By: Kathy Waters
The research is clear for changing the behavior of justice involved individuals, however, the research is useless if practitioners do not use and apply the research. Community corrections agencies must allow research and the principles of evidence based practices to drive policy regarding supervising the justice involved individuals under their control. Failing to apply these principles to guide the practice will certainly jeopardize the ability to change behavior as well as failing to provide public safety by reducing recidivism. Community corrections leadership cannot continue to follow the status quo with the standpoint of “this is the way we have always done it.” I am reminded of the title of an article published in Federal Probation, 2002 by Dr. Ed Latessa, “Beyond Correctional Quackery-Professionalism and the Possibility of Effective Treatment.” This article speaks to the effectiveness of following research based practices.
There is a reason the first principle of evidence based practices is assessments. Using validated actuarial assessment tools to determine criminogenic needs directs us to the effective interventions and treatment based on risk. I would like to suggest another step to be utilized prior to the official business of completing the assessment.
Let’s talk about the “what ifs” of an office visit. Setting the tone of the first office visit can be a meaningful and worthwhile exercise. Taking a few moments before the assessment and during the first office visit or contact with the new justice involved individual can set the tone for building the rapport, trust and relationship between the officer and client. Imagine not beginning the visit with a review of all the things this person must do and what the rules are? What if the officer asked the individual “tell me about yourself, or how are you doing?” In addition, “Let’s talk about how you think supervision is going to go and what you need to be successful.” What prevents officers from just checking in and showing some care and concern about the traumatic events this person has experienced? This kind of exchange can enhance the role clarification of each person in the room. Research also tells us that the first contact the newly sentenced person has will make an impact on the success of the individual.
The next step in completing the risk assessment will certainly allow the opportunity for the officer to explain the assessment process and why it is important. If officers would take the time and approach this type of engagement, it will produce a much better outcome and a more accurate picture as the assessment questions are asked. Taking the time to get to know the client will enhance the start of supervision as there will be plenty of time for the formal questions and discussions. Imagine the outcome of this first meeting to set the tone. This approach begins the “Coach” approach rather than the “Referee” role we have played in the past. Once the assessment is complete, the stage is set for engaging the justice involved individual for building a case plan and supervision strategy for success.
The bottom line for community corrections continued success in reducing risk and recidivism is simple, the research is there but it is up to all community corrections practitioners to follow it. As we move forward with evidence based practices, let us focus more on the outcomes versus the activities and quality versus quantity as we have in the past. If we change our policies to reflect these actions as our way of doing business, the culture will change and the sustainability of evidence based practices will be ongoing.