After the Webinar: Rapport Building for Effective Supervision. Q&A with the Speakers

Webinar presenters Michelle Hart and Paul Ventura answered a number of your questions after their presentation, "The Importance and Role of Building Rapport for Effective Supervision." Here are a few of their responses.


Audience Question: How do you work with the client to develop goals if the answer to your question is, "No, I don't have any goals?" 

Michelle Hart: I would ask them about a time that they felt successful, a time that they felt good about what was going on in their life, what did that look like, what kind of job you had, what was going on personally. Ask them to describe what their ideal situation in life looks like in the past. If that's difficult, what would you like it to look like in the future? Try to develop it that way. Usually, people can reach back and talk about a time they felt good and they feel things were going their way. We can find the dissonance how does that differ from now and would you like to go back to that.

Paul Ventura: This question is geared to a resisting client, a very specific person in their brain right now. I just told a new officer, let's say you have 60 people in your caseload. There's probably ten of them that are going to be the ones that just don't want to change and that would be a high number. The rest of them either can't, don't know how, struggle with it, or they will automatically no matter what you because they're a low-risk person. I had a probationer sentenced to me, he's been in the prison a few times before, extremely standoffish. First interaction wasn't good because he didn't come in when he's supposed to, so it was over the phone and I told him basically you have to be here and I already have a warrant for him. Our initial face to face was not good. He did not want to engage. When I was doing my normal intake type of role clarification which is really I'm a relaxed probation officer so it tends to put people at ease, he wasn't going to buy. It took about four contacts before he'd inserted the buy-in. For that person with the resistant client, not always in the first day that you're going to get your goals from them. Michelle's right, you have to ask them, use motivational interviewing, use things that are working, "So, tell me about a time when this was ok for you, life was good for you." If there's still resistance to that, you just got to keep working.

Michelle Hart: That person may need to believe you actually want to know their goals and trust that you might have the best of interest in them. That's why I think rapport is so important because they come to us usually broken. Lots of unkept promises. People telling them that they know their qualities their whole life and there are people who are supposed to by nature of the relationship they had to be trusted and it didn't work, trust failed them. Why would we have any interest in them when we're getting paid to talk to them, we have a badge, we have all these things, but they assume probably because of prior experiences. If someone is resistant, I would just keep trying and show them, walk the talk, not just talk at them. Build that relationship to let them know you're not going away just because they want to throw up a wall.

Paul Ventura: I can tell you exactly what happened — it was the fourth contact. I saw them in the office, I saw them at their home, saw them at the office again. And it was the second time I saw them at home and this specific person has six kids and he's a single dad. I gave him affirmation for being able to do as well as he had with six kids by himself. I told him that I wasn't there to have him fail. I want to help him succeed and whatever I could do to help him do that, I would. If he couldn't make it into the office that week because of transportation stuff, to talk to me, communicate and if he communicated with me, I would help him. I'd go out to his house twice instead. As I was driving back to my office, he texted me and said, "You're the first person that I've had encountered with with a gun and a badge who's treated me well and I appreciate it." So, I knew I turned a corner. Since then, when he doesn't do things correctly, I can address it with him and hold him accountable and he's good with it. Is he there? Absolutely not. He's not even close to there but he at least trusts me enough now that he's going to listen to the things I said.


Audience Question: How do you respond to a client that feels like they went to the assembly line of justice and didn't get a chance to state their case during their court?

