Resource Development Associates

Report Highlights Best Practices in Probation

By Mikaela Rabinowitz

At a time when the number of people under probation supervision has grown to over 4 million people across the country, it is clear that many current practices need to change. A large body of research has demonstrated this need while recommending a shift toward rehabilitation and youth development with a focus on evidence-based practices and community-based services. In addition to refining approaches for working with clients, leaders in community corrections are beginning to recognize that probation departments need to reduce their client populations and focus on those who will most benefit from supervision. In fact, just this week dozens of community corrections executives and organizations issued a joint statement with several recommendations for both significantly reduce the footprint of probation and parole and improve outcomes and public safety.

With the probation profession shifting throughout the nation, there is great need for guidance around identifying and implementing evidence-based and best practices to promote public safety, affect positive behavior change, and minimize the risk of reoffending. As part of our work with Los Angeles County, RDA developed a comprehensive review of best practices in probation.

This document synthesizes research across a number of subject areas, including criminal and juvenile justice as well as organizational development and leadership, developed by government and professional Probation agencies; non-profit and private organizations; and independent researchers published in peer-reviewed journals. It is broken down into four sections, focusing on best practices in:

  • Probation Department Management, Structure, and Systems;
  • Adult Service Delivery;
  • Juvenile Service Delivery; and,
  • Transitional Age Youth.

The key takeaway from this study of probation best practices is that probation agencies should focus on harm reduction by supervising only those who need to be supervised for only the amount of time they need supervision. They should also rely more on incentives like shortening probation terms for good behavior rather than sanctions like revocation and incarceration. For individuals under community supervision, probation should focus on a community-involved approach because research indicates that cohesive communities and informal controls are more effective at reducing crime than government interventions.

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