Webinar presenter Shannon Magnuson answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Making Space for More Compassion with Fewer Rules: Reducing Conditions of Probation to Improve Successful Completion of Probation. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What is a good lead way to introducing this subject and conversation to our decision-makers?
Shannon Magnuson: I think it’s two things, and I think it’s a little bit about knowing your audience. So, if your audience is data-driven, then I think the conversation needs to be about asking those decision-makers who are being revoked, and how many of those folks are being revoked on technical violations. The emerging research is starting to suggest more and more that more people are going back to jail for technical violations. If we want to be a data-driven site, then it’s really about asking those critical questions that are provided on that list. And then really honing in. Our data suggests this, do we want to be sending people back to jail for this? It seems like a resource issue or could we be coaching people differently? And so, separately, GSP has a large coaching model for change led by Dr. Brian Lovins, where this is situated inside of it. It’s one of the components of becoming more of a coaching organization. And so, I think that’s one way to approach the conversation. The second way, and/or both, depending on your audience, is really in jurisdictions that are really focused on reducing racial and ethnic disparities and taking an equity lens to practice. This is a fundamental way that you can take an equity lens to your jurisdiction, and as a fundamental, high yield, high ROI on reducing racial and ethnic disparities by changing, by changing these conditions. So, some of the stuff I didn’t provide you in the data is the ways in which disparate revocations are actually shrinking because of these changes.
Audience Question: How do we make this change in our jurisdiction? In my Jurisdiction Judicial Officers set the vast majority of conditions. Do we work with them to ask if they can increasingly customize those conditions, or would it be more effective to make condition recommendations prior to sentencing?
Shannon Magnuson: Such a good question, I think, I don’t think there is a right answer to this. Because I think, making individualized conditions that might actually open the door to more disparate outcomes, even though they’re more individualized which feels weird. I think one of the things that we have to do is talk to judges, no matter what, and talk to judicial officers to understand their fundamental reasons for these conditions and helping them think through and unpacking them the way that we did today. I think that you can make some recommendations of what standard conditions might look like and maybe push them in that direction. That’s effectively what we did in one of the sites, is we actually worked with a whole bunch of stakeholders, including the DA’s office judges, probation deputies, probation leadership, and POs in one site. In a site where the judges actually assign conditions. We helped them unpack it together, so that way they could make recommendations to the judges of a standard set of conditions. I think it’s really about being critical and thoughtful rather than individualized because we don’t want people to stack individualized conditions. We actually want to see less conditions, but I think you’re right. Having critical conversations with judicial officers is the first step for your site.
Audience Question: How many jurisdictions or organizations that you’ve worked with have a general set of conditions of probation that are assigned to everyone, versus doing that individual rule? And do you have any pros and cons thoughts on that approach?
Shannon Magnuson: Yeah, so all of ours actually have standard conditions. At least some standard condition. Now, the site where I gave you some data about it, the two sites, they also have specialized conditions for their kind of, for specialized caseloads or containment caseloads. We help them unpack some of those as well. But that wasn’t our primary focus for this. And so, most of the sites, if not all the sites I’m thinking of, have standard conditions, that’s what people start with. I think moving forward, it’s actually easier to start with a jurisdiction that has conditions and then help them peel it back, rather than a jurisdiction that actually takes an individualized approach. Because then we have to move you away from an individualized approach, which is challenging because we think we’re doing the right thing, but in reality, we might be inadvertently assigning conditions that are onerous by virtue of the fact that you are high need, and that’s why you need the condition. So, I actually think the standard approach is much easier to implement long-term, and it makes, it makes it easier to be really thoughtful about what kinds of conditions are there and assigned because it’s the conditions that we can apply to everyone every time.
Audience Question: On a local level, how do you ensure that the general public understands that lowering the number of probation orders is going to be beneficial? How are you introducing this to law enforcement?
Shannon Magnuson: Oh, man, that’s a great question. So, some lessons learned about our site where I gave some data, we did not do that, and we needed to do more of that. In a second site, we did do more of that, where we had law enforcement in the room, and the DA’s office in the room to some extent. So, they understood the decision-making behind it related to the general public. I don’t know that I have the right answer there, but I think it’s really about evaluating your practices. So, the ability to say, for our sites to say, “We made conditions less onerous. We made it easier for people to get through probation. And they’re not out committing more crimes,” I think is what the general public wants to know. If you’re taking away rules, are they now committing more crimes? And we can say, “No, they’re, not. They’re not committing more crimes.” And I think that’s the key is that you have to evaluate the changes in the conditions that you make, which is largely what we do with sites. We help them change the conditions and then evaluate it for them.
Audience Question: Most of my current violations are due for failure to report and I end up requesting a warrant. Once they are before the court, what would you suggest instead of filing a formal violation?
