Transforming Probation Through Leadership: The “Broken Windows” Model
STRUCTURAL ISSUES IN RETHINKING PROBATION
This section is designed to serve as an organizational road map for probation professionals who wish to implement the “Broken Windows Probation” strategies and practices presented throughout the monograph. It is intended to serve those who are pondering, perhaps for the first time, how to translate the suggestions for reinventing probation into day-to-day operations. Numerous examples have been offered of agencies that have already ventured down the path of retooling how they conduct community supervision. These agencies provide important illustrations of how to manage organizational change processes that redirect the mission and work of probation practitioners.
The discussion that follows addresses both internal cultural and organizational issues and external concerns connected to the larger community. It ties the practical short-term steps that an agency must consider together with the broader and more complex actions that must be taken to restore the community-to-community supervision.
The overriding focus for those who begin this journey must be on the outcomes to be achieved. Those who are leading a change process geared toward the reinvention of their agency must begin with the end in mind. They must ask several basic questions. Just because probation administrators opt for change, does that mean field staff understand the essence of the change? And, once they do, will they buy into the fundamental changes that are called for in how they currently conduct the business of supervision? Over time, what will be required to encourage and ensure that staff integrates the new concepts and strategies into their daily work routine? How will the leadership know?
The structural issues associated with reinventing probation are varied, and multidimensional. Those working in the field start from different perspectives and work within very different systems. Probation practitioners have different personal experiences, and different starting points relative to the importance they attach to rethinking the conduct of probation. Those in positions of leadership within an agency must discuss the commonalities or points of consensus staff share and work toward an outcome-based system that will fit within the organizational settings in which they labor. These points of consensus serve as the strategic starting point for rethinking probation.
Those working to reinvent the field share in common the mission of promoting public safety. They likewise share a commitment to effective community-centered supervision practices that contribute to outcomes that have clear public value. There is a limited capacity on the part of probation, acting alone, to effect change in the lives of offenders. For this reason, and perhaps of most importance, those who embark on the reinvention movement share a collective willingness to push probation out of centralized bureaucracies and offices into local neighborhoods and street corners in partnership with and through the communities they serve.
If there is an agreement that there is a critical need for a national push to reinvent the field and thereby get probation back into the community, then it is necessary to look at what structural impediments exist and how they might be overcome.
Impediments to Change in Probation
There are numerous impediments that may be encountered by probation administrators, managers and practitioners, many of them grounded in organizational structure and culture. These impediments or barriers are presented below. Each will be discussed, briefly.
- 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
Traditional Work Hours for Field Staff
Many probation officers have been locked into an eight to five regimen for so long that it will be very difficult for them to break their routine. If probation practitioners are to achieve the goals that have been articulated in the discussion above, then the first barrier that must fall is the widespread assumption that the job can be done between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Ultimately, each probation officer must accept the responsibility for determining what range of work hours make him or her most effective in the communities or neighborhoods they serve. This may require that they conduct their own “market research,” in order to find out how they can best respond to the needs and problems within their assigned areas of responsibility. There is no doubt that working during the evenings and weekends will, of necessity, become part of the routine of supervision.
Many probation agencies have become accustomed to the practices associated with “fortress probation.” Recall that this style of supervision relies mainly on office-bound interactions with offenders within an “official” setting. It produces invariably barriers to communication and a notable distancing in the probation officer’s relationship with a probationer. If the work of probation cannot be done from eight to five, then it is also the case that the business of supervision cannot be carried out from behind a desk. It is no longer feasible for probation officers to sit in safe office environments and wait passively for offenders to come by and share what it is they think their probation officers want to hear.
A new role envisioned for administrators and supervisors is to move the probation officers out into the street. At least initially, as they move probation officers out of their offices and into the community, it may be necessary, especially for those who have never ventured into the field, to ease probation officers into their new roles by requiring daytime home visits. This should be combined with proactive efforts to ensure the availability of officer safety training.
