After the Webinar: Case Supervision Practices. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Paul Ventura and Michelle Hart answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Case Supervision Practices. Here are some of their responses.




Audience Question: How late do you think is too late to do a residence check or field visit? 

Michelle Hart:  It depends on what behavior you're trying to validate. Don't have curfews if you're not going to check them. If you have a 10 pm curfew but you don't go their house after 10 pm, you don't have a curfew. It validates that the curfew is negotiable and reinforces negative behavior. Paul and I were partners many years ago and we've been out til probably the latest is 1 or 2 in the morning. But there's a purpose to that. We were partners for an intensive probation caseload and we'd do a double-back because we had situations that people were waiting until we showed up, and then going out having their fun after. We would see them, wait a few hours and then go back and that's a really good way to ensure compliance. Depending on the size of your jurisdiction you may have what we call like a telephone line where once we showed up at somebody's house, then the text and phones calls to all the other people in the caseload, we're letting them know, "Hey probation's out". The nights that we did those double-backs, people's phones were lighting up incredibly to say, "Oh my gosh, get back in the house, they're still out there".

I don't know if that answered your question — as long as it's with purpose. We also don't want to be so interrupting of their lives that it's counterproductive to the rapport, that they're being interrupted in good sleep and not getting to work, or waking up their children. But if their behavior, if you have indications to believe that it would be a valid reason to really go on those really off hours, do it. Because in the long run you're holding them accountable and it'll change their behavior.


Paul Ventura: I totally agree, but one caveat is 7 o'clock isn't late night. If you're thinking it's dark out and I'm going, there's a difference between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock. Is there a big difference between 10 o'clock and midnight, probably not. As Michelle said, you should have a purpose for that. If you're knocking on someone's door at 12 o'clock or 12:30 and they have little kids and you're disrupting the whole family in that circumstance, you better have a reason for doing it. We had very specific reasons for coming back to someone's house at 1 o'clock in the morning. We did it and it was like 10 below 0. It's because the guy was drinking when we left. We purposely went out and saw him a little earlier in the day and everything was of course, fantastic. We came back around 12:30, quarter to 1 and we can't get anybody to answer the door. He was a blackout drinker and that was scary for us. We didn't want anything bad to happen to him and we also wanted to make sure that we're addressing any negative behavior. He was someone who lived alone too so we weren't disrupting the rest of the family at that point. Also, safety, if it's unsafe and you want to do someone late, and you get there, and you have a feeling like it's not safe, then it's probably not the right thing to do at that time.



Audience Question: Do your policies and procedure support searches and do you have arrest powers? We don't have the ability to do either and that's left to the law enforcement. 

Michelle Hart:  In my county, we can arrest in the field.


Paul Ventura: We have the authority, but the policy is we don't transport unless we have a cage in the car, and we don't have the caged car. So, we use law enforcement to do the transportation for arrest. Unlike in Michelle's county, where I worked for previously, where we did our own arrest and transportation.


Michelle Hart:  For the state of Arizona, all probation officers have the authority to arrest. But each county has their specific policy as to whether or not to execute that authority. We also have the authority to do warrantless searches in Arizona, and we can choose to do that just as probation staff or with law enforcement assistance.


Paul Ventura: Right, and that's part of their conditions, so that first meeting when you're going over things. You're letting them know that it is one of the rights that they've given up by being on probation. We at Yavapai County utilize police for every search, and when I worked in Coconino County, we've done searches where it's just four probation officers and we didn't have law enforcement until something illegal was found. I think the warrantless search is a really important part. It can be tricky because law enforcement may try to utilize that because when they pull someone over and find out that they're on probation, they say, "I want to search you, you're on probation". If you develop a good rapport with law enforcement and they understand the parameters and boundaries, I think it can be helpful. Because then they can call you to tell you that they pulled someone over and you can say, "Well, I would like to search him". So, I can either meet them there or give them permission to do it via telephone. I've done that here where I've gone to local law enforcement and we've done a local presentation for them that let them understand what probation's goals are, where our authority lies, and what we're willing to do within the bounds of law enforcement.


Michelle Hart:  Whenever we do conduct a search whether with law enforcement's presence or not. If we discover illegal activity, we stop the search, secure the area and call law enforcement and they take over whatever means they have. They might need to get a warrant by their policy or are able to take over based on the evidence we found.



Audience Question: How do you go about doing role clarification with collateral sources? 

Paul Ventura: Collateral sources is a little bit different. I don't necessarily want to tell them what their role is in the whole thing. So that would be the one caveat that I would change where if it's with the client I'm going to tell them, "This is what your part of this is". When it comes to a collateral I might ask them what they want to be their role in it. I do start off with letting them know why I'm there, what I'm trying to accomplish, and I tell them some of the things that the client that they're close to is trying to accomplish as well and what they have to. I try to give them as much information as possible without violating any kind of confidentiality with the client. We explain confidentiality, the client understands what confidentiality is because it's part of role clarification. It's part of letting everybody understand. I ask them who they want to be involved. If they say I don't want anybody to know anything except for what is public knowledge, then that is what I'm going to honor. If they say, "Well my mom is the closest person to me and I live with her and I want her to know her everything, I want her totally involved". In Yavapai County, we have them sign an agreement to that so it's in writing and then I will talk to the mother about that and I'll say, "Johnny told me that he wants you to be involved in everything, he's not worried about confidentiality when it comes to this". I also let collaterals understand that if they want a level of confidentiality when they speak to me that they have that right as well. I don't want people to ever feel like, "Well, if I tell the probation officer something then I'm at risk because I gave them the supervision". I want them to trust me just I like the clients to trust me so I talk to them about confidentiality as well.

