Practicing What Probation Officers Preach: An Interview with Michelle Hart

While community-based supervision is an important part of any probation program, many supervisors could make bigger impacts with their clients by engaging in some simple, evidence-based practices that have been proven to help clients successfully manage their lives and the terms of their release.

But what are those practices? And how can supervisors incorporate these changes when they already have so many other challenges and demands on their time to manage?

If you’re looking for ways to make bigger impacts or evoke more positive changes with your clients – then you’ll want to join us for this webinar!


Join webinar presenters, Michelle Hart and Paul Ventura to learn:

  • effective supervision strategies for supervising clients, including what to do with a resistant client,
  • key issues for the supervision of clients ranging from the importance of honesty,
  • responses to positive and negative behaviors,
  • creative supervision strategies,
  • effective drug and alcohol monitoring and case planning.
  • and the importance of building a rapport and the balance between accountability and social support.


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Your webinar is specifically about supervising clients.  Let’s start from the beginning: from your perspective, what is the difference between community supervision and probation? How are they related? How are they different?  

Michelle Hart: Over the years, community supervision has been specifically tied to “parole”, especially in Arizona.  I think it has evolved to a more general term to relate to any supervision of criminal justice involved individuals who are being monitored in the community, versus being incarcerated.   But if you are specifically asking for the difference between a post-prison release versus traditional probation (suspension of imposition of sentence) here are my thoughts.

Community supervision historically has been a shorter period of supervision, than a typical probation sentence, transitioning an individual back into the community following a prison term.   Due to this, there is less opportunity for engagement in programming and treatment.  It is also likely that a significant amount of programming may have occurred while incarcerated.  Probation, historically, has had more “time” and referrals to programming and treatment is a primary strategy of supervision.  Hopefully, the individual is provided the tools, support, and rehabilitation necessary to avoid prison.

Since the implementation of evidence-based practices in the field of corrections, community supervision and probation are more similar than they have been in the past.  Community Supervision is taking on a “reentry” approach, incorporating many of the same strategies as probation, using validated assessments to determine risk and need; and then using the results for supervision level and referrals to treatment and programming.



JCH: Your webinar discusses “telling” your clients what to do versus providing them the tools to be successful. Help us understand this. Some people might say “isn’t part of a probation officer’s job to tell the client what to do?” How is the strategy you’re suggesting more successful?

Michelle: No one “likes” to be told what to do.  While probation has the authority to “tell” or “order” clients to do certain things, success is much more likely if a client feels invited into the process.  Bottom line, our clients have choices.  They can choose to not comply with the conditions of probation and they will be held accountable for that choice.  However, if probation officers spend time explaining expectations and accountability, AND asking the clients what their goals are, we can often demonstrate how compliance, in the long run, will also result in accomplishing their identified goals.  Extrinsic motivation only works short term.  The key to behavior change is helping a client discover or find their intrinsic motivation.  Clients need to feel empowered and supported.



JCH: What is your overarching “philosophy” when working with clients? How did you develop this philosophy?

Michelle: I truly believe that everyone has the ability to change.  Yes, there are the worst case scenarios out there; people who the criminal justice system does need to incarcerate to keep the community safe, but they are a very small percentage of the individuals who become justice involved.  I believe that we, as probation officers, are Agents of Change.  Before this catch phrase became widely used, I used to say that I was the “tour guide.”  Clients who said that I had anything to do with their success, I would respond by saying that I was the tour guide, they did all the hard work.  I was there to offer alternative choices, paths, and support.

I can’t really say “how I developed this philosophy.”  This is the only career I have had in my adult life and I have just always believed in people and their ability to overcome and change if given the right interventions and support.



JCH: You’ve been a probation officer for many, many years. The work that you do is important, but must be challenging at times. What drew you to this specific area of justice and protecting the public? What keeps you motivated or inspired to keep going in light of some of the challenges you must encounter as part of your jobs?

Michelle: As I mentioned above, this is the only career I have had.  I began my journey as a senior in college.  The balance between law enforcement and social work in probation was definitely a draw.  Research is now showing that this combination is key to behavior change and success.  Being too punitive or lenient is not effective.  Success stories are what keep me going.  Knowing that family cycles are being changed. In more recent years, the ability to see the results of research being implemented into practice has been exciting.  Integrating evidence-based practices into our work has shown to be reducing recidivism.



JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?

Michelle: One thing I haven’t specifically mentioned yet is the importance of rapport.  That has always been a central theme for me personally in my tenure as a probation officer.  Our clients often enter our system at their lowest; stripped of everything.  One thing we can maintain for each and every one is dignity.  Building a supportive, positive, yet accountable rapport is crucial- and deserved.   The rapport that is established has so many benefits.  It makes the working relationship smoother and safer.  I say safer because in the 23 years I have been a probation officer, I have never (knock on wood) had an altercation with a client.  I have arrested more clients than I can count, and all without incident.  From the first encounter to the last, rapport is important.  This webinar will also discuss different ways to have conversations, especially the difficult ones involving confrontation.


To watch “Stop It! Words that Probation Officers Should Practice, Not Just Preach,” click here.

Additional Resources
7 years ago
The Importance of Connecting with Your Probation Clients: An Interview with Paul Ventura
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