Community Supervision Needs Evidence-Based Standards

Article excerpt

What choice do we have? Like a jury converting the evidence into a judgment, evidence-based supervision and the application of best practices require conversion into accreditation standards. At a time when many jurisdictions implementing evidence-based probation and parole supervision are struggling against status quo stakeholders such as judicial officials and employees of supervising agencies, accreditation standards based upon evidentiary best practice would certainly be a legitimizing anchor. Accredited correctional systems and facilities have a multitude of ways to leverage their accreditation status with stakeholders. For example, because many facility standards relate to housing, compliance is used to demonstrate proper living environments and a continuum of proper care. Updating probation and parole standards will afford community-based corrections that same persuasion tool.

Why shouldn't probation and parole supervision benefit from the same autonomy as facility management, which is supported by evidence-based standards? Evidence-based here is defined as security risk of escape based upon validated risk instruments. The analogy is that, while offenders sentenced to prison typically progress down and up security levels, judges do not mandate facility security levels. The same should be true for probation and parole supervision. It goes without saying that community-supervised offenders also have various levels of risk and needs, which should drive associated supervision activities and requirements. Risk differences for incarcerated offenders are defined by physical barriers, while risk differences for probation and parole offenders are characterized by supervision standards and strategies. Therein is the argument for evidence-based standards. Supervision standards should be based upon the assessed risk and criminogenic needs of each offender and not be arbitrary contact standards based upon an array of beliefs and policy agendas.

As much as research indicates that the length of incarceration has no distinguishable bearing on recidivism, so the length of probation and parole supervision also has no impact on recidivism. In fact, the longer an offender remains under community supervision, the greater the likelihood he or she will be revoked on technical violations. Additionally, the frequency of officer/offender contacts during supervision has no documented impact on risk reduction or recidivism. It is the quality of the contact, what transpires during the visit, rather than the quantity of contacts that affects the outcome. Anecdotal cases have been the nemesis of many valiant efforts to apply evidence-based practices to probation and parole supervision. For example, a first-time nonviolent offender who is assessed as a low risk with no identified needs later commits a homicide during a domestic dispute. Human behavior cannot be predicted all the time, and therefore, such anecdotal cases should not drive supervision standards. These cases have caused many jurisdictions to revert back to intensive supervision and contact-driven supervision requirements as a measure of the quality of supervision. Rather than quantifying supervision by generic numbers, it is time for field agencies to divert their focus to supporting and guiding the offender in effecting long-term behavioral change. …