Once they are out into the community, probation officers will encounter a whole new set of problems and dilemmas. It will become both an empowering and energizing experience, perhaps even at times overwhelming. Over time probation officers will necessarily develop new skills and rediscover old ones. Gradually, they will become much better positioned to create alliances within the community, thereby enlisting support and leverage in the supervision of probationers. Probation, of necessity, will become more involved in the day-to-day life of the communities and neighborhoods where the greatest concentrations of offenders reside.
If and when probation officers are given ownership of certain areas, and with appropriate managerial support, they will become more creative in their approach to their job. The work and focus of probation will evolve into one that is predicated on problem-solving. As this occurs, the probation officers will become more results-oriented in their outlook.
Traditional Supervision and Accountability Practices by Managers
The role of administrators and middle managers will also undergo significant changes in the way they supervise and hold staff accountable. The shift in focus and work hours for field staff will require comparable modifications in how they supervise such staff. The problems presented by becoming based in the community are especially troublesome for those who are charged with the supervision of probation personnel. It will be extremely difficult for many managers to lose control over time sheets. Yet, the need to know where staff are and what they are doing must necessarily become less of a concern than whether they are doing their job and achieving those outcomes that the agency has determined through market research and other means create clear public value.
The outcomes of supervision and accountability will no longer be measured by how many cases have been assessed or how many pre-sentence investigations have been completed. It will become more important to develop new ways to measure and evaluate what staff accomplishes. It will become imperative that staff at all levels, but especially managers and administrators, obtain ongoing feedback from the communities in which they work so that they can become ever more effective. The perceptions and expressed needs of the community will provide probation agencies with a sharper focus for strategically allocating staff and resources.
Over a period of time, a commitment to the new model of probation will enable administrators to shift resources. It is quite feasible that the savings realized by scheduling probation staff out in the field may be used to purchase the equipment needed to support community-centered supervision activities. Again, this assumes that the place of business is no longer the office.
The supervisors will also become an important resource person for their field officers. They will find themselves in the role of ombudsman to community resources and agencies. They will become problem solvers for staff in the field. In this transition, the tasks of supervisors will shift in the direction of removing obstacles and impediments to the line officers’ effective performance of their jobs.
Probation Officer Hiring and Job Qualifications
Given the new emphasis on the community as the primary client, probation managers will need to think more about how they hire and whom they hire. Job descriptions and job qualifications may have to be completely restructured. Probation staff will in time have to become as varied as the communities in which they work. Field staff should be hired, specifically, for the areas in which they will be working.
The skills that are needed will not be the skills that were once considered important. The ability to create administrative reports or to “move paper” will not be as important as the ability to create partnerships — in the community or with other agencies. The ability to create alliances in the community will make the job easier to do and will likely have a more lasting and, positive, effect on offenders under supervision.
In their new role in the community, different and expanded skills will come into play. Community organizing, public relations and defensive tactics will all become more important in doing an effective job. Creative problem-solving skills will be needed, as well as a capacity to work as much with adults and local stakeholders as with offenders on caseloads. For some trainees, an urban “Outward Bound” type program might be considered. In addition, for the integrity of program implementation and delivery, administrators must also be especially concerned with the selection of skilled and well-trained staff, and the supervision of such employees.
It also makes sense to decentralize the hiring process. Those probation officers with a demonstrated track record of success in the field should be integrally involved in the hiring process. It is essential that probation administrators consider what works or has proven effective in the field and then shape the new job descriptions accordingly.
Standard Training Practices
Training methods must change as a probation agency moves to embrace its new mission. Once hired, appropriate training becomes very important. A program where new officers are assigned to older more experienced officers for a period of time makes sense. This may require the creation of a cadre of training officers.
The Maricopa County Adult Probation Department in Phoenix provides a model for what this type of training might look like. It has developed a training unit to provide standard, consistent, and coordinated training. Newly hired probation officers attend a two-week training academy followed by their assignment to the training unit for four months. During this period they are under the watchful eye of a “training mentor” and a training supervisor. They carry a reduced caseload. The approach provides trainees with an increased level of attention as they learn the many details of the job. It also provides future supervisors with a highly trained officer who has completed a set training schedule.
