Effective post-release community supervision can mean the difference between a correctional system realizing recidivism-reduction goals or falling short. Research makes clear that effective supervision can reduce recidivism by up to 20 percent, while ineffective supervision has little impact and can even increase reoffending. What makes the difference? Training.
After enacting justice reinvestment legislation, North Carolina and Pennsylvania embarked on extensive statewide supervision staff training aimed at improving supervision practices. This Q&A discussion with two agency administrators about their experiences launching and sustaining a large-scale supervision workforce training strategy may benefit other jurisdictions considering similar approaches.
The North Carolina Division of Community Corrections is a statewide system that includes adult probation, parole, and post-release supervision of more than 105,000 people in 100 counties and 31 districts, and employs close to 2,300 people.
To improve staff supervision practices, the Division contracted with The Carey Group, which offers training and assistance for justice and correctional professionals, to provide Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) Core Skills and Competencies training to senior leadership, frontline supervisors, and field staff. The Division committed to using Carey Guides (structured worksheets that concentrate on providing skills practice for offenders), holding offenders accountable for their actions, and addressing the underlying patterns leading to crime.
Karen Buck is the Evidence-Based Practice Administrator for Community Corrections in North Carolina. Karen is instrumental in ensuring that the daily practices of the probation officers align with the principles of EBP, which includes recommending policy updates, conducting hands-on and online EBP trainings, making case plan and risk and needs assessment automation enhancements, defining behavior-based competencies for the officers, and leading quality assurance with strategic teams.
The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) employs more than 500 field agents and more than 100 institutional agents across 10 parole districts and 26 state correctional institutions. Field agents are responsible for supervising approximately 40,000 parolees and probationers at any given time. Institutional agents are responsible for preparing people for parole interviews and release.
PBPP had an opportunity through Phase II justice reinvestment capacity-building funds to implement a large-scale training initiative. The agency obtained a staff training curricula called Effective Practices in Community Supervision (EPICS) through the University of Cincinnati. Part of this process includes training a select number of staff on not only using EPICS, but also serving as internal coaches who can provide ongoing assistance on EPICS skills.
Jason Stauffer is the director of the PBPP’s Transition Services and Staff Liaison Division within the agency’s Bureau of Offender Reentry Coordination. Jason routinely delivers a variety of evidence-based practices trainings and presentations to both state and county criminal justice practitioners.
Question: Implementing a statewide training initiative for more than 2,000 officers in North Carolina and about 500 officers in Pennsylvania is an enormous undertaking. How did your agency build support for this effort among senior leadership, field supervisors, and line staff?
Buck: In 2011, we piloted the use of Carey Guides with 16 exemplary officers and their supervisors. After several rounds of feedback and automation enhancements, in 2012 we rolled out Carey Guide utilization statewide.
Stauffer: Engaging staff and ensuring a supportive message from the top down were two important lessons that we had learned from other large-scale implementation projects. The then-Board chairman sent an email to all staff outlining what EPICS is, its importance to the field of corrections, and his expectation that all field staff use the model. He also took the unusual step of addressing each of the four inaugural training groups in person to promote the training and encourage positive participation.
Question: What did you learn from the challenges your agency encountered during implementation?
Buck: Clear, concise communication between implementation leaders was most important. Having the researchers and application developers at the table from the beginning was invaluable; their availability in every planning meeting was paramount. Patience with our staff was critical.
Stauffer: Although this is still a work in progress, we believe that keeping staff informed and involved in the planning process alleviates many of the implementation hurdles, of which time concerns seem to be most prevalent.
Question: What steps has your agency taken to help ensure that what they learned from the training continues to be used by staff and supported by agency leadership?
Buck: To reinforce the importance of this initiative among agency staff, we share with staff the participation rate of officers who are using the Carey Guides and the number of worksheets they complete. Agency leaders meet bimonthly to discuss challenges and positive or negative trends arising from data related to the training, in addition to supervision outcomes such as recidivism. Finally, we search for candidates for new officer positions who we expect would embrace the skills taught in the training, and we promote people who successfully apply those skills to Chief Probation and Parole Officer.
Stauffer: We are in discussions with our training bureau about how to incorporate EPICS in the Basic Training Academy curriculum for new agents. Part of this discussion includes incorporating booster sessions after basic training academy ends, during which time people who recently completed the training return for five one-day sessions over a six-month period. Our research department will collect data to determine changes in proficiency over the course of these booster sessions, and this data will be used to inform future QA endeavors.
Question: What evaluations has your agency completed to ensure that the skills or curriculum are used with fidelity to the model?
Buck: We implemented a standardized QA process with our Chief Probation Officers. The chiefs have face-to-face monthly meetings with their officers based on a standard case review, which is created by a committee of chiefs across the state and provides guidance and instruction regarding the minimum expectations, so it is not based on any one person’s perception. An analysis of outcomes resulting from our agency’s adoption of the Carey Guides is still a work in progress.
Stauffer: We are seeking to conduct a randomized controlled trial evaluation of our EPICS implementation. This evaluation, as currently proposed, includes examining how proficient trained versus untrained staff are at utilizing EPICS skills as well as how proficiency improves over time. It will also examine recidivism outcomes for offenders supervised by EPICS-trained staff versus offenders supervised by staff comprising the control group.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2015-ZB-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.