This guide outlines a new way of thinking about juvenile probation term lengths and termination processes and provides research-informed guidance for term structure to promote. Probation terms should be only as long as is necessary to connect youth with any needed supports and services in their communities and should be designed to minimize disruption to young people’s lives and development.
This approach asserts that the vast majority of youth probation terms can be completed in six months or less. In the long run, probation agencies should be working to bolster and reinforce community capacity to meet the needs of youth and their caregivers, and to promote public safety without relying on the juvenile justice system and its associated risks for youth.
THREE REASONS TO LIMIT JUVENILE PROBATION TERMS
Minimize harm to youth. Juvenile probation can impose onerous requirements on youth and families, subject youth to harmful biases, and lead to deeper entrenchment in the juvenile justice system.
Use limited resources inside and outside the justice system efficiently. Reducing probation caseloads by shortening terms creates time for probation officers to forge stronger connections with community-based service providers and frees up resources that can reinforce community capacity outside the justice system.
Advance racial equity. Prioritizing youth access to the community-based supports and services they need can minimize the likelihood of justice system entrenchment for youth of color.
A FRAMEWORK FOR TIME-LIMITED, COMMUNITY-CENTERED PROBATION
In this approach, the probation officer provides a time-limited bridge toward longer-term, community-based solutions rather than being the change agent or solution for the youth. This has important implications for the length of probation terms. When the primary aim of probation is to link youth with community resources to support healthy development, longer terms are not necessary because the goal is not to fully address the youth’s needs or achieve rehabilitation goals during the probation term. Rather, the goal is to work together to map the supports and resources that can help them move forward.
The framework is structured around three phases. With the appropriate structures and supports, the vast majority of youth can accomplish all three phases in six months or less, and much faster in many cases. Tracking data on term length disaggregated by race and ethnicity is key to measuring implementation progress.
Minimizing Length of Time on Juvenile Probation Promotes Youth Success
Findings & Stats
Limit Probation Terms to the Minimum Time Needed to Connect Family with Community Supports for Youth
One of the most central questions probation practitioners grapple with is: How long does probation take to be successful? Although there is no national standard for juvenile probation term length, practitioners can work to align probation terms with what we know about supporting positive youth outcomes. Longer probation terms are no more effective than shorter terms in preventing future offending behaviors, and can increase the likelihood of revocation. Revocation carries a risk of incarceration, which disconnects youth from critical supports, interferes with prosocial development, and is generally less effective at preventing recidivism than well-designed community-based alternatives.
Make It as Easy as Possible to Shorten Probation Terms and as Hard as Possible to Extend Them
Even limited justice system involvement can be harmful and disruptive for youth, so it is critical to minimize their time in the system. This principle could be put into practice by heeding the following.
1) Develop limited, relevant probation rules and requirements in partnership with youth and families. For example, focus supervision expectations on a few short-term priorities that are most important for each young person.
2) Give youth pathways to shorten their time on probation. Offering youth incentives to shorten their probation terms allows them to exercise agency in determining their progress and outcomes. Notably, research shows that early termination from probation is the most powerful incentive. For example, work with youth to identify and set explicit, achievable, short-term goals for probation and develop a plan for recognizing and rewarding their partnership and progress toward goals.
3) Implement departmental policies that limit the circumstances in which probation terms can be extended (to the extent possible under existing law). For example, develop and document policies that identify the limited circumstances in which probation terms can be extended, and consider limiting or prohibiting extensions, lengthy extension periods, multiple extensions and extensions to complete treatment, programming, administrative recordkeeping or collection of fines or fees.
Statements & Quotations
In the long run, probation agencies should be working to bolster and reinforce community capacity to meet the needs of youth and their caregivers, and to promote public safety without relying on the juvenile justice system and its associated risks for youth.
With the appropriate structures and support, the vast majority of youth can accomplish probation in six months or less, and much faster in many cases.