After the Webinar: Understanding the Impact of Virtual Meetings with People on Probation. Q&A with Dr. Michael Menefee

Webinar presenter Dr. Michael Menefee answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Understanding the Impact of Virtual Meetings with People on Probation. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: For the agencies who have these virtual meeting options, have you seen, or did you gather any sentiment that the public, or maybe even the officers themselves, felt the probationers were getting off “easy” with virtual meetings? 

Michael Menefee: So, that’s, that’s a good question. That’s not a sense that I gathered, but it’s really based on inference. There’s not any data that we collected, or like, talk to anyone specifically that would indicate that that was the case. That certainly didn’t come up in our conversations with stakeholders. I think in our conversations with stakeholders, they were really encouraged by seeing the higher rates of attendance and not seeing any significant uptick in recidivism, which I know is a really big concern. But that’s not a sense that we had. But no, we didn’t collect any type of formal data or anything to be able to say that was the case one way or another.


Audience Question: I know this might be beyond the scope of your study, but just in your observations with the agencies throughout the US, are you seeing more agencies revert back to in-person probationer meetings or are they holding on to at least some virtual appointments? 

Michael Menefee: That’s a really good question. Most of what I’ll say here is anecdotal, just conversations I’ve had with people, from different agencies across the country, and I’ve heard a little bit of both. I’ve heard some say that they really leaned into virtual during the pandemic and pull it back a little bit. And then, I’ve heard others say kind of the opposite where they leaned in and they’ve kind of stay in that place. So, I would say really a mix, but again, I don’t have like, formal data to be able to say, here’s what most places are doing. I think that’s a really interesting question. But I would say it’s kind of a mix based on just my conversations with folks.


Audience Question: You mentioned data collection for the use of technology. I’m interested in data collection in community corrections. Are you aware if there are any jurisdictions tracking outcomes or recidivism data for probation supervision? 

Michael Menefee: I guess I don’t fully understand the question. Are you asking, is there any types of resources that are tracking it for just all agencies across the US? I think a lot of the jurisdictions we work with; I think that yes, there’s generally data being collected on recidivism. Like, absolutely. I think that’s like, often a first order. I think what I’ve seen less of until doing this study was like where they have gone to virtual. And then, not only were they collecting data on the virtual meetings themselves, but then the type of technology was being used. And then getting addition to that, yes, they were tracking, you know, recidivism at the individual level. So, does this person receive a new violation? So, I think that, yes, I would say it’s pretty common to see jurisdictions collecting the recidivism part, but not the information on the virtual technology part.


Audience Question: Can you elaborate on the definition of recidivism that you used in the research? Specifically, were these technical violations considered new crimes? Can you get a little bit more into the weeds about how you defined recidivism?

Michael Menefee: Yep. So, we separate between the two. And so, in the graph, we said new law violations that that would be those – so, any new crime that occurs while on supervision within two years of starting your starting probation, so a two year window. And the technical violations were the other categories. So, we just, we separated between the two. Did you have any new crime that happened within two years? Or did you have any new technical violation occurred within two years? And then, like I was saying, we don’t have the actual reasoning for the technical violations. And I think that would be something that’s really worth digging into and trying to see if there were certain trends in that, in that day, of certain types of technical violations that were more or less likely to occur. But, yeah, so we collected both and we defined them separately, both within a two year window, after starting probation. I hope that helps.


Audience Question: What is the probation caseload or workload size of the officers using virtual reporting, what you were talking about in your study?

Michael Menefee: Oh, that’s a good question. I can’t actually speak to that. I didn’t receive data that will allow us to answer that question. I think that if we had more data on the probation officers themselves, we were being able to kind of look into like what the average caseload was. So, that’s a really good question. I can try to follow up on that if you want to actually send me a separate e-mail asking that question, I can try to follow up. But that’s not something I actually know right here, based on the information that we have.


Audience Question: And to clarify, when you were working with the agencies that you’re working with, and in Illinois, correct? 

Michael Menefee: Yes.

Host: What were the sizes of the agencies? How many agencies did you work with? Can you give more details like that?

Michael Menefee:  Yeah. So, the data we presented here today were from six different probation agencies. I believe two of them were more rural, and then the other four were more urban, large mid-size agencies.

Host: So, there was a mix of rural versus urban.

Michael Menefee: Yes.


Audience Question: Do we know where the term mass probation originated? 

Michael Menefee: Yeah, it’s interesting. So, my knowledge, so I’m a trained sociologists, I have a PHD in sociology. I first saw it in like scientific papers among sociologists, and they had used that term. So that’s where I first became aware of it as to whether it actually originated there or not, I’m not entirely sure. That’s where I first sort of came across it and became aware of it, that’s a good question.


Audience Question: So as our agency considers a more hybrid approach, are there questions or steps that you might suggest that we ask the probationer to confirm if they have the necessary tech or steps we should be taking? And are there any other considerations we should keep in mind? 

