Learning From the Field: Reforming Juvenile Probation Practices

Posted January 15, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Juve­nile jus­tice juris­dic­tions across the nation are con­sid­er­ing how to reform their pro­ba­tion prac­tices to help young peo­ple pos­i­tive­ly redi­rect their lives and avoid fur­ther sys­tem involve­ment. And, now, they have a new resource to help guide this work.

Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Trans­for­ma­tion — a report based on research com­mis­sioned by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — eval­u­ates pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion activ­i­ties at two sites: Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio, and Pierce Coun­ty, Washington.

Pro­duced by the Urban Insti­tute with Math­e­mat­i­ca Pol­i­cy Research, the report doc­u­ments the two coun­ties’ attempts to reduce the num­ber of youth placed under pro­ba­tion super­vi­sion. It also describes how both coun­ties have worked to make pro­ba­tion a more focused and effec­tive inter­ven­tion for those who remain.

Sev­er­al lessons learned and shared in the report include:

  • Strong court and pro­ba­tion lead­er­ship lays the ground­work for suc­cess­ful reform.
  • Juris­dic­tions should pre­pare for ini­tial com­mu­ni­ty resis­tance to reforms. How­ev­er, involv­ing all sides in deci­sion mak­ing can pro­mote shared under­stand­ing and own­er­ship of trans­for­ma­tion efforts.
  • Build­ing sol­id per­son­al con­nec­tions with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — essen­tial to imple­ment­ing and sus­tain­ing reforms — takes time, trust and a struc­tured approach.
  • Pur­su­ing racial and eth­nic equi­ty and inclu­sion can be chal­leng­ing, even for well-pre­pared and well-resourced agen­cies. Anoth­er tough spot: achiev­ing authen­tic fam­i­ly engagement.

This study fur­thers our under­stand­ing of how com­plex reforms are imple­ment­ed in pub­lic sys­tems and how local con­text inter­sects with reform efforts,” says Jeff Poiri­er, who serves as a senior research asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion, which has been sup­port­ing reform efforts at both sites since 2014.

Beyond help­ing juris­dic­tions con­sid­er and pur­sue pro­ba­tion reforms, Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Trans­for­ma­tion also equips fun­ders with ear­ly insights on sup­port­ing a local juve­nile jus­tice system’s capac­i­ty to plan and imple­ment change.

In Lucas and Pierce coun­ties, the Foun­da­tion deliv­ered tech­ni­cal sup­port via phone, email and on-site vis­its. This approach enabled Casey to offer moti­va­tion and big pic­ture guid­ance with­out dis­rupt­ing day-to-day activ­i­ties, accord­ing to lead­ers from both sites. Man­agers and staff mem­bers from the two coun­ties also came togeth­er for meet­ings, which gave the com­mu­ni­ties a chance to share their expe­ri­ences and cel­e­brate their accom­plish­ments firsthand.

While, ulti­mate­ly, reform must take place at the local lev­el, phil­an­thropies can pro­vide the frame­work for con­sid­er­ing the larg­er pic­ture,” says Steve Bish­op, a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. In doing so, local sys­tems can devel­op their reforms in a way that takes into account what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere.”

Read about the Foundation’s vision for trans­form­ing probation

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