Technology plays an indispensable role in modern life, revolutionizing various sectors, including the criminal justice system. In particular, the adoption of virtual meetings offers the potential to enhance probation supervision. This webinar describes how utilizing virtual meetings helped Illinois agencies increase engagement, promote equitable access to justice, and reduce recidivism rates.
Dr. Michael Menefee, a Research Associate at Justice System Partners (JSP), shares his findings with Illinois’ experience with virtual probation supervision. His research uses quantitative methods to study the effects of jail incarceration, probation supervision, and trauma among justice-involved populations.
Points he discussed in this session include:
- How probation is seen as an alternative option to incarceration and the number of people on probation in the US.
- Difficulties with probation supervision that challenge its effectiveness as an alternative to incarceration and consequently lead to net widening.
- Strategies being explored to improve probation outcomes that look at the conditions of the probationers, the approach of the probation officer, and agency response to technical violations.
- Defining what is included in the term virtual technology and how the pandemic accelerated its utilization across different sectors of society.
- The advantages of virtual technology in terms of engagement, flexibility, and access, and its disadvantages in terms of being impersonal, potential interruptions, access, and quality of access.
- The study conducted in six Illinois probation agencies to examine the impact of virtual means of probation and its findings.
- The key questions it aimed to answer as it relates to attendance and its impact on new offenses and technical violations.
- The sampling and methodology used to compare the difference between groups who leveraged mostly virtual means and those who had mostly in-person meetings.
- How attendance is found to be higher for the virtual group across risk levels.
- The type of technology that had the highest attendance rate.
- Considerations for those under probation in terms of accessing technology for virtual meetings and reliable transportation for in-person meetings.
- The level of comfort of probationers in using video chat to communicate with their probation supervisors.
- The difference in the likelihood of the groups to commit new crime or technical violations
- Considerations when implementing virtual technology include assessing population access, geographical differences, and social and human capital.
- How policy-makers should take into account accessibility issues with in-person meetings and bridge gaps with access to technology for better outcomes for those under probation.
- Gauging staff technological competency to identify if there is a need for additional training to maximize virtual technology.
- Policy and practice recommendations for agencies considering to adopt virtual options for community supervision.
- Collecting data to obtain insights on how the shift impacted engagement and outcomes.
- Evaluating how adopting virtual technology can be valuable not only to the probationers but the staff as well.
- Exploring hybrid models that consider the bandwidth of the agency as well as the needs and risk level of the probation clients.
- Considering the advantages and disadvantages of technologies used based on data gathered to see what works.
Questions from the webinar attendees are about:
- Public sentiment that probationers were getting off easy with virtual meetings.
- Whether agencies are reverting to in-person meetings or leveraging virtual meetings.
- Availability of recidivism data for probation supervision.
- Clarification on the definition of recidivism and distinguishing between new law violations and technical violations.
- The caseload sizes of probation officers and the characteristics of the agencies included in the study.
- The origin and usage of the term “mass probation”.
- Suggestions and considerations for agencies looking at adopting a hybrid approach.
- Difference in success rates between low-risk and high-risk offenders.
- Whether agencies tracked the physical locations of probation clients during virtual meetings.
- Specialized supervision for specific types of offenders.
- How virtual meetings can benefit probation agencies.
- Recommendations for agencies continuing virtual meetings post-COVID.
- “Virtual supervision is a reliable method of holding probationers accountable.” — Yvette
- “The importance of developing staff and being comfortable with meeting and training staff through virtual meetings. Same as what we do with the webinars.” — M Travis
- “Excellent program.” — Robert
- “The graphs especially show rates of violations for in-office visits versus virtual visits.” — Robin
- “I love having info from new research. I was also surprised by the recidivism. I actually work more with victims but for e-court, we had huge safety concerns about who else might be in the room with them, whether are they intoxicated, etc. I’m curious if anyone has figured this out with virtual meetings for offenders as well. Plenty of DV victims are on probation for something else.” — Kirsten
- “That studies do show that it is beneficial to our clients to report via Zoom, based on lack of transportation, work schedules, anxiety, engagement, etc. I also enjoyed that clients have a higher success rate with fewer violations and Warrants being issued.” — Lorri
- “Good to know that virtual meetings have similar or better outcomes than in-person.” — Laurie
- “It is fascinating the difference between meeting in person and virtual successful outcomes!” — BobbiLynn