Training in evidence-based community supervision

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Research summary
Vol. 15 No. 3
May 2010

Question

Can training improve the effectiveness of community supervision?

Background

The majority of offenders are under some form of community supervision. In Canada, there are approximately 95,000 offenders under probation or parole supervision. Community supervision is often seen as an appropriate sanction for low risk offenders and also an effective way of re-integrating higher risk offenders into the community. Despite the widespread use of community supervision, relatively little is known about its effectiveness. One review of the literature found that probation or parole supervision had a minimal impact on offender recidivism.

We do know, however, that offender treatment programs that follow the principles of risk (treat higher risk offenders), need (target criminogenic needs) and responsivity (use cognitive-behavioural techniques of influence) are associated with the largest reductions of recidivism (Research Summary, Vol. 12, No. 6). Yet, when the everyday practices of probation officers were examined, researchers found only modest adherence to the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) principles (Research Summary, Vol. 13, No. 6). These findings suggest a need to train probation officers to follow the important principles of effective offender rehabilitation.

Method

A three-day training program was developed around the RNR principles. The training taught staff how to appropriately model and reward prosocial behaviours and to develop a positive rapport with the offenders that they supervised. The training showed the importance of targeting criminogenic needs but also paid particular attention to the procriminal attitudes of offenders and how the attitudes influenced behaviour. Participants in the training learned to address the procriminal attitudes of offenders and to use cognitive-behavioural techniques to replace these attitudes with prosocial attitudes.

Probation officers from three Canadian provinces were randomly assigned to either training or to a no training control condition. Those who received the training were also asked to meet on a monthly basis to receive clinical support in order to further develop their skills. During the project, all of the probation officers audiotaped some of their sessions with their clients so that researchers could assess the type of behaviours used in the supervision of offenders.

Answer

Analyses of nearly 300 audiotapes clearly showed that experimental probation officers applied the behaviours taught during training. Compared to the control or “business as usual” officers, the trained officers spent more of the sessions discussing the criminogenic needs of their clients and less time on irrelevant topics of discussion.

Compared to the control group, the trained probation officers also were more focused on the procriminal attitudes of the offenders and were more likely to use cognitive-behavioural techniques to replace them with prosocial attitudes. A two-year follow-up of the clients of the officers found a recidivism rate of 25.3% for the offenders supervised by the trained officers and a rate of 40.5% for the untrained officers. Furthermore, active participation in the monthly clinical support session found even lower recidivism rates (22%).

Policy implications

Source

For further information

James Bonta
Corrections Research
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0P8
Tel (613) 991-2831
Fax (613) 990-8295
e-mail jim.bonta@ps-sp.gc.ca

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