Michael Menefee: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think there’s a lot. Yeah, I think that sort of seeing what we did here and building on those types of things. So, for example, It sounds like, yes, they, they said they wanted you hybrid. So, I think I think the first thing I would ask is like, what does that actually mean in practice? And what are the types of technologies you’re going to be using the most? And then kind of tailoring questions to that. But I definitely would ask people about their access. So, if you’re let’s say, just for example, you’re going to do video communication. So, certainly want to ask them about access to a computer or access to a smartphone where they can be able to, because you can do it both ways, right? You can do on the computer; you can do on the phone. But, yeah, do they have access to those things? Also, I think, going on kind of what we have here, as well, asking them about how comfortable they are, and just kind of recognizing that. Yeah, some people might not be comfortable or just have that prior level of investment to be able to, you go engage to the way that others might be able to. So, I think kind of building on what we have here, I’m happy to kind of have those conversations with you and share the surveys what we’re hearing and kind of brainstorm additional questions.


Audience Question: In terms of success rates and recidivism and such, did you see a difference between low risk offenders versus high risk offenders? I think you shared that in the early part of the presentation, but we several people asking similar questions. So, could you kind of recap again? 

Michael Menefee: Yeah, so starting with attendance. Yes. So, regardless of risk level, we saw significantly higher rates of attendance. For low risk people that were virtual compared to in person people that were moderate people that were high risk. So, higher rates of attendance for all those groups. We didn’t present it here; we did also look at recidivism by risk. And we saw lower recidivism by low, moderate, and high risk as well. So, yes, in terms of like any other measures, that was the primary measure, I guess, you could say we use for success, is recidivism. But yeah, so we, we looked at both attendance and recidivism and saw lower rates for people that were virtual regardless of whichever risk level they were.


Audience Question: With a virtual meeting, were any of the studied agencies able to track the physical location of the probation client? Like, where were they connecting from? Are you able to get that get to that level of detail?

Michael Menefee: That’s a good question. Not in the data that I had, but I can’t say definitively if they were doing that or not. That, I’m actually not sure about but, no, not in the data that we had.


Audience Question: Did you focus on specialized supervision, domestic violence offenders, sex offenders, did, did any of your research home in on specific types of offenders?

Michael Menefee: No. That’s something that we plan on doing and kind of breaking it down a little bit more by the type of exactly as you’re mentioning. I know generally speaking there were some people they didn’t put on virtual, so they weren’t putting people with sex offenses, certain types of violent offenses on virtual. But that’s something, and again how I mentioned this is preliminary, that’s something that we’re continuing to kind of dig into, and we want to be able to. So, everything we presented here. Yeah, I think that’s a great idea, we’re thinking the same as well, we want to be digging into these results by type of offender profiles as well.


Audience Question: Do you think there might be any overhead or organizational cost savings that could help struggling agencies who are considering virtual meetings? In other words, let’s flip this on the other side of the equation. What would be the benefit for probation offices to do virtual meetings?

Michael Menefee: Yep. Absolutely. So, yes, I do think that that would be the case. And one example I would give is taking into consideration that technical violation component. And so, if we take theoretically, at least that people will have higher engagement when they’re using virtual technologies as opposed to in person meetings, we can we can expect to see fewer violations for things like missed meetings because you’re increasing engagement on an average. Again, we talked about issues with equity that we have to consider, right? But on average, thinking yes, we are improving engagement. Thus, fewer people that are failing to show up for meetings. Fewer people are violating. And we’re helping, we’re not solving, but we’re helping to alleviate that problematic pathway we talked about earlier in the meeting, right? That probation to prison pathway that often occurs through violation of conditions. That’s one example to speak to that question, though. Yes, and that would be, we didn’t calculate ourselves here, but that could certainly be something you could calculate the cost saving the actual dollar cost savings to that.


Audience Question: Do you have any parting thoughts you might share with them about as they’re thinking through these decisions about continuing virtual meetings now post-COVID. Any thoughts that they should keep in the back of their brains?

Michael Menefee: Yeah, absolutely. There was that question earlier about looking at things by type of individuals’ like charge types, those domestic violence, those types of considerations. So, I would say thinking about, you know, who is best in position to use virtual technology? Like if your jurisdiction adopts virtual technology, if you’re using it more, who are the people that you serve that you think are best going to benefit from that? Clearly, there’s going to be people that might not benefit as much. Or there’s people that you might be concerned about using virtual technology within a supervision context. So, thinking about the who, the what, like what type of technology are you using? And then I would also say the frequency, you know, how much are you going to use it. I don’t think there’s a hard fast answer to that question. I think, again, this is going to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And so, again, I think my key takeaway, given those considerations is just make sure you collect data. Because then you can step back and see if this is working for some groups better than other groups, right? Perhaps. And then, you know that. But if you don’t measure things, then you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t working. So, I think any jurisdiction that that goes towards this model, or a type of model, whether it’s hybrid or fully virtual, they need to be able to collect information to know about and being able to fix the kinks, if you will, and know where things can be improved and what’s working well.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Understanding the Impact of Virtual Meetings with People on Probation.  


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