Paul Ventura: When they initially come in, that's going to happen a lot when they feel like they got steamrolled into being where they are today. It's always good to move away from blaming and talk to them about what happened, why are they here. And if it's maybe, "The police, they don't like me", at that point, that person is in pre-contemplation, they're not ready necessarily to have that conversation. But at that point, you can start to talk about what they have as an experience with probation. If they do, if they have family members that do, then you can ask them what their goals are. And if they're still not necessarily ready to talk about that. Tell them what your goals are, the goals of your department are. Then go on to discussing everybody that's going to be involved in this process. Obviously, your goals, you shouldn't be talking about assisting the client to make some changes in their life, positive changes. Helping them to get the right type of treatment for them that they might need. Then explaining what the judge is there for. What the counselors are there for. What you're there for and what their role is in it. Any kind of confidentiality when it comes to discussing things with people and the concern to make them feel a little bit easier, that they get it. If someone thinks that they shouldn't be here and being extremely resistant, it takes time. I think a lot of times as officers, we want to fix that immediately. We get frustrated and want to just impose ourselves and say, "That's the way it is, you're here now, so get over it." Instead of just saying, "We're going to cut this one short today and we're going to come back again." I believe in that firmly and I split by with what would be your first meeting up to two meetings because if you can talk to them the first time and make them feel a little bit more at ease, by the time you're going for that second meeting, you'll have a little bit of a better understanding of who you are and what to expect. I want to ease as much as possible while still making sure that they understand the situation.



Audience Question: How do you motivate a client that doesn't want to change?

Michelle Hart: A simple short answer is to find what is important to them intrinsically and helping them see how it applies to what we're also asking them to do. The bottom line is, they are on probation, there are things that they need to do but it doesn't have to feel like it's being put upon them but more like a partnership moving them along.

Paul Ventura: Everybody has something that they care about. Something that is a motivating factor for them. A lot of people talk about their kids. I don't know if people who work with juveniles are on this or not, but when it comes to working with adults, you hear a lot about their kids. One of the things I consistently say to them is kids are a motivating factor but they can't be the reason. You have to want to change, obviously to have a really good change. But when it's a resistant client, yeah, that's when you talk about their children because that's the motivator for them. If you talk about your kids all the time and you want to be a good mom or dad and how you feel like you failed them in the past. Then how are we going to make a change? What are the steps you're going to take so that you can be a good mom or dad? It's all intertwined. A lot of times when a client or probationer sits down with you and you start to talk about goals, they're going to give you criminal justice goals because they think that's what you want to hear. You have to initiate that to say, it's not. What do you want to personally do in your life? Let's break it down to short-term and longer-term type of a goal. Sometimes you can find out what motivates that. If the person gives you those goals. In the lack of motivation that you're asking and the question is like you're not just accomplishing things, that might be a different thing. That might be a life skill thing. Do they not know how to plan? How to accomplish a task? In our counties we use MRT — Moral Recognition Therapy and it gets used throughout the country but one of the best parts of that is the second half of the program is about goal setting and how do you accomplish goals so I use it with my clients that are in the program all the time. Let's talk about how you're going to set this goal and how we're going to accomplish it. Let's break it down to the very specific step that you need to get there.

Michelle Hart: Another thing you can use and we haven't talked about this before right now but there's a set of skills out there called EPICS which is Effective Practices in Correctional Setting. It's a set of about eight skills where you can use effective use of approval and effective use of disapproval to have them tell you what the short-term consequences were, good or bad depending on what you want to acknowledge and what are the long-term consequences of that action or choice that they made because of something, a situation that they were in. I think that really helps them identify so if you're talking about a behavior we want them to change, you can say, "Tell us the three things right now that's changed or affected you as a consequence because of that choice right now." And then they come up with it, we don't tell them, "Because you did this, now you're not going to have a job." We don't want to put that on them. We want them to think about their own consequences because that will also give your insight into what's important to them because they will be identifying what their behavior affected which falls in line with the cognitive restructuring as well. Paul's an EPICS coach so he's more of the expert between the two of us on EPICs.

Paul Ventura: A lot of times for probation officers, we have a tendency to want to answer our own question and silence can be really good. So, when you do ask them a difficult question or you try to motivate them so you're asking them those things and you hear, "I don't know," just ask right back, "Come on think about it, tell me something. I'm not rushing you," And then be quiet. Thirty seconds is going to feel like thirty minutes but that's okay because it's going to feel that way for them too. Let them answer you and just be reflective, "That sounds like something that's important to you… what else?" Just continue with the what else. It's really going to draw some things out. A lot of times it's not the first thing they say, but the third or the fourth thing that they say that really is the important one. A lot of times motivations just comes from your attitude and if you're positive when you're talking to them. I really try to be as upbeat as possible. It's funny because if someone comes in at four thirty to see me, it's a lot different than if they come in at eight o'clock to see me. And they know it, so most of my people try to come in early because if I've already dealt with fifteen people that day, it's draining by four thirty. But I try to be positive with every contact even when I'm addressing a negative behavior. I think that helps with motivation as well.