Shannon Magnuson: Before I kind of get to that part, there is new and really good emerging research coming out. We did a study, Ideas 42, which has been doing this, AVPR has been working on this, which is reasons why people don’t report to court, and why people don’t report to pre-trial services. We’re getting really into the nuance of why that exists. Why that’s important is that’s effective with the same population who come on probation whose material circumstances have not changed from their court hearing to probation. Which means all the things that were jamming them up during court and then not getting to court, are still going to jam them up while they’re on probation. So, we’re really learning a lot about people who don’t come to court in the pretrial setting are not coming to court, largely, not because they’re a flight risk, not because they’re willful ——–, but because they’re navigating poverty at the same time, they’re navigating the court. Which I would argue, is the same population as the people who repeatedly do miss probation contacts. I think it’s about fundamentally changing the policy about, do we even submit violations to the court for non-compliance to contact orders. And I know that somebody is having a wild time on the other side of their computer, so I suggested that. If we’re going to go bold, we have to go bold. We have to say, we understand that you are not getting to these appointments because you are experiencing and surviving poverty, what can we do differently? That’s like the bold approach. The interim approach is to offer all of that context and the warrant report or the violation report, or the motion to revoke whatever your site does. So, a judge understands yes this person is consistently and persistently not getting to court but they’re really balancing a lot of things in that process. Because ultimately at that point, if we send people back to jail for consistently, and persistently missing court because they’re navigating poverty, we’re jailing poverty and I don’t really think that’s what we want to do. So, great question though.
Audience Question: Are there any studies that show that fewer conditions end up saving money?
Shannon Magnuson: Oh, okay. We’re not doing a cost-benefit for our study. It’s possible that researchers at Indiana, led by ——- and Eric ————– might be doing a cost-benefit analysis, in Indiana, because they are changing, we help them remove and reduce their conditions. And then Indiana University is going to study that. It’s possible that they are doing a cost-benefit analysis of that. So, I can send all the links to the studies that are active about this. I don’t know of one published yet. But I think that is emerging. Let me also say that throughout my presentation, which you will receive in PDF form, anytime I reference a data source where I reference data, it is automatically linked to the publicly available report or site where you can learn more. So, you’ll be able to have access to all of the sources of data that I use to inform this presentation.
JCH: Folks. I just posted the link for the resource page. We’ll send this out again tomorrow by e-mail, you’ll be able to find those references, the research that Shannon alluded to on that page. And do check back, because I’m guessing we’re going to be updating that over the next couple of days.
Audience Question: How does your proposed changes account for officer discretion in enforcement of conditions in many jurisdictions?
Shannon Magnuson: Ooh, yeah, okay. Hear me out. It says that you can’t have discretion. Now, I know, they just really had a reaction to me I can feel it across this computer screen. So, let me say that we piloted these changes in the two sites that we studied, we told them, you absolutely can go back to what you were doing after we do this. We just wanted to see what happens when we do this. One of the things that we said was you cannot add conditions to what we’ve done, and you need to apply them evenly at all times. What we are seeing is now an increase in people being violated for non-compliance to probation contacts, even though we’ve changed some of the language to account for what we know about probation context, we’re seeing that people are when we tell them, don’t offer discretion, that they’re not. Then we’re seeing actually arise in technicals for probation contact. So, what we’ve done is we’ve actually said there’s no change in public safety issues as measured by arrest but doing some of this actually doing this with no discretion does increase technicals. That’s what we’re starting to see a little bit. I would say we shouldn’t make a rule that says that we can violate you for non-compliance to coming up. But I couldn’t quite get the sites to go that bold. So, I think that there is work to be doing, so I think I’m going to give a very wishy-washy answer. I’m going to say, it’s a great question. There’s some more emerging findings are starting to answer some of that, but I think right now, we haven’t worked that out completely. Like, how do we offer discretion? And maybe the answer is that we actually don’t need any of these rules. And then officers can do whatever they need to do to help people get across the finish line. And so that might be working more rather than enforcing rules. And again, that’s kind of the concept behind Dr. Lovins’ coaching model is that we’re spending so much time having to enforce that compliance to the contact order, rather than helping you get to where you need. Which we don’t want to expend your social capital coming to see me I’d rather expand your social capital leaving work to go to a treatment provider. So, I think we don’t know yet. But I think part of the answer is that we haven’t removed enough rules.
Audience Question: How did you handle non-compliance due to lack of funds or inability to pay for treatment programs and classes? It’s a huge problem in my jurisdiction.
Shannon Magnuson: Yes. So, we didn’t, the way that the sites handle it, was that they didn’t violate for it because the condition actually says, if I am I’m struggling to remain sober, I’ll work with my PO to gain referral, to get referrals, and become compliant and treatment. That allows the officer then to understand that you’re just in a queue line waiting to get into treatment. You’re not actually not going to treatment. So, there is, the discretion is built-in, like the flexibility to the officer is built-in, because we understand that that’s a problem. So, it wasn’t that we had to explicitly tell each officer, you can just ignore this. It was that we made the condition so that it understood the system at play, and that was what fundamentally changed the officer’s behavior to not violating.