Last Updated 17 Feb 2021

Investigating Probation Strategies with Juvenile Offenders

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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.

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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 respondents were to insert their names into an alphabetical list of their juvenile caseloads and select the next youth who was (1) formally adjudicated, (2) known to the respondent for at least three months, and (3) under 18 years old. The respondents completed 31 questions about youth demographics, offending characteristics and psychosocial characteristics, including five items combined to measure prior heath and social services involvement and five items combined to measure psychosocial needs.

Thirteen items measure case management approaches, fifteen items measure compliance practices. Respondents reported their personal demographics, years of experience in juvenile justice settings and level of education, six items addressing their attitudes toward punishment, two items measuring their beliefs about POs helpfulness with youths who have alcohol and mental health problems and two items measuring their beliefs about the effectiveness of mandated treatment on drug and mental health problems.

Out of all cases, only 56% were completed correctly with all variables. Data was imputed multiple times using the SAS Proc MI (Schafer, 1997). SAS Proc MI is an interactive procedure that replaces missing data with estimates based on observable relationships observed in the data. By introducing random error, multiple imputations result in a more accurate variance estimates compared to other imputation procedures (Allison 2002). When comparing the complete data analysis, the listwise deletion and the imputed data, they were unimportant.

Nearly 25% of the youth were female and about 40% were of color. Usually, youth were approaching 16 years old, were 33% were 15 or younger and 67% had prior offences. Felony adjudications were most common, about 33% had property related offences, 25% had person related offences and 20% had drug related offences. The average youth a specialized intervention prior to their recent adjudication (specialized mental health, substance abuse, or child welfare) and had nearly three out of six risk factors.

PO’s were 64% females, 83% were white and 23% had master’s degrees. Analysis started with a confirmatory factor analysis for 7 PPAS subscales: deterrence orientation, restorative justice orientation, treatment orientation, confrontational tactics, counseling tactics, behavioral tactics and contact frequency (Muthen & Muthen 1998-2006). This model had acceptable fit, however, it was unstable do to a high linear between the two factors: Deterrence and Confrontation. Several adjustments were made but they all continued to have errors.

The final analysis examined the predictors of class membership. Ordinal regression was chosen because three classes possess ordinal-level qualities. The Latent Class Analysis began by estimating the optical number of groups or classes required to describe how probation practice clusters. Classes were not distinguished by a dominant subscale score, but rather by a general level across all of the subscale scores. Probation Officers reported using restorative justice interventions less than any other approach.

In terms of contact, Probation Officers averaged about 18 contacts to the youth, parents, schools and service providers during a three month period. In terms of youth’s age, odds of having a more intensive probation decreased 28% for every one year of increase. PO’s attitudes about the helpfulness of probation, an increase in one point increased the odds of more intensive probation by 38% while an increase in favorable attitudes from one standard deviation below the mean to one standard deviation above the mean, led to a fivefold increase in the odds of more intensive probation.

PO’s implement a balanced approach with delinquent youths, they blend both accountability and rehabilitation based approaches. In case management approaches, PO’s use approaches informed by deterrence and treatment equally, but are less inclined by restorative justice. PO’s use confrontation, counseling and behavioral tactics about the same when it comes to compliance strategies. Probation practices vary along key youth and Probation Officers characteristics.

PO’s that really agrees with punishments emphasizes accountability in their interventions and may make fewer contacts with youth and PO’s who endorse treatment would strongly focus on the rehabilitation aspects of supervision and devote more time to each case. Younger youths receive a more accountability approach and more frequent contacts than the older youths. PO’s giving more resources to younger youths may indicate greater hope or urgency, for prevention with these youths and more dependency from the older youths.

Several predictions did not predict probation in this study, race and gender, they stand out as a key findings. Research with probation and the juvenile justice decision making strongly suggests that the juvenile court interventions are influences by race and gender. Youth race and gender were not associated with probation practices in the current study suggests two alternatives. First, measures and methods employed in this study may not have been sufficiently sensitive to detect biased treatment leading to a type II error. It is apparent that youth with a higher cumulative risk and needs receive more probation approaches.

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