The Many Hats of Juvenile Probation Officers

Published date01 June 2018
Date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
CJR742688 252..269 Article
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(2) 252-269
The Many Hats of Juvenile
ª 2017 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
Probation Officers: A Latent
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817742688
Class Analysis of Work-Related
Jill Viglione1, Danielle Rudes2, Vienna Nightingale3,
Carolyn Watson4, and Faye Taxman2
The role of juvenile probation officers (JPOs) involves a balancing act between “child saving” and
community safety activities. In this study, we examine JPOs’ supervision strategies and how these fit
within a juvenile justice framework. Using surveys and latent class analysis, we examine the extent to
which JPOs engage in a variety of case management and supervision strategies. Findings reveal little
evidence supporting a purely law enforcement role and identified a new class of JPOs that does not
fit within the traditional role definitions but focuses on a pro forma role that was nonengaged in case
management and supervision activities.
juvenile justice, juvenile probation, latent class analysis, probation officer roles, case management
Within the juvenile justice system (JJS), probation is one of the most widely used mechanisms for
diverting juvenile offenders from incarceration (Livsey, 2012). Of all delinquency cases in the
United States receiving a juvenile court sanction in 2008, 50% received probation (Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2011). Throughout the history of the JJS, perceptions
and beliefs regarding the most appropriate approaches to respond to juvenile delinquency have
vacillated between rehabilitative (treatment based) and punitive (punishment based; Bernard &
Kurlychek, 2010). Traditionally, the JJS emphasized a “child saving” premise, where attention
focused on the prevention of delinquency by intervening in youth’s lives (Applegate, Davis, &
Cullen, 2009). However, over the past 40 years, similar to the adult system, the JJS experienced
a shift toward a more punitive system that focuses on ensuring community safety and imposing
consequences for the youth. Such shifts are evident in legislative changes that took place in the
1 University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
2 George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA
3 Defense Health Headquarters, Falls Church, VA, USA
4 Office of the Executive Secretary of Virginia, Christiansburg, VA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jill Viglione, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive, HPA I, Building 80, Room 311C, Orlando, FL 32816, USA.