Michelle Hart: I think one simple thing you can do on each contact you have with your clients, is find one thing to praise. Praise is free, it works, it's one of the biggest indicators of change is incentives and praise is one of the easiest ones to do. But it has to be genuine. You can't say 'good job' to something and have it sound like patronizing by any means. Nobody leaves my office without at least one compliment and that can go a long way because a lot of our clients that come to us haven't had much experience with that positive reinforcement. I think they would want to keep coming back and earning that from you because it feels good and eventually they'll turn into their own motivation.



Audience Question: At what point should a probation officer exert their authority and file a violation when a client violates their conditions because they're not ready to change or don't know how to change?

Paul Ventura: It's different per your department's policy and terminology too. If you mean violation as in they're going to have a short-term jail sanction or do you mean revocation when they could be going back to prison as a consequence. I would say if it's the latter and it is prison time, then you should exhaust everything within your power up until that point. Experience helps, you know that line as well, "You got to understand that the community needs to be protected." If someone's a danger to the community then you have to act, that's your job. If it's just a normal sanction where it's a negative behavior and you need a sanction for that, you have to have intermediate sanctions before you get to a big one. If you have 120 days of jail time that you can use as a sanction, I wouldn't start off with 60 days because where are you going to go from there? Start off small, it can be as easy as a thought report where you're asking someone to write you a letter based on whatever the negative behavior was and why they feel like they did it and what they could do differently in the future. And that is in line with that because if we will use effective use of disapproval, those are things that you would be asking at the end of the skill. So, you do these things, the short-term, long-term consequences, what will you do differently in the future and how — you have to ask how. It comes with the goal setting and how to accomplish things too. Because they could give you a what all day, especially if someone's been around, but they might now know the how. How they're going to accomplish it.

Michelle Hart: If you're talking about actual revocation of probation where probation may no longer be available to them. You truly have to exhaust all options and when you perceive them to be a danger to the community. I also think you need to consider even the intermediate sanctions, proximal and distal goals — what are they capable of doing right now. That's what you really want to focus on. If they choose not to do that even if they're capable, the consequence and the intervention may be a little harsher but still matching the level of severity. But if it's something distal that they don't have all the tools yet to do, they haven't quite mastered the skills or learned the skills, it's not that we're not going to hold them accountable because we still want to distinguish that behavior it's just going to be a lesser intervention because  they haven't had the right dose of medicine or supervision or intervention needed to become adept at that skill or that behavior that we're trying to change. I also want to throw out there that research has shown very significant ways that if you're using jail as an intermediate sanction, I believe in it, but anything beyond 6 days for an intermediate sanction has the opposite effect. Now we're going to cause harm, we're not going to impact behavioral change. Just keep that in mind as well.



Audience Question: Michelle you talked a little about the six-day sanction period and how beyond that there's a negative effect. Could you talk a little bit more about that and if there's any kind of papers or research in that area that refers to it?

Michelle Hart: Absolutely. So, have you heard of the experiment, the frog and if you put it in the boiling water, the water then turn the heat up increasingly, it'll stay in the water and eventually die if the water starts to boil. But if the water is already boiling and then throw the frog in, it'll hopefully jump out, right? It's kind of the same concept for incarceration. If you're in there far longer it becomes the opposite. You can become habituated to it. It is no longer meaningful. Especially with the high-risk clients, they spent so much time in jail that they can do it on their head. It is not an effective intervention. So, where I get the research from is you go to or the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Their best practice standard is a whole huge body of research that talks specifically about incentive and sanctions and the six-day window of — beyond the sixth day, you're going to have the opposite effect of what you're trying to do to affect behavior change. The other key is proximal and distal goals. You want to have the response behavior whether positive or negative behavior so that all means necessary to affect change. If somebody has always been able to show up for appointments and they never have an issue with transportation that's not their thing but you're jumping up and down and doing backflips because they showed up, that's not going to mean anything. That's something that is in their wheelhouse already. Same thing if you over punish them for something that they don't have a skill set to do, you're going to dampen any motivation that they may have had to make that change, to be able to learn how to do, that behavior you're trying to change.

