A Conversation with Michael Rohan

Posted March 17, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Interview aconversationwithmichaelrohan 2012

Michael J. Rohan is the direc­tor of Pro­ba­tion and Court Ser­vices of the Cir­cuit Court of Cook Coun­ty, Illi­nois. Appoint­ed in 1994, with pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tive assign­ments, includ­ing the direc­tor of Adult Pro­ba­tion and Clin­i­cal Foren­sics Depart­ments, he was appoint­ed to chair Cook County’s Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive efforts in 1993 by the Chief Judge.

Cook Coun­ty (Chica­go), Illi­nois, is cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing its low­est aver­age dai­ly pop­u­la­tion since becom­ing a JDAI site in 1994. The mod­el JDAI site has reduced its deten­tion pop­u­la­tion by 62 per­cent, going from a high of 750 in 1994 to 287 in 2011.

Because of its sus­tained efforts to lessen inap­pro­pri­ate or unnec­es­sary deten­tion, Cook Coun­ty con­tin­ues to prove that no mat­ter how long a site has been work­ing at deten­tion reform, there are always oppor­tu­ni­ties for sys­tem improve­ments and innovations.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Department’s bud­get was reduced by 12 to 15 per­cent each year. This prompt­ed the depart­ment to re-eval­u­ate its use of out-of-home res­i­den­tial treat­ment facil­i­ties and as a result of that analy­sis, out-of-home place­ment dol­lars were redi­rect­ed to com­mu­ni­ty-based treat­ment programs

How did the new pol­i­cy direct­ing pro­ba­tion offi­cers to exhaust all non-secure options for youth under the department’s care and super­vi­sion come about?

The pol­i­cy evolved over the past five years, dur­ing which our depart­ment re-engi­neered our bud­get allo­ca­tions from the long-term res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties to com­mu­ni­ty-based ther­a­py and super­vi­sion pro­vid­ed by our staff.

The com­bi­na­tion of com­mu­ni­ty-based con­tracts for Mul­ti­sys­temic Ther­a­py, Func­tion­al Fam­i­ly Ther­a­py, and in-house Cog­ni­tive Behav­ior Ther­a­py pro­vid­ed by offi­cers with post-grad­u­ate degrees, allowed judges viable options in lieu of out-of-home place­ments. The judges in our juve­nile jus­tice divi­sion are excep­tion­al and they remain pro-active in advo­cat­ing for pro-social resources for the kids and fam­i­lies who appear before them.

Please describe the new policy.

Pre­sid­ing Judge Michael Toomin and the 16 judges in the Juve­nile Jus­tice Divi­sion reg­u­lar­ly invite our depart­ment to present pol­i­cy and pro­gram rec­om­men­da­tions for their review and con­sid­er­a­tion. I pre­sent­ed a cost benefits/​com­par­a­tive analy­sis of the out­comes and per diem costs of com­mu­ni­ty-based treat­ment ver­sus long-term res­i­den­tial place­ments. The overview includ­ed the annu­al­ized fis­cal pro­jec­tions and the costs asso­ci­at­ed with the com­mu­ni­ty-based wrap-around ther­a­peu­tic services/​supervision.

The effi­ca­cy of long-term place­ments was also exam­ined and there was a con­sen­sus that change was need­ed. The judges sup­port­ed our pro­pos­al to exam­ine all options to res­i­den­tial place­ments with the caveat that if exi­gent cir­cum­stances required the child to be removed from the home, it would remain our respon­si­bil­i­ty to pur­sue oth­er viable options. It should be not­ed, in 1996, our court sys­tem had 425 minors in court-ordered/­fis­cal­ly oblig­at­ed res­i­den­tial place­ments. We now have two chil­dren in place­ment out of 5,500 cas­es under active supervision.

How has this new pol­i­cy strength­ened sys­tem oper­a­tions overall?

This pol­i­cy strong­ly reaf­firms the court’s core val­ue state­ment, of the least restric­tive set­ting with­out com­pro­mis­ing pub­lic safe­ty.” Judi­cial lead­er­ship is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent includ­ing their will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate in devel­op­ing pol­i­cy and pro­grams that empow­er fam­i­ly involve­ment in sup­port­ing case plans for the kids. Fis­cal­ly, the deci­sion allowed our depart­ment to avoid lay­offs of excep­tion­al­ly ded­i­cat­ed, tal­ent­ed staff.

Please describe its impact.

The impact and effi­ca­cy of each ther­a­peu­tic com­po­nent of our clin­i­cal con­tin­u­um are being mon­i­tored for out­comes, both short- and long-term. The response from the pro­ba­tion staff has been pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive. They have par­tic­i­pat­ed in train­ing on each of the ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ties and rec­og­nize their respon­si­bil­i­ties to remain in active dia­logue with the ther­a­pists. The judges have con­tin­ued to be sup­port­ive and have joined com­mit­tees recent­ly recon­vened to pro­mote sys­tem reform.

Have you seen increased oppor­tu­ni­ty for col­lab­o­ra­tion among stakeholders?

Our court sys­tem was one of the orig­i­nal five JDAI sites con­vened by Bart Lubow back in 1992. Two basic tenets of our reform efforts were to be pur­pose­ful and strate­gic in col­lab­o­ra­tion and sus­tain­abil­i­ty. True col­lab­o­ra­tion and empow­er­ment of non-tra­di­tion­al part­ners fos­ters sus­tain­abil­i­ty, which is evi­dent in this our 20th year focus­ing on reform oppor­tu­ni­ties. Our com­mu­ni­ty part­ners and the per­spec­tives of our clients and fam­i­lies have broad­ened our aware­ness and paid div­i­dends beyond our expec­ta­tions. We have for­mal­ized both juve­nile and fam­i­ly advi­so­ry groups as key advi­sors to our department.

How did deten­tion reform con­tribute to your deci­sion to lim­it out-of-home placements?

Clear­ly the deci­sion to not uti­lize cost­ly long-term res­i­den­tial place­ments was framed by both the fis­cal and human­i­tar­i­an con­sid­er­a­tions. We had to prac­tice what we preached in mov­ing away from an insti­tu­tion­al response for the kids and fam­i­lies entrust­ed to our care and super­vi­sion and who were iden­ti­fied with men­tal health treat­ment concerns.

Fis­cal­ly, the invest­ments were not ben­e­fit­ing our clients. We felt we were oblig­at­ed to shift the par­a­digm and apply a dif­fer­ent response to delin­quen­cy via the JDAI framework.

I remain very proud of my col­leagues in the pro­ba­tion depart­ment for sup­port­ing this major pol­i­cy shift. The lead­er­ship of our judges is evi­dent on this issue and in their respec­tive court­rooms through­out the year.

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