Investigating Probation Strategies with Juvenile Offenders

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SUMMARY

Investigating Probation Strategies
with Juvenile Offenders:
The Influence of Officers’ Attitudes
and Youth Characteristics

Benita Byers
Ray Davis
Jessica Hoff
Jessica Stein

Just 326 Juvenile Justice System
September 14, 2012

Although large investments in resources are used to deal with delinquent youths, there have been only sporadic efforts to research effective probation practices. Since most youth encounters with the juvenile justice system, accounting for over 60%, occur under supervision by Probation Officers (POs), the Probation Practices Assessment Survey (PPAS) was used to evaluate various types of interventions. This was a web-based study that utilized a sample of 308 POs and measured deterrence, restorative justice, treatment, confrontation, counseling and behavioral tactics.

For example, while Lipsey’s influential multi-study analysis shows that “probation has a small but significant impact on youth outcomes,” literature on inventive and progressive probation practices shows little improvement to date. There is little research that describes various probation strategies for youth and their effectiveness.

Youth probation usually vacillates between punishment and rehabilitation. Historically, advocates of progressive approaches viewed punishment and its reliance on monitoring and rule enforcement as a response to poorly trained and overworked POs. On the other hand, rehabilitation has been viewed as a benevolent relationship between POs and youths with intent to humanize the juvenile justice system. During the mid through late 1900s, the public demanded a more disciplinary reaction to youth crime, advocates of victims rights wanted more input into the process and increasing support of the rehabilitative model caused three objectives, known as the ‘Balanced Approach’ to become prominent in addressing youth delinquency. To protect public safety, POs utilize deterrence-based interventions utilizing increased monitoring, fines, detention, and technical violation of probation to promote youth expectations that delinquency is not worth the cost. To hold youths accountable for their offenses, POs promote restorative justice policies through offenders meeting with their families, the victims and community members to decide together how the offender can best make amends and promote reconciliation, often through community service and restitution. To promote rehabilitation, POs utilize resources such as tutoring to improve school performance; family, substance abuse and/or mental health counseling; mentoring programs to model achievement based skills and increase access to resources; and, other programs to improve life chances.

While the balanced approach suggests that POs utilize individualized treatment of offenders in order to exact the best outcomes, research shows that POs attitudes towards punishment and rehabilitation vary. Additional problems occur when longstanding biases influence POs attitudes. For example, these unconscious biases include higher expectations of recidivism and endorsing stronger attitudes of punishment towards youth offenders of color and “girls being seen as very difficult to work with”.

Previous research has not addressed the different strategies and frequency of specific interventions with an individual within a specific period of time utilized by POs in dealing with youth delinquency as does the PPAS. This survey utilizes 28 items measuring the frequency of three case management approaches, as deterrence, restorative justice and treatment orientations, as well as compliance enhancing strategies, as confrontation, counseling and behavioral tactics, during the past three (3) months. Method

A sample of 308 respondents completed the survey, recruited through an announcement in an electronic newsletter for POs with inclusion into a drawing for a $20 e-gift certificate to an online retailer as incentive. The...
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