Paul Ventura: Yeah, the National Drug Court Association does a lot of research. It can be a good place to find information, unfortunately, I can't use my computer for this because I have a few saved places for these types of things which I can provide Aaron and put out for everybody. The drug court model is a very good model to baseline. So, let's say probation is going that way, that's the way we're moving. Even if we're not in drug court, you're having that structural drug court, you can run your individual caseload in that way, the difference is maybe they may not be seeing the judge. The research shows that exact thing that once we get over six days, it is less effective and more damaging. Employers are a big part of that, too. An employer might be willing to wait up to six days for that person to come back but we start talking two weeks and they need someone else and that can affect that person negatively. Anecdotally, I asked someone who had 12 years in prison and I put him in jail for two days. He came out and said, “It was horrible and one of the worst experiences." He went to prison for 12 years. So why was that? The prison was like normal for him at that point. He had his routine. He had friends, they'd play cards. They did certain things. The jail was, he was in holding for the first day, in the pod for the second day and then released. Nothing was comfortable. He wasn't around his family, he had been out of prison for a while so he'd become unadjusted to that and now I took that away for 2 days and it affected him. He said I'd rather spend twelve years in prison than 2 or 4 days in jail.

Michelle Hart: Yeah, depending on how your jail works. At two days, they may not have (55:29 indiscernible) bodily fluids.

Paul Ventura: That's awful and I hate that. The old school type of convict they hate that, they don't want to be around that, they want to be comfortable while they're in there and they can be but we take them out of their comfort zone and while we held them in holding tank with every public intoxication and just got brought in. I think when you do it for yourself you'll be able to see the differences. Some jurisdictions don't have what we call honorary jail time where you can just do that. It's either I have to ask the judge for it and if it has to be longer the judge has to ask me why. I'm only doing six days and maybe the judge is not educated in it and that can be problematic when you are fighting a fight that is a little bit bigger. When you have them for jail time all you have to do is file a piece of paper, it's pretty easy and it's much more effective.



Audience Question: When I supervise case I always run into issues with time. Trying to have a get-to-know-you meeting is great but there was never time due to my volume of cases. What would you suggest?

Michelle Hart: That's why I feel it's important even if we could only spend a minimum amount of time on that with a full clarification. It was learning the skill to have a structured visit but meaningful visit. Though they may get hanky about it, feeling it may be scripted but it is so effective that if you just learn a routine that is a promising practice (indiscernible 57:16) be the best practice. It is shown that invest in your time as Paul mentioned earlier make that visit into two-visit. You don't have to barrage in with a full intake that first visit. Get what you need to done, set the tone of how things are going to work. They cannot take it all in. They've just been to court probably and their mind is spinning. And you can use that first visit to do a role clarification, understand your goals and then maybe a separation condition because we need to do that. And then maybe the next visit, you dive into the more borderline to treatment and other things that they need to.