Mostly, collaterals can be a huge support system for the people to be successful that are going through this process. Engaging them is huge, doing some kind of role clarification with them is going to help you. there's got to be boundaries with them as well. It's ok at times to say, "I see your role in this as a support system, he doesn't have a car right now so helping him out with rides is going to be extremely important". Giving them those suggestions can be helpful for them to understand what their role is going to be as well if they don't know if they've never been involved in anything like this before.



Audience Question: How often do you see your offenders for appointments?

Michelle Hart:  It depends on their needs and risk level. Arizona has contact requirements and we don't want to oversupervise or undersupervise someone. If they're demonstrating a need, we can call them in more frequently. If they're doing really well, we might want to reward that behavior by saying you don't have to come in this month. For intensive probation, a person is supervising a caseload of 15. For standard probation, we have low, medium and high-risk levels and there are different contact requirements for each level on a monthly basis. An example would be, for a high-risk client, we would require 2 contacts per month including collateral contact.


Paul Ventura: With intensive probation, we have different contact level standards. If someone initially comes on and they're on the highest level of supervision we have to see them twice a week, minimum. Where the requirements come in is that we are told basically by the Arizona Office of the Courts with the code, how many of those have to be at the residence, how many have to be collaterals, how many have to be when it comes to work. Right now, we recently changed where work contact, one collateral contact, and one treatment contact, if they're engaged in treatment, a month is the new rule. It used to be one every two weeks instead they just put a blanket up, one per month for each one of those. Most of the time, we're going to exceed that anyway.

When it comes to the client themselves, when they're on the highest level it's twice per week. When they go to the next level, it would be once per week. When they get to the third level, it's once every other week, and that's for the residence contact. You could be doing face to face contacts in the office as well. When we talked about oversupervising, it's more about the field contacts that it's about the office contact, unless they're low-risk where oversupervising in the office is not needed as well.

Michelle: Another reason for low-risk person, you don't want them in the office as much as because they'll be sitting in the lobby with all your high-risk clients. Low-risk people, if they truly are, would probably do well without our intervention anyway. Just make sure that you're tailoring it to their needs so they can complete their obligations and move forward. You don't have to bring them to the office very often — I wouldn't. There's plenty of research now where when you're mixing risk levels you're only going to make the lower-risk people worse.



Audience Question: What are the responses to violations and court referrals for substances such as synthetics when you give a directive not to use them but return to court for those violations? 

Paul Ventura: So, the synthetic is not illegal, it doesn't fall under our standard conditions of probation to not use illegal drugs. Specialty courts put it in their contracts for the court so that way it's known right away. This is not part of the program, you cannot use any synthetic, any mind-altering substances. I think it's worded differently per specialty court.


Michelle Hart:  Things that aren't packaged not for human consumption…


Paul Ventura: Basically the chemical compound is a synthetic opiate so when they come to non-drug court therapeutic court style probation, we aren't necessarily implementing that or directing them to that right away until it might be a problem. Maybe we'll change that in the future and we'll be doing that regularly. Once I put it in writing to say that you cannot use this then I have to follow through so I have to test them for those substances at some point.


Michelle Hart:  Our response is the same as any other violation and if your court requires a modification to probation to include that as a condition. Because we're doing with recovery and people are getting out there using whatever is possible to continue in their addiction, I'd definitely ask the court to make that a court order so that you have the same leverage to do intermediate sanctions whether it is for jail, community service, house arrest.

One thing we didn't talk about but you definitely want to keep your responses that are sanctions separate from treatment responses. Never tell someone that their consequence is now they're going to residential treatment — no that's their treatment. The consequence is increased reporting, a couple days in jail, but there's therapeutic response to help them move forward and you want to phrase it definitely that way so they hear the difference. I know to a lot of clients it seems like treatment is punishment, but we never want to present it as punishment.


Paul Ventura: You have to start low with the sanction and increase as the negative behavior continues to progress. Obviously, follow whatever your department's policy is but I would say change your policy if you immediately are putting someone in jail for a long period of time. That is not effective, evidence has shown that. It becomes disruptive and they actually go the opposite way instead of the way you wanted them to go.


Michelle Hart:  There are graphs out there that show that once you hit 6 days, anything longer than 6 days as intermediate sanction starts to have a deteriorating effect. They key is swift, certain, and short.


Paul Ventura: Start with something small, it might be asking them to write me an essay on whatever the negative behavior was and the possible consequences and how they feel about those consequences. The next one might be extra-community service or having to go observe sentencing in court for probation violation. Then it might be up to putting people in jail, and the first one should be a day in jail, and maybe two days in jail, and maybe 4. You want to go up but you don't want to hit or give someone a sanction of two weeks in jail for their first violation because it's not going to be effective. You need to think that they might lose their jobs, their housing, that's beyond the effect on their family. We could be setting them back by doing that whereas the short and immediate sanction that is up to 6 days, is probably going to be that more of a wake-up call. More of an irritant than a huge setback


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