment-based approaches — approaches they claim will contribute to the goal of public safety. This linkage grounds punishment in the utilitarian goal of public safety rather than in the retributive or just deserts model where ideologically, it belongs.

Nonetheless, probation is a sanction of the criminal and juvenile justice systems. It is punitive in so far as it places restrictions on an individual’s liberty and freedom of movement and time. Evaluation research has been rather critical of the various “punishing smarter” programs (e.g., electronic monitoring) that have been adopted by some probation (and parole) agencies, if the outcome sought is that of public safety or reduced offender recidivism (Gendreau and Paparozzi 1995). Such programs, however, have a demonstrated utility in meeting the retributive expectations of legislators and the public alike. And, if they are properly designed, they may contribute indirectly to public safety.

If the goal of probation is to serve as a sanction or punishment, then the following performance measures should be used.

Performance Measures:

  • Amount of free time available to offenders;
  • Curfew requirements;
  • Electronically monitored house arrest;
  • Intensity of reporting requirements;
  • Rate of collection of fines, penalties and supervision fees;
  • Compliance with employer notification requirements;
  • Compliance with sex offender notification laws; and
  • Mandated public works projects.

Many of the suggested measures overlap with other goals of probation, especially that of public safety. For example, limiting an offender’s free time through curfews, electronic monitoring, and public works projects represent sanctions imposed as part of the term of probation. Such sanctions also serve as excellent tools for structuring offenders’ time so that their participation in antisocial activities and involvement with criminal associations are curtailed. This is critical given two important principles associated with the “what works” research: (a) structure offenders’ time in programming or other activities in the range of 40 to 70 percent; and (b) reduce offenders’ contacts with delinquent and/or criminal peers.

Crime Prevention and Creating Safer Communities

There are other goals and objectives that connect to more broad-based community concerns and needs. Traditionally, probation practitioners have rarely focused beyond the measurement of offender-centered supervision activities. Individual offenders have often served as the sole and exclusive point of reference. Given the larger goal of public safety, this is problematic. A focus on individual offenders leaves the community and its involvement in the justice process out of the equation. Without community involvement, it is (and will remain) very difficult to build meaningful partnerships and connections that contribute to crime prevention and control and to improvements in the quality of life of local residents.

As was noted earlier, the customers of the justice system are the community, and victims, as well as offenders. The product is public safety. Probation practitioners must develop supervision strategies and programs that incorporate this more inclusive framework. The reinvention of probation recognizes that crime is a community problem that requires a systemic, yet local focus on the social ecology of crime. Though strategies and programs that seek reductions in offender recidivism rates are of critical long-term importance, such efforts will fall short unless they are expanded to include two additional goals: (1) systematic efforts to prevent new juvenile and criminal offenders from “emerging;” and (2) community mobilizing initiatives that seek to instill a sense of personal safety and security in those most directly confronted with the reality of not being able to move freely in the neighborhoods in which they live. The first goal is that of crime prevention, while the second goal is most aptly termed creating safer communities by responding to the fear and reality of crime at the local level.

Within a community justice paradigm, probation practitioners necessarily pursue these goals by serving as catalysts for community improvements. In contrast to providing services to offenders only, this shift in focus calls for service delivery to neighborhoods, if not entire communities. Working in partnership with these other constituencies, as noted above, offers a critical mechanism for achieving the long-term goal of public safety.

Community justice as an approach requires that probation practitioners know or find out what is uppermost in the minds of local residents with respect to crime and disorder. This means understanding the citizenry’s bottom line in those areas served by probation. By conducting a “market” analysis of their expectations, probation agencies are better positioned to address the quality of life issues in the communities they serve. This approach seeks to enlist communities as viable and contributing partners in the supervision and management of probationers in their midst — mainly by enhancing their guardianship capabilities, investing in their expertise and drawing on their more diversified resources. It represents a dramatic departure from current practice.

Achieving these goals will necessitate a fundamental rethinking of how probation conducts its business in the community. Proactive community involvement conducted within a problem-solving philosophy will present a plethora of new and different issues and problems for probation practitioners. The solutions to these problems, however, will be found well beyond the bureaucratic boundaries of traditional probation. They will be identified through innovative linkages with numerous public and private partnerships. The need to collaborate with others in a comprehensive problem-solving manner will require those in the field to build and expand ongoing contacts with law enforcement agencies, public health service providers, economic development organizations, private sector businesses, community advocacy organizations and others.

If the goal of probation is to achieve crime prevention, then the following performance measures should be used.