Paul Ventura: Michelle and I are probably going to do another webinar where we're talking about time management and case management and, you know, how to take care of yourself as an officer. Depending on what you mean by caseload size. Is 75 a lot for you? Is 175 a lot for you? Because it's different in every place. In Arizona, we have a cap of 65 to one which gets broken every day. So, when a P.O. seems to about 80, it is really difficult because they’re putting fires out a lot and not being able to spend as much time. I really believe that if you effectively use this skill, you're going to cut your time down. So, when you initially start teaching people this They say, I don't have time for that and my response is I can do this in less time than what you're already doing. I know it's true because I work with everybody who's doing a one-hour intake and mine is 20 mins. And I break it up and knowing that I’m breaking it up I make sure that my time is allotted for the week. Especially in my position, I have to go to the field once or twice a week, that’s 6-8 hours a day in the field. My county is a rural county but it's huge. Area-wise it's extremely large. The second largest county area-wise in the country. I have to drive sometimes an hour and a half to make one contact. You have to be able to be good at time management. I get the frustration. I understand how difficult it could be. I have six people waiting to talk me and I have to do this to this person, and that's where I go back to Michelle’s comment that it might not be the time to do it. You have to follow your policy and that can also be a constraint. But if you can have the person back in two days maybe that's what you need to do that day instead of feeling frustrated and feeling rushed and not having an effective first encounter. Evidence shows that that first encounter can affect the length of the probation term. If it is a negative encounter, then they have a negative feeling that can pester for a long time that takes you a triple amount of time to overcome instead of starting off in a good way. No matter how much you've changed, they still have it there. They don't know why but most of the time but they do. So, I really feel like spending the time. And I break it up so that first day, I do all clarification where I'm talking to them like I was talking to Michelle and I review the conditions of probation and implement them to come back. That's the only paperwork I do. And I've said the conditions of probation a billion times so I’m not reading it. It's not stale. I'm talking to them and I’m looking at them when I'm doing it because I pretty much memorized it. But that’s what takes the longest part probably of the entire thing, revealing the conditions which we have 16 standard conditions and then you can have up to 15, 16 special conditions, I guess. I just have them sign an acknowledgment that we reviewed the conditions and then I give a written implementation to come back another day.  I think breaking it up makes them feel much better. I do not have a bad success rate of people not reporting back. I couldn't tell the last person that just didn't show up again. I get the frustration. I know how it feels when you have — my very first case I was like 90 in like 3 months and it was insane. I had to learn from older officers how to really budget my time how to be as effective as possible so I won't be donating time back to my department. It's a tightrope. You have to be really skilled at it but it can be done with skilled help.


Audience Question: How do you work a client that has mental health issues and keeps relapsing despite in-patient treatment inside the jail.

Michelle Hart: I think that collaboration's the key. You have to have excellent rapport not only with your client but with the treatment provider especially when you're adding that other piece of mental health into the mix. Can't remember what university. Jennifer (Skim/Skeem/Scheme?) if you Google her, she talks about specifically mental health and how to work with them in supervision. Key for her and her research is that with mental issues, you just can't treat the mental health symptoms. You got to do a validated risk assessment and also address criminogenic thinking and criminogenic needs because a lot of people in this world have a mental health concern. Some of them end up getting engaged in the criminal justice system. Criminal justice system has become a spot I think because people don't know what to do with folks who have untreated mental health conditions and they act out. They end up in our jails rather than in our hospitals. We have to be mindful of what situation are we dealing with. Somebody who truly doesn't have an intervention and the community didn't know what else to do so they went to jail. Or is it somebody who has criminogenic factors that has brought in to our criminal justice system and they are just as important to address not just because probation tends to focus on symptoms. That’s not always the case that’s necessary.

Paul Ventura: Let's say we are doing a poor job when it comes to mental health right now and I think we're trying to get better because of what Michelle talked about addressing symptoms instead of what the real issues are for each person. We have a mental health court which is attempting to make that a thing of the past. I am by no means an expert in mental health that's not my wheelhouse probably but I have definitely supervised my fair share of people some of them diagnosed. I agree with Michelle, collaboration and communication are really big. I would say when I have people who are schizophrenic or something very severe I probably talk to their councilors more than I talk to any other councilor, their caseworker, everybody else that's involved. It takes up a lot more time because of that. I see a lot of times now where they have a polysubstance issue but its mental health and substances so it's dual diagnosis. We do have dual diagnosis treatment but sometimes it's what came first? The drug use came first or the mental health issue that came first. Usually, the underlying issue is the mental health issue and the drugs exacerbate things. But having to address two things at once wherein one of them can get them unstable. It's extremely difficult. That's a really tough question. We have restoration of competency program in our jail which is 15 months long to people found incompetent, they can go for this program. The psychiatrists do their best to restore that competency. It's been very successful. You can also do some Google research on those types of program. I don't know if you have that in your facility or not but they're really helpful. I've had two different things wherein the person could not really come out of it. The person was really discharged from probation because of that and basically lived with their mom for the rest of their life. I’ve read about people being in the program for 8 months to a year and coming out in a different mind frame, much better, much more stable. We had things set up, we used communication, collaboration so when they walked out, they had people helping immediately.