Absence of Community and Other Agency Involvement
Too many probation departments fail to engage the community and other agencies in their daily work. Such involvement may take many forms, including program planning, resource development, and cooperative partnering. Probation acting alone does not have sufficient capacity to achieve public safety goals. It needs the involvement and support of other agencies and the community. This may be accomplished by:
- Creating a system that has meaningful participation from victims and the community;
- Developing partnerships with neighborhood groups, schools, local businesses, and faith communities to bring offenders into environments that have pro-social supports and structure;
- Establishing cooperative partnerships between probation, law enforcement, and other criminal justice agencies that focus on public safety;
- Partnering with human services, treatment, and non-profit agencies to provide enhanced services to assess, diagnose, treat, and supervise offenders; and
- Creating a comprehensive education campaign to make citizens aware of the crime problem, steps being taken to address it, and communicating the message that their involvement is desired.
In building new alliances and partnerships in the community, it is important that probation practitioners reach out to agencies, churches and community organizations. Unless a dialogue is begun and allies are eventually established, the effort will fail. Probation must build a constituency to get the tools it needs to do its job well. And in soliciting community involvement, probation has to have to sell itself and its products and outcomes well. It is important to never underestimate the value or the need for effective and credible public relations. The public must be convinced that the work of probation is worthwhile and that it is not possible to supervise offenders in the community without local help and support.
Caseload Size and Results
Once constituencies have been built, probation administrators will be better positioned to elicit their support to get the tools needed to accomplish the myriad of outcomes associated with the community-centered supervision of offenders. However, the feasibility of probation officers being held accountable for geographic areas of assignment is dependent on the manageability of caseload sizes. Caseloads that average 100-500 offenders are not manageable. They compromise sound supervision strategies that otherwise might prove effective. It is possible to make a claim for additional staffing and resources by noting that if probation proves effective in the community then fewer prison beds will be needed. The more proactive probation officers are in the community, the better handle they will have on crime in those areas and neighborhoods where the risks to public safety are greatest. The more probation does its job in the community, the less need there will be for centralized office space. Recall the “virtual offices” discussed earlier.
The pursuit of the new model proposed for probation will require a reallocation of resources. And there can be no turning back once the commitment is made to do the job differently. Just as in education, the smaller the average class size the greater the likelihood of academic success, a publicly-valued outcome. Though there is no precise number around which caseloads should average, moving to more manageable caseloads is a critical factor in ensuring the success of reinventing probation.
Insufficient Use of Available Technology
The full and efficient use of the technology that is available for communication and offender accountability will become ever more important as probation officers work in the community. Both probation officers and supervisors will need to have access to information “around the clock.” Too many agencies are ill prepared or simply reluctant to ensure that field staff is comprehensively equipped with current technology. There is an understandable concern with maintaining accountability for the proper use and security of any technology that is adopted. If, however, probation’s place of work is to be community-based, the effectiveness of this shift will require an increased reliance on the use of laptop computers (or their successors), pagers, radios, and cellular phones, as well as emergency technologies.
Technical support is as crucial to probation’s relocation to the community as is a reduction in caseloads and the infusion of resources. Clearly, sophisticated yet user-friendly management information systems are also essential for communication and information sharing on a daily basis. Once such systems are in place, they provide for an economy of time management and access to information that cannot be obtained in any other way. They likewise reduce the present over reliance on processing hard copies of administrative and other reports. Probation administrators choosing to move in this direction must design their information systems in a manner that reinforces and supports the outcomes sought by the agency’s mission.
Case Assignment Practices
A commitment to community probation will require a fundamental change in the traditional system for assigning cases used by most probation agencies. New cases are often assigned to the next probation officer on the list. This practice is designed to maintain an equal number of offenders on individual caseloads within an agency. All too frequently this practice results in cases being assigned in a manner that dissipates the limited staff capacity that is available. Several probation officers within the same unit may unknowingly supervise offenders living on the same block or in the same neighborhood. They do so in the absence of sharing information or strategies for supervision.