Viglione et al.
1980s and 1990s that allowed easier transfer of juveniles to adult courts in most states, thus
increasing the likelihood of treating juveniles as adults and sentencing to adult correctional facilities
(Butts & Mears, 2001; Norman & Burbridge, 1991).
The shifts in ideology on the best way to respond to juveniles in the criminal justice system
creates goal conflict in juvenile probation practice. Research finds some juvenile probation officers
(JPOs) favor rehabilitation, others favor punitive measures (e.g., Norman & Burbidge, 1991), while
still others are caught in a paradox of conflicting goals between rehabilitation and punishment
(Bernard & Kurlychek, 2010; Kupchik, 2005; Mulvey & Iselin, 2008; Ward & Kupchik, 2010).
These conflicting approaches present in contemporary JJS underscore a complex and understudied
area. Specifically, the goals of rehabilitation and/or punishment broadly inform and influence both
JPOs’ individual-level role orientation (i.e., the way individuals define and/or perceive their role) as
well as overall organizational policies and goals (Van Maanen & Schein, 1979). Examination of role
orientations provides a means to understand how JPOs approach decisions regarding the supervision
of juvenile probationers. The current research examined various types of activities and communi-
cation strategies JPOs endorsed using while performing their jobs. Latent class analysis (LCA)
identified underlying latent categories that reflect different types of JPO approaches. The relation-
ship between identified JPO approaches and organizational-level factors were examined.
JPO Roles
Designed to spare harsh punishment, the goal of juvenile probation is to help youth develop in
productive ways through the use of various strategies such as mentoring and providing treatment
referrals (Ward & Kupchik, 2010) while simultaneously performing surveillance and enforcement
functions (Jacobs, 1990). JPOs engage in work-related activities that span across a number of profes-
sions including law enforcement, social services, and mental health services (Corbett, 1999). Research
on adult and juvenile probation has cited the existence of differing roles to which probation officers
(POs) belong. Most commonly researched categories of roles include law enforcement, social service,
and resource broker (E. Carlson & Parks, 1979; Clear & Latessa, 1993; Klockars, 1972; Sluder &
Reddington, 1993; Steiner, Purkiss, Kifer, Roberts, & Hemmens, 2004). These identified roles have
important implications for how JPOs pursue their work activities and supervise juvenile offenders.
More specifically, the law enforcement role emphasizes enforcement and supervisory duties (Clear &
Latessa, 1993; Klockars, 1972). Further, JPOs aligned with a social service role, often referred to as
case managers or therapeutic agents, assist offenders with successful adjustment through support and
counseling, representing a more therapeutic approach to supervision (Abadinsky, 2006; Clear &
Latessa, 1993; Klockars, 1972). Finally, JPOs aligned with a resource broker role emphasize referrals
to appropriate services and programs (Abadinsky, 2006; E. Carlson & Parks, 1979). Research findings
suggest JPOs more regularly embrace social service and resource broker roles compared to POs
handling adult caseloads (Shearer, 2002; Sluder & Reddington, 1993). While these roles provide a
theoretical foundation for understanding the supervision approaches JPOs favor when engaging in
their work-related activities, recent research suggests the complexity of role orientations within juve-
nile probation work (Lopez & Russell, 2008; Ward & Kupchik, 2010).
To address this complexity of role orientations within juvenile probation, alternative models have
been proposed. Research suggests JPOs may not ascribe to one approach but enact multiple strate-
gies throughout their work. For example, some JPOs use flexible strategies to determine their
approach on a case-by-case basis (Ward & Kupchik, 2010). A holistic model proposes an approach
to decision-making that allows the appropriate alignment of resources and energy to the needs of
individual supervisees rather than equal distribution to the entire caseload (Emerson, 1983) and
theoretically lessens the conflict between rehabilitation and punishment, as both goals receive equal
weight (Lopez & Russell, 2008).

Criminal Justice Review 43(2)
There is also evidence for a hybrid approach, with POs taking a flexible approach, combining risk
management, control, and rehabilitative approaches in four categories based on their level of engage-
ment (high engagers to low engagers; Miller, 2015). These findings suggest that all POs embraced
surveillance and control methods while also demonstrating commitment to rehabilitation practices,
with JPOs more likely to engage in a range of law enforcement and social service activities at a high
rate (Miller, 2015). Similarly, Schwalbe and Maschi (2009) found JPOs utilized a balanced approach,
blending “accountability-based” approaches (e.g., threatening to use sanctions) with rehabilitation
approaches and utilized a case management strategy informed by both deterrence and treatment goals.
Increasingly, research identifies the importance of officer supervision strategies aligned with the
principles of effective intervention and the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model. The RNR model
combines an actuarial, managerial approach with a rehabilitative, clinical model for supervision
(Andrews & Bonta, 2010; Taxman, 2008). Research finds when used effectively, RNR-based super-
vision is associated with improved outcomes (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990; Gendreau & Andrews,
1990). Adherence to occupational roles aligned with the RNR model requires use of standardized risk
assessments to structure decision-making and better predict future behavior, manage potential risk, and
prevent reoffending (Hoge, 2001). This model of juvenile supervision is quite different from prior
methods, which typically relied on unstructured decision-making that allows for the introduction of
individual biases to influence decision-making processes and dispositional outcomes (Hoge, 2002;
Sanborn, 1996). Beyond use of risk assessments to structure decision-making, a recent meta-analysis
suggests the use of therapeutic, rehabilitative interventions is associated with recidivism reductions
among juvenile offenders (Lipsey, 2009). Mounting evidence points to the importance of integrating a
rehabilitative orientation in supervising juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system. This, despite
the existence of multiple supervision approaches, the role of JPOs fulfill may impact both daily
practice within a juvenile justice setting and important outcomes such as recidivism.
Individual and Organizational Predictors of JPO Role
Research is beginning to disentangle the complex relationships among individual-level and
organization-level characteristics...

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