Audience Question: Can you talk about meaningful sanctions other than incarceration?

Michelle Hart: Absolutely, I think you also need to understand who that person is and what is meaningful to them. We seek restitution, we do papers, we do community service, different types of papers.

Paul Ventura: Aaron, I'm going to send you, when I send you that other stuff I'm going to send you Non-Jail Sanction Matrix that you guys can use. We have a program in Arizona, we started it here, people when they get arrested the plea agreement that they get, they cannot go to jail. They cannot be sanctioned to jail, even if you're going to revoke the probation, you can only summon them in. What is it called?

Michelle Hart: It's statutory. 13-9101. It's an Arizona statute for first-time drug offenders excluding methamphetamine. And they are not allowed to be in jail. It's just great. We have to be creative in other sanctions. In the NADPC website and it's actually NDCRC if you are going to Google it in there. In the research section of their website and just put in the list of incentives and sanctions, what I really like is that their list of incentives and sanction include low, moderate and high-risk responses for both positive or negative behavior excluding jail. Like what I said before, you want to match their level or ability. If it's something that's easy for them, you want to praise them or incentivize that less. If it's something huge they accomplished, you want a bigger sanction or is that sanction? Sorry. We can get you in touch with that as well. It can be a work crew or sitting, sentencing docket to see what happens with people who are — situations in like a revocation docket.

Paul Ventura: Yeah in Arizona, we have Project Safe which is based on Project Hope out of Hawaii, which most people have heard of. We started a program here for those 13-9101 drug offenders where they still see the judge. The judge interaction is very key. If you can develop programs in your department where they see the judge, it's extremely impactful and very good. It's not just the Probation Officer constantly giving the praise and consequence. The matrix instead of having jail as all non-jail type of sanctions. Curfew, house arrest schedules, weekly schedules,

Michelle Hart: Increased reporting, probably. increased delays.

Paul Ventura: When I send someone to watch a disposition court where basically being revoked or sentenced and go to prison. They have a form that in my experience in court which they’ll give me. I use a lot of other things too like the form called my week, where they have to write what they do every day. We have a specific amount of hours in a week they have to fill those hours. They'll take breakfast two hours or whatever. They'll take breakfast for 2 hours on Monday. Got ready for work an hour and a half. So, they have to break it down like that. People will say that's tedious, is that a sanction? It is. they're going to learn much from it too. They're going to find out what they spend so much time away doing that they shouldn't. Video games, TV. Those types of things, you have to be creative. I didn't come up with any of this stuff on my own. Michelle and I learned from a lot of people. She's told me things, I come up with things I come up with something from other people. I can send that stuff to you, Aaron, that I have. I guarantee it overlaps with the National Drug Court Association website as well.

Michelle Hart: The last thing I look out at a sanction is what can you take away? What privilege they have that you can take away? So, if they have travel restriction and you have allowed them to travel in the past, you can take away things like that. Think about what you can put on for them as a consequence but also what you can take away that was a privilege that means something for them.

Paul Ventura: That’s why the schedule is really good. Now you have to check on it. You can’t just say hey here’s your schedule. As someone goes to the gym every single day is a great thing and they enjoy it. Say, you have a curfew this week, it’s work, then counseling, community service, and home and you’re not doing anything else they make that schedule out and you check on it. It can bother them. It’s a good way to give them sanction and maybe that wake-up shake that is not going to get from jail.


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