If supervision is to be community-centered, then case assignments must reflect a new assignment system, one premised on geographical specialization. With a reduction in caseloads, offenders should be assigned by the area or neighborhood in which they reside. Probation officers should be given ownership of an area or neighborhood beat in a fashion comparable to police officers working within a community policing approach. This makes better, if not more strategic use of the organization’s resources. Probation officers do not have to cover an entire county or more when caseload assignments are limited to designated geographical areas. Field staff, in turn, will be held accountable for clearly defined supervision activities and outcomes in their area or neighborhood. This approach will encourage them to move toward a results-driven approach to supervision.
Community Mobilization and Capacity Building
Most probation practitioners attach great importance to developing offender employment opportunities. Field staff by taking ownership of a neighborhood will be compelled to develop resources in that neighborhood, not the least of which will involve pursuing the creation of job opportunities. This is where community partnerships can prove most helpful. It is possible to envision businesses in the community, at the urging of the neighborhood probation officer, bringing some of their resources to the table knowing that there is someone who will be accountable for the referrals. These services could, conceivably, run the gamut from job readiness training to full employment.
In confronting this issue and the others above, probation administrators need to solicit the assistance of other community entities. They need to think about creating “partners in accountability.” Without a “road map” for implementing the new strategies that are called for in this monograph, many administrators may become wildly excited and greatly perplexed at the same time. It is one thing to read and hear about what needs to be done and quite another to go about doing it.
Currently efforts are underway to teach and sell communities on the methods of developing community collaborations. Throughout 1999 the National Institute of Justice sponsored a series of workshops across the country on law enforcement and corrections partnerships. The Institute for Law and Justice, working with nationally recognized facilitators, has worked with teams from 20 communities at each of four regional sites. Criminal Justice Associates has done similar work, particularly in Knoxville, Tennessee and with the Southeastern Community-Oriented Policing Education Institute, or SCOPE, in the southeast part of the country. Joined Together, a national resource for communities fighting substance abuse, links over a dozen communities who are “Fighting Back.”
Despite these efforts, and even among agencies and communities that have been active in this area for many years, there is still evidence of great struggle in dealing with community collaboration and partnership building. Community mobilization and capacity building is very difficult to undertake and sustain. There are a number of issues to keep in mind in seeking to establish partnerships with the community (Hinzman 2000).
One of the guiding principles in starting down this path is “reciprocal forbearance.” This is defined as the art of inclusiveness, recognizing and tolerating differences, the desire and ability to get along and understand others’ viewpoints. It requires a willingness to compromise and allow others to have their day. It relies on the power of differences and mutual accommodation to build capacity and broaden horizons.
Probation practitioners often think that there is a single community when, in fact, there are many diverse communities co-existing within the same neighborhoods or geographical areas. The task of community building may become central to the overall task of probation. More often than not there needs to be a realization that diverse groups can assist one another to meet a set of goals and objectives. This is especially true when addressing public safety issues.
It is important to recognize that some of the best examples of partnerships (e.g., Boston’s Operation Night Light, Spokane’s COP Shops) did not start by a community desire to build partnerships. They grew out of necessity over grave community concerns. In Boston it was the growing juvenile homicide rate that provided the spark (Corbett et al. 1996). In Spokane it was the disappearance of two teenage girls (one later found murdered and the other never found) that mobilized and rallied the community (Spokane Police Department 1997). Once organized these initiatives have sustained their community focus and serve as a model for others. However, this is quite different than mobilizing the community without a crisis.
Probation administrators need to pursue an organized process for reaching out if there is to be any prospect of achieving the desired outcomes associated with collaboration and developing partners in accountability, (Hinzman 1999). This process consists of four stages identified as networking, harmonizing, collaboration, and performance. As a group works through these four stages they begin to develop a “maturity level” that will remain and enable the group to take on new tasks more effectively. The maturity level is defined as the capacity and willingness of the group to attain achievable goals and objectives articulated in a jointly designed action plan.
