10 Ways Juvenile Probation Can Meet the Coronavirus Challenge

Posted May 13, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young person attending school from home during social distancing.

Ten rec­om­men­da­tions from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion offer time­ly guid­ance to pro­ba­tion lead­ers who are adjust­ing their pro­ba­tion prac­tices in light of COVID-19. Juve­nile courts and pro­ba­tion agen­cies con­tin­ue to pro­vide sup­port and ser­vices to young peo­ple on pro­ba­tion despite such obsta­cles as less fre­quent court ses­sions, social dis­tanc­ing and uneven access to tech­nol­o­gy. How these lead­ers adapt prac­tices mat­ters. Pro­ba­tion pow­er­ful­ly affects the lives of court-involved youth and can pos­i­tive­ly influ­ence pub­lic safe­ty when its prac­tices fol­low what works to reduce delin­quen­cy in young people.

Under COVID-19 restric­tions, the pro­ba­tion field is lean­ing more heav­i­ly on young people’s fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties as part­ners to pro­vide the kinds of sup­port that youth on pro­ba­tion need now,” says Steve Bish­op, senior asso­ciate at the Foun­da­tion. Juve­nile courts and pro­ba­tion agen­cies are exper­i­ment­ing with approach­es that could leave the field stronger after the pandemic.”

Improv­ing juve­nile probation

The fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions are based on the Casey Foundation’s vision for mod­ern­iz­ing juve­nile pro­ba­tion.

1. Max­i­mize diver­sion from juve­nile court

Divert youth from the court sys­tem when they are accused of less seri­ous offens­es or they do not pose a seri­ous imme­di­ate risk to pub­lic safe­ty. For youth whose cas­es were ini­ti­at­ed just before and dur­ing this pan­dem­ic, courts should con­sid­er respons­es such as warn­ing the young per­son and clos­ing the case with no fur­ther inter­ven­tion, rather than mak­ing young peo­ple wait months for their cas­es to be resolved.

2. Avoid sanc­tions for tech­ni­cal violations

Giv­en the lim­it­ed capac­i­ty for con­duct­ing court hear­ings and pub­lic health risks of con­fine­ment, avoid fil­ing vio­la­tions or con­fin­ing chil­dren for behav­ior that breaks rules, not laws.

3. Col­lab­o­rate with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to offer activ­i­ties for youth on probation

Com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions present a cru­cial resource for keep­ing youth con­struc­tive­ly engaged. For com­mu­ni­ty providers to con­tin­ue to be able to effec­tive­ly and cre­ative­ly respond, they will need more finan­cial sup­port and flex­i­bil­i­ty from pro­ba­tion leaders.

4. Pro­mote equity

The effects of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic have fall­en hard­est on young peo­ple and fam­i­lies of col­or and are exac­er­bat­ed by struc­tur­al and insti­tu­tion­al racism. Pro­ba­tion lead­ers must make every effort to ensure that respons­es to the pan­dem­ic address the needs of youth of col­or. This will require care­ful atten­tion to data to iden­ti­fy and address dis­par­i­ties aris­ing from respons­es to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, and spe­cial efforts to ensure access to social ser­vices, tech­nol­o­gy and rel­e­vant programming.

5. Min­i­mize pro­ba­tion caseloads

Pro­ba­tion agen­cies should rein­force pro­to­cols to clas­si­fy cas­es and make sure that staff focus their atten­tion on young peo­ple who are most in need of sup­port. Pro­ba­tion sys­tems should con­sid­er ter­mi­nat­ing super­vi­sion when youth are near the end of their pro­ba­tion terms or have demon­strat­ed they can suc­ceed on their own.

6. Rely on fam­i­ly engagement

With many or most young peo­ple on pro­ba­tion shel­tered in place, par­ents, care­givers and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers in phys­i­cal con­tact with a young per­son are key part­ners for youth on pro­ba­tion to suc­ceed. Pro­ba­tion agen­cies may want to sur­vey fam­i­lies to under­stand what they need to sup­port their young person’s well-being.

7. Lead with incentives

Pro­ba­tion offi­cers should con­tin­ue to offer pos­i­tive rein­force­ment to young peo­ple to encour­age and pro­mote desired behav­ior, includ­ing incen­tives that youth could redeem later.

8. Lis­ten to the per­spec­tives of young people

Pro­ba­tion lead­ers con­sid­er­ing new and adapt­ed respons­es should seek input from young peo­ple first. Wher­ev­er pos­si­ble, pro­ba­tion lead­ers should engage trust­ed com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions to facil­i­tate sur­veys, inter­views and online dis­cus­sions with young peo­ple, cre­at­ing a safe space for young peo­ple to speak open­ly and honestly.

9. Expand access to technology

For youth on pro­ba­tion to engage in online pro­gram­ming, they need inter­net-ready devices and afford­able inter­net ser­vice. Sev­er­al pro­ba­tion agen­cies have gained approval for youth to use com­put­ers and WiFi hotspots that have been issued by oth­er pub­lic sys­tems and agencies.

10. Max­i­mize col­lab­o­ra­tion across pub­lic systems

Resources and ser­vices for youth on pro­ba­tion in areas such as edu­ca­tion, recre­ation, social devel­op­ment, men­tal health and sub­stance abuse may come from gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners. Col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts to sup­port youth should be root­ed in shared val­ues that pri­or­i­tize pos­i­tive youth development.

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