1. Reduced Probation Caseload in Evidence-Based Setting (Iowa)

Reduced Probation Caseload in Evidence-Based Setting (Iowa)

Program Goals

The Reduced Probation Caseload in Evidence-Based Setting (Iowa) program aims to intensify the probation experience by reducing the caseloads of probation officers dealing with certain offenders—typically the more high-risk probationers. In conjunction with the use of other evidence-based tools and risk assessment techniques, the reduction in caseloads aims to reduce probationers’ recidivism in high-risk cases by providing more hands-on monitoring and greater scrutiny of their rehabilitative efforts and treatment progress.

Program Components and Theory

The program combines both the use of increased supervision and greater adherence to a required treatment regimen, in combination with an officer who is more available and thus more responsive to the particular needs, risks, and abilities of the probationer. This program also depends on an integration of evidence-based practices within the probation services, as previous literature has shown that, by itself, reducing probation caseloads does not reduce recidivism (see the Gendreau, Goggin, and Fulton 2000 meta-analysis of 47 studies of intensive supervision probation). In order to implement this program, probation departments should have implemented the following practices:

  • Risk/needs assessments
  • Separate specialized caseloads for domestic violence, sex offenders, mental health, and the like
  • Concentrated services/treatment on assessed dynamic risks of medium- and high-risk probationers
  • Considered responsivity (cognitive–behavioral programs, motivate change)
  • Comprehensive case management

The principal evidence-based practices that the program relies on are officer training to identify probationers’ static and dynamic risks to determine the appropriate level of supervision based on likelihood of reoffense. In evidence-based settings, resources are concentrated on high-risk offenders, including treating and monitoring dynamic factors, such as illegal drug use. This allows for only the highest risk offenders to be placed on the reduced probation caseloads, making best use of correctional resources in a risk–needs–responsivity (RNR) framework. The RNR model (Andrews and Bonta 2003; Andrews, Bonta, and Hoge 1990) has three core principles:

  1. Risk principle: The level of services should be matched to the level of the offender. High-risk offenders should receive more intensive services; low-risk offenders should receive minimal services.
  2. Need principle: Target criminogenic needs with services—that is, target those factors that are associated with criminal behavior. Such factors might include substance abuse, procriminal attitudes, criminal associates, and the like. Do not target other, noncriminogenic factors (such as emotional distress, self-esteem issues) unless they act as a barrier to changing criminogenic factors.
  3. Responsivity principle: The ability and learning style of the offender should determine the style and mode of intervention. Research has shown the general effectiveness of using social learning and cognitive–behavioral style interventions.

Target Population/Eligibility

By using evidence-based practices in the selection of candidates for intensive supervision, the program aims to increase the effectiveness of probation. The assignment of a probationer to an officer with reduced probation caseload is done on the basis of a risk assessment and careful case planning. These offenders are those whose risk of recidivism is highest, for whom treatment may be a requirement of their release into the community, and whose environment may also be volatile and changeable.

Target Site

The program was implemented in Polk County, Iowa, which encompasses Des Moines as well as outlying suburbs and rural areas within the state’s Fifth Judicial District. In 1997 the Fifth Judicial District began adopting evidence-based practices, including standardized case planning, motivational interviewing, responsivity, and general training for management. Management training of all staff in evidence-based practices was completed by 2004. Polk County also uses the Iowa Risk Assessment Tool to initially screen and classify offenders sentenced to probation. The Iowa Risk score determines the supervision intensity and dictates whether other assessment tools should be administered (such as the Level of Service Inventory—Revised [LSI–R] or the Jesness Inventory).

Intervention ID

Study 1

Revocation Rates

Jalbert and colleagues (2011) hypothesized that revocation rates might be higher for the Reduced Probation Caseload in Evidence-Based Setting (Iowa) treatment group because of better detection of technical breaches of probation requirements. Their evaluation did not find any differences between treatment and control groups on revocation rates.

Arrests for Criminal Offenses

The results showed that treatment group subjects were arrested less often than the control group. At the maximum 36-month follow-up, the treatment significantly reduced the likelihood of recidivism by 47 percent for property and violent crime and 20 percent for all offenses (using the most optimal-risk bandwidth spectrum based on sensitivity tests).

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