The role of initiator may best describe the first stage of networking. The primary task of networking is to organize the community into action. As such there needs to be a good understanding of the power structures and dynamics in the community. Networking can begin with a smaller task force of five to ten people. Many community corrections agencies already have advisory boards that could be tasked with this responsibility. It is important that the group understands that its mission is to grow into a larger “permission giving” community-oriented task force.
When identifying the membership it is also important to understand “who is who” in local agencies. It is important to get the right people involved. There are individuals in every community who enjoy a reputation for getting things done. Probation administrators should be able to look at the group and say with confidence that this is the group that can do the job. If key stakeholders are not personally “at the table,” then there must be someone from that agency or group that can carry their message and be empowered to make decisions. If those who are involved in the task of networking fail to recognize this it will allow a key stakeholder to remain in the office and become the gatekeeper.
The task force must then organize neighborhood informational meetings to educate and recruit members of the community. This will take many weeks to complete. It must occur, however, before the group finally sits down to begin discussing the process for setting the goals and objectives of community partnerships. In several communities the task force’s efforts included the provision of training to probation officers and police officers at regularly scheduled training sessions. It is good to get staff buy-in as the community begins to explore this process.
The group has now reached the second or harmonizing stage. The facilitator(s) must now take the role of a visionary. The group will go through a great deal of visioning, brainstorming, and conceptualizing during this stage. Throughout this stage the group should begin to mature as its members learn about each other’s role, mission, and interests.
As the process continues to mature and mutual trust and respect are established, the group will move through the third or collaborative stage. Here each person must follow the example of the facilitator as a team player. They are expected to actively participate in a process referred to as participation responsibility. There must be relationship effectiveness, which is the extent to which the group engages in open communications with its members to establish trust and ongoing relationships. Finally, there must be task achievement, which is defined as the extent to which the group works together to complete the task of identifying goals and objectives to be outlined in an action plan.
At the end of the process there should be a set of “community owned” goals and objectives. Afterward the group may want to sub-divide into action-oriented interest groups. As the group divides they may seek to determine who is interested in family resource centers or cop shops, or who is interested in youth and family issues, or who is interested in treatment issues, or who has an interest in community or restorative justice. The process has now reached the fourth and final performance stage.
During the performance stage policies will need to be developed. Oftentimes, the policies of multiple agencies must be coordinated to address the issues driving the partnerships. There may be additional information or training that needs to be given to staff or delivered to people in the community. Do staff and other key people understand their role? Are they willing to buy into the plan? Will they support it? Are they doing it? This becomes an issue of developing good action plans, sound implementation plans, and ensuring staff training and readiness for effective program delivery.
These four stages when completed will contribute to viable partners in the community with whom and through whom the business of probation may be conducted. Sharing partners in accountability places probation in a much stronger strategic position to reduce offender recidivism and increase public safety. It will also provide greater success in securing offender compliance with the expectations of probation.
When building such partnerships it is vital that probation agencies mobilize to retool their internal operations at the same time. The development of these partnerships will support and enhance the effectiveness of the changes probation administrators make in their supervision strategies and practices, and in addressing the other impediments to change noted above.
As discussed throughout this monograph, these changes include accomplishing the following.
- The role of the probation officer must be redefined (e.g., attending neighborhood meetings, participating in local crime prevention activities), “place-based” supervision strategies must be adopted and non-traditional operating hours must be established.
- Criminal justice task forces must be created (inclusive of human services and/or the faith community) working together to develop enforcement strategies to reduce crime in the community. Such task forces should establish formal written agreements and protocols, co-locate in community offices, conduct joint staffings and share accountability for curtailing crime.
- Prevention strategies must be developed to work with community partners that engage the child and family in a holistic manner to ensure service delivery to the entire family.
- Community betterment activities should be pursued working with neighborhood groups, business organizations, religious leaders, and city agencies.
