Effective Probation Strategies to Respond to Signals of Poor Progress on Community Supervision

Published date01 August 2023
AuthorAlex J. Breno,Avinash Bhati,Tonya VanDeinse,Amy Murphy,Gary S. Cuddeback,Faye S. Taxman
Date01 August 2023
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2023, Vol. 50, No. 8, August 2023, 1140 –1162.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00938548231165278
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2023 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
George Mason University
Maxarth, LLC
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
George Mason University
Virginia Commonwealth University
George Mason University
With over 4 million adults under community supervision and an average of 30% that do not fare well, an unanswered question
is which strategies reduce the likelihood of technical, absconding, and new arrest violations during the early phase of super-
vision. Utilizing data on 32,335 moderate to high-supervised individuals on supervision in North Carolina, the study found
that success during the first 6 months is due to probation officers’ use of incentives to promote positive behavior and swift
community-based consequences to address negative behavior, prioritizing treatment services or cognitive programs, increas-
ing monitoring requirements, and using skill-building worksheets to increase engagement and build rapport. Officer actions
are more important than individual characteristics, and can promote success for those that are under the age of 31, have more
complex needs, and are identified as at-risk for violating supervision. Future studies should explore these concepts more
directly regarding their relationship with recidivism.
Keywords: probation; community supervision; positive incentives; treatment services; cognitive programs
AUTHORS’ NOTE: There are no potential or actual Conflicts of Interest. This project was funded by the
Bureau of Justice Assistance (2017-SM-BX-0006, PI North Carolina Department of Public Safety) titled North
Carolina Predictive Analytics in Supervision Effort (NC-PASE). The authors would like to acknowledge the
many members of the NCDPS team that made this work possible. All opinions are those of the research team
and not of the funding agency. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Faye S Taxman,
Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason
University, 4400 University Drive, MS 4A7, Fairfax, VA 22030; e-mail: ftaxman@gmu.edu.
1165278CJBXXX10.1177/00938548231165278Criminal Justice and BehaviorBreno et al. / Effective Probation Strategies
Among the 4.3 million adults on probation and parole (Oudekerk & Kaeble, 2021), 29%
of the nearly 2 million probation exits and 30% of the 425,000 parole exits in 2016
(Urahn et al., 2018) ended in failure (e.g., violating supervision requirements or being
arrested for a new crime). Bushway and Apel (2012) identified the need to find the indicators
that signal positive and/or negative outcomes during the early periods of supervision as a
way of helping probation agencies increase the number of individuals who successfully com-
plete supervision. The concept of signaling can be used in supervision settings to make
course corrections and modify supervision requirements to prevent unsuccessful outcomes.
Once signals are identified, agencies can then implement strategies and tools for an effective
response, particularly for individuals who are considered moderate to high risk of revocation.
As more tools become available to supervision agencies, the question is whether the tools
improve or impede the ability of individuals under supervision to make progress.
Recent studies have explored the conditions of supervision that increase positive out-
comes of supervision. Usually, supervision is perceived as compliance or case manage-
ment functions where the emphasis is on meeting requirements (i.e., compliance) or
addressing needs (i.e., social work). Blasko et al. (2021) recently expanded these tradi-
tional approaches by focusing on using compliance strategies to address risks (i.e., risk-
based), to enhance contacts (contact-driven supervision), to monitor conditions (i.e.,
compliance), and attend to needs to achieve short-term progress. Focusing on short-term
progress (particularly to address gains made in employment and drivers of criminal behav-
ior) performed equally well as a combination of all approaches and was superior to risk-
based, contact-driven, and compliance only approaches (Blasko et al., 2021). While this
study focused on an effective orientation for supervision overall, it did little to clarify how
socio-demographic and criminal justice-related characteristics of individuals on supervi-
sion and types of officer activities can impact outcomes during the early phase of
The current study examines the different characteristics of individuals on supervision
and different supervision tools used, and identifies signals of failures. Using data from
North Carolina on 32,335 moderate to high-risk individuals on probation, we assess various
supervision requirements (e.g., drug testing, face-to-face contacts, etc.) and activities (e.g.,
journals, worksheets, graduated sanctions, etc.) to determine what outcomes produce posi-
tive or negative outcomes during the first 6 months of supervision. Collectively, this study
provides more substantive evidence on the question of “what works for whom” by drilling
down to the tools used in supervision.
Supervision agencies often use a mix of monitoring/controls and treatment programs
during the supervision process with more knowledge about the effectiveness of therapeutic
interventions than compliance-driven strategies (see Lee et al., 2021; Mackey et al., 2022).
The following section reviews the state of knowledge about control conditions (e.g., elec-
tronic monitoring or drug testing) and therapeutic-related features (e.g., case planning,
graduated responses, etc.) of supervision.
In general, there are a myriad of control strategies that are typically used in community
supervision, including:

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