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Research, Community Supervision Agency Partnership Is Central to Grant Program

By Heather Tubman-Carbone, Policy Analyst

Screenshot 2015-05-19 10.22.19The Smart Supervision grant program aims to improve probation and parole success rates and reduce crime by helping state and local governments improve supervision strategies; develop evidence-based probation and parole practices and programs; and collaborate with key agencies and officials.

Grantees in the Second Chance Act-funded program work “hand-in-hand with research partners to advance the field through the development, implementation, and evaluation of innovative and evidence-based initiatives,” said Juliene James, senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, which administers the program.

As an FY2012 Smart Supervision Program grantee, the Court Support Services Division of the Connecticut Judicial Branch joined with researchers from Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) to develop a series of scripts that probation officers can use during routine visits with adults under supervision.

The scripts are designed to teach adults on probation how to make better decisions by helping them consider a risky situation (e.g., a substance use encounter with “antisocial” peers), and then reflect on the thoughts and outcomes they had—leading up to and then following, respectively—both a “good” and “bad” decision.

“The collaboration produced practical supervision tools to help restructure clients’ risk-relevant thinking patterns,” said Tom Hogan, adjunct instructor at CCSU.

Initially, CCSU researchers and officers at the court worked together to develop the scripts, and CCSU was responsible for training officers to use them and for reviewing officer performance. Over time, the partners adopted a train-the-trainer approach, developing a group of peer coaches in the Court Support Services Division. These peer coaches can now train new officers and provide “booster,” or short refresher sessions, allowing the court to take on the majority of responsibility for the project and extend it beyond the grant-funded period. The university will remain involved to share the latest research and help to refine scripts as needed.

“[The program] truly enhanced my ability to create therapeutic alliances with my probationers,” said John Watts, an adult probation officer with the Connecticut Judicial Branch.

In Colorado, a partnership between the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Justice (CDCJ), a FY2013 Smart Supervision Program grantee, and Harman, Hogan & Shelley, LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in program development and evaluation, has aimed to decrease technical violations across community corrections programs in Colorado through the use of progressive sanctions and incentives.

Glenn A. Tapia, director of the CDCJ’s Office of Community Corrections, discussed the collaboration and stressed the value of engaging research partners throughout the implementation process. “Implementing evidence-based practice requires a solid and authentic commitment to evaluative research,” he said, particularly to ensure fidelity.

CDCJ convened focus groups of line staff, administrators, and board members to develop a violation response grid, an incentives model, and implementation plan, while Harman, Hogan & Shelley, LLC have provided quality control and feedback throughout the implementation. The consulting firm is also responsible for site observations (orientation and trainings); survey development and the administering of pre-and post-tests for staff and offenders; statistical analysis, and the monitoring and evaluation of program and offender performance.

Tapia is hopeful that the collaboration will continue to support CDCJ’s efforts.

“The tangible benefits we have realized through the partnership with our evaluators are just seeds planted for even further gains as the project grows and continues,” he said.

These featured program grantees, along with representatives from BJA and the National Reentry Resource Center, presented a workshop at the American Probation and Parole Association’s Annual Training Institute in 2015. To view their presentation, click here.