- Collaborative supervision strategies must be developed to carefully monitor offenders in the community and to hold them rigorously accountable for the payment of all fines, restitution, and other just debts. This necessarily includes a protocol for the public both to provide information and obtain feedback on crime issues and offenders in their neighborhoods and to participate in shaping strategies to address these issues.
- A continuum of sanctions and a continuum of treatment must be formed across the justice system that ensure rapid placement, a method to maintain public safety and to hold offenders accountable for all violating behaviors.
In order to accomplish these changes, it seems inevitable that there must be a loosening of organizational structure (Domurad 2000). There will be a decentralization of tasks with the support of a good management information system to maintain reasonable accountability. The system will become more results driven and field staff will become more creative in their approach to problem-solving. They will also become more empowered in their new assignments. The ability to assess problems, create solutions and determine priorities will foster a new era of creativity and credibility for the field of probation.
This monograph began by noting that probation is both the most troubled and the most promising component of the criminal justice system. Its troubles are rooted partly in the crisis of confidence directed at the system of criminal justice by political leaders and the public alike. In the main, however, probation has experienced a notable devaluation due to its inability to convey and demonstrate credibly how its strategies and methods of supervision contribute to public safety. The supervision of offenders is regarded as anemic and ineffectual. Its capacity to sanction offenders and hold them accountable is treated with derision. The failure rate for probationers is much too high relative to recidivism and in terms of everyday compliance with the conditions of supervision. Though there are probation departments that have strong and effective systems of supervision in place, they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Probation is demonstrably in crisis.
If probation is to address its troubles, and thereby produce outcomes that create something of lasting public value, it must confront the monumental task of reinventing itself. Nonetheless, the challenge is not insurmountable and therein lies the promise of probation. Many of the programs cited throughout the monograph, and no doubt there are more, highlight that the drive to reinvent the practice of probation is gaining momentum. Increasingly, practitioners are grappling with strategies for replacing old methods of doing business with those that demonstrate clear public value. For the past several years, the field has witnessed the steady march of innovative initiatives that offer promising alternatives to maintaining the status quo. Whether in Boston, Spokane, Phoenix, in numerous districts throughout Iowa, Maryland, or elsewhere, the strategies and practices that have been adopted incorporate many of the elements associated with “Broken Windows Probation.”
These efforts, however, and the larger paradigm shift that is underway, represent a still nascent trend. They continue to occupy the margins of criminal justice policy and probation practice. If these efforts are to move from the fringes of current practice to the center of probation operations, the leadership in the field must be willing to assume the daunting and vexing challenges of retooling how they do business. As this monograph has shown, a commitment to the “Broken Windows Probation” model requires a very substantial redirection in mission and focus. It requires that the strategies, tools and methods adopted for supervision draw on and reflect community justice principles and goals. Even more, it requires that the production and maintenance of public safety serve as the primary goal of the field.
Those agencies that have moved in the direction called for by this model share a common, yet far-reaching assumption. Probation officers must become much more firmly linked to the communities and neighborhoods in which offenders live if they are to have an impact on public safety. These agencies also recognize that achieving public safety requires that probation enhance its limited operational capacity by drawing on the social capital available in most communities and neighborhoods. There is of necessity a heightened focus on achieving public safety goals through active partnerships with local or indigenous groups, faith communities, law enforcement and other human services agencies. These partnerships when done thoughtfully and strategically provide for greatly expanded leverage when dealing with offenders under supervision.
As the earlier report of the Reinventing Probation Council (1999) pointed out, sustaining a long-term commitment to reengineering the field will require that traditional agency forces do not stymie progress. Those in positions of leadership must guard against the powerful weight of organizational culture and routine and its capacity to suppress a very different and more viable vision of the future. This is a vision that places probation “at the table” when criminal justice and public safety issues are debated and resolved. It is a vision that creates pride and a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Ultimately, it is a vision that reconnects probation practitioners as willing partners in working with and contributing to the quality of community life.
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