Performance Measures:

  • Number of referrals and completions to parenting programs for offenders under supervision and for community residents not under supervision;
  • Number of literacy programs identified and developed for offenders and the larger community;
  • Frequency of probation officer participation in civic associations, neighborhood watch/block association meetings;
  • Frequency of involvement in community redevelopment projects;
  • Community service programs that have a reparative value (e.g., designed to involve offenders in community redevelopment);
  • Mentoring program development and offender involvement;
  • Nature and type of linkages with law enforcement agencies;
  • Staff involvement on economic development, social service and public health boards and associations;
  • Amount and type of cross-training involving probation practitioners and other professions involved with offender populations; and
  • Nature and type of linkages with faith communities.

If the goal of probation is to create safer communities and thereby reduce citizens’ fear of crime, then the following objectives should be measured.

Performance Measures:

  • Results of a market analysis with community members and neighborhood groups on what steps to take to reduce the fear of crime;
  • Maintenance of ongoing community feedback mechanisms for ensuring effective supervision strategies and programs;
  • Amount and types of programs developed to reduce fear of local residents;
  • Number and types of programs designed to enhance resident safety and security;
  • Number and types of probation referrals and outcomes to other service providers for resolution of problems confronting local residents;
  • Number of businesses established or facilitated; and
  • Number of abandoned buildings or homes revitalized.

As a word of caution, it is important to note that the public cares very little about the activities that are generated by probation practitioners, except perhaps as these activities serve to appropriately sanction offender wrongdoing. Though there are some exceptions, most probation agencies measure such activities as the number of office visits, home visits, employment contacts, referrals for treatment services and related matters. These reporting requirements affirm the business of probation, but they say very little about its value relative to the accomplishment of public safety.

Given the goals or outcomes discussed throughout this monograph, it is critical that probation practitioners establish a clear nexus between the activities and outcomes sought by staff. There must also be a well-defined system of accountability for reporting meaningful results to the public. A well-known maxim in business is that what gets measured is what gets done. This principle captured the attention of some probation administrators with the publication of Osborne and Gaebler’s book Reinventing Government (1992). As probation shifts its focus to strategies and outcomes that have clear public relevance, it is critical that their management information systems move from being primarily activities-oriented to being results-oriented.

Many of the structural and organizational constraints affecting probation undermine its present capacity to measure much beyond internal processes and activities. There are myriad organizational norms and cultural values often unrecognized by practitioners themselves that provide taken-for-granted rationales for the practice of probation today. In the view of the Reinventing Probation Council, these rationales represent significant barriers to envisioning a different vision and future for probation. Yet, it is the case that shifting the focus of probation is a matter of the willingness of those in the field to do so.

Nonetheless, measuring what matters represents a two-edged sword for probation. On the one hand, a disciplined adherence to emphasizing results is likely to increase the public relevance and value of the profession. With this will come increased accountability for achieving public safety outcomes. On the other hand, it is a frightening proposition to openly acknowledge ownership over issues that have heretofore occupied the margins of attention and action (DiIulio 1993b). In the end, though, if probation practitioners do not measure what matters, then they will likely be measuring that which is irrelevant or does not matter. In that case, it is fair to ask: why should taxpayers’ dollars fund such an enterprise in the first place?

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Center for Civic Innovation.

Published by the Center for Civic Innovation and the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with:

National Association of Probation Executives.

American Probation and Parole Association.



Probation departments, which supervise over 3.5 million convicted criminals, are on the front lines in our war against crime. This monograph, authored by past and present national leaders in probation, explains how these departments can reform themselves to dramatically reduce crime and improve public safety.






Why Probation is Not Working

The Crisis of Legitimacy in the Justice System

Poor to Dismal Probationer Performance

The Breakdown of Supervision

The Decline in Funding

Probation Reform: Meeting the Public’s Expectations

What Does the Public Want from the Justice System?

What Does the Public Want from Offenders?

Victims: What Do They Want?

What Does the Public Want From Justice?


Community Justice and a New Narrative for Probation

Embracing Key Strategies for a Rational Probation System

#1: Place Public Safety First

#2: Supervise Probationers in the Neighborhood, Not the Office

#3: Rationally Allocate Resources

#4: Provide for Strong Enforcement of Probation Conditions and a Quick Response to Violations

#5: Develop Partners in the Community

#6: Establish Performance-Based Initiatives

#7: Cultivate Strong Leadership


The Application of Business and Market Principles to Probation

Measuring What Matters

Public Safety and Recidivism

Probation as Punishment

Crime Prevention and Creating Safer Communities


Impediments to Change in Probation

Traditional Work Hours for Field Staff

Office-Based Supervision

Traditional Supervision and Accountability Practices by Managers

Probation Officer Hiring and Job Qualifications

Standard Training Practices

Absence of Community and Other Agency Involvement

Caseload Size and Results

Insufficient Use of Available Technology

Case Assignment Practices

Community Mobilization and Capacity Building




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