After the Webinar: Effective Use of Teams in Probation and Parole. Q&A with the Speakers

Webinar presenters Paul Ventura and Tiffany Griffith answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Effective Use of Teams in Probation and Parole. Here are some of their responses.

 
Audience Question: Could you repeat the name of the drug court assessment tool that you're using?

Tiffany Griffith: We use the Offender Screening Tool (OST) and Field Reassessment Offenders Screening Tool (FROST).

 

Paul Ventura: The OST is done either at pre-sentence if we're doing a pre-sentence report. Yavapai County doesn't do a pre-sentence report on every single person that is sentenced. The FROST is done by the field officer after the offender screening tool is done. If they didn't get one done at pre-sentence and they came to Tiffany or me, we do it in that, pretty much immediately. It has 14 categories and it was developed in Arizona so that's why every county in Arizona does it. Each county is under the Arizona Office of the Courts so we all must use the same screening tool. If you want more information on that, email us.

 

 

Audience Question:  What are your thoughts on reducing an offender's time on probation as one of the incentives?

Tiffany Griffith: That is one of the things that we do use in our drug court. Our drug court program is if they make it without any sanctions in the 15-month program from start to finish, what we do is after they have graduated the Drug Court Family Treatment Court Program, we place them on standard probation for 3 months, where they still do drug testing, but all the other requirements have fallen off. We want to see them remain engaged in some sort of sober support meeting, but the treatment is gone and all those other requirements.

After that 3 months of standard probation, we either terminate them from probation early if they concluded half their time successfully or we can also place them on to unsupervised probation which is almost just as good as being off probation because you are not being supervised and get your freedom back. We do give that incentive after they graduate from drug court,

 

Paul Ventura: I think it's a good incentive throughout probation. If people are doing well and they're not in need of that supervision anymore. Whether it's me being intensive probation and moving them down to a lower supervision or someone being on a more standard type of supervision and getting them off probation early. That incentivizes that positive behavior change. There are times when you'll see the person might go a little haywire right after but usually that's the whole point of the month or year leading up to that is to be able to say, "Ok, this person's ready for this". We've done everything we can do. They've shown that they can do it. That 3-month period from drug court before they get early discharged is key to evaluate what they're going to be like when there's no supervision.

 

 

Audience Question:  Can you talk about how teamwork approach for intensive supervision might be different than the teamwork approach for drug courts?

Paul Ventura: With intensive probation supervision, I think the biggest difference is the stakeholders. With me, I am not necessarily going to be communicating with the judge and caseworkers. Not as much, I would say. I'm communicating with the judge mainly to modify someone's supervision. So, we have levels of intensive probation here where level 1 is the strictest going down to level 4. But they don't have to do each level. I'm communicating with the judge to modify the levels to tell them what's going on. I communicate with the attorneys at that time too to let them know that I will be filing that petition, so they understand. Treatment providers are different, I talk to them once a month probably. Much less than Tiffany. I think for me, I supervise people with a wide range so not everybody on my caseload has substance abuse problem. I supervise sex offenders, as well as people charged with burglary, violent crimes, and drug abuses. Sometimes those overlap, so for me, I might be communicating with three different treatment providers because it's three different types of treatment. Tiffany is probably communicating with three different providers for the same type of treatment.  But yeah, I'm not communicating with the judges as much. Right now, in Arizona, we no longer have probation officers, surveillance officers team for intensive probation due to funding. We used to. I think that's the best way it should be done. We talked about having two probation officer teams if we couldn't get the money for surveillance officers. We can have two probation officer teams — I think that those are extremely important too. The major difference is Tiffany's communicating with them much more, and she's doing it in person. I'm doing mine by phone and email more.

 

 

Audience Question: What are some of the key steps in developing a drug court supervision system that's being done for the first time?

Tiffany Griffith: Starting a drug court from scratch?

Host: Not so much about starting the drug court but the supervision program to support that court…

Tiffany Griffith: Once we get somebody who's been accepted to drug court, their first step is going to be coming into the office where we're going to meet and know what my role and their role is, and the roles of everybody else involved. We clarify it for everybody and they get a whole list of rules that though they've already agreed to, we'll go over them again. I'll introduce them to the surveillance officer — who if is not in the office at that time, the client will meet in the field.

Once they get into the court, they have a curfew. Everyone in phase one has an 8:30 curfew. We know how hard it is for people to get jobs in that 8:30 curfew so if they're working at a restaurant and they're there until 10 or 11, that's ok. We're just asking them to be home by 8:30 on their days off because they have to sit in work, sit in coming to court, sit in going to a sober support meeting. We do 90 meetings in 90 days from the beginning so they're going to have to go to some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous. Some sort of drug treatment. Some even go to church. They have done some sort of pro-social activity everyday for the first 90-days in the program, so they'll be busy. We want to keep them busy. Checking up on them at night is big. They know that someone will come by. The chances of them trying to sneak out or do illegal things really goes down when they know there's someone who'll come by at 1 or 2 in the morning a couple days a week. They know we'll be coming by on the weekends.

As they get to the program, they get more free time. Their curfew, they're allowed to stay up later. They go to fewer meetings. Things get reduced throughout the program. Then we'll see how they're spending their free time, who they're spending it with. If you don't know personally the people that they want to hang out with, because a lot of them become friends that go to the program together. If we don't know who they associate with, we run the background on them to make sure that this is someone that's not going to interfere with them being successful. There are so many things that I can mention on how somebody would get going and things that they're going to be doing when they come to drug court and things are constantly changing. They have orientations because some people think that signing up for drug court gets them out of jail without knowing what they're getting involved in. At the very end, we do a community graduation so we're inviting those stakeholders, the community members, law enforcement, the board of supervisors, everybody that works with the probation department — family, friends, anybody that want to come see them graduate. We're inviting their arresting officers to come and see that, "I arrested you two years ago, but look at you now, you're a different person, you're clean, off drugs, not drinking, working… that's great". It's so involved and there's so much to do at any given time throughout the program, I can go on probably for hours about different things that we can do.

 

Paul Ventura: If people want specific ideas, and they email us, we can give them some ideas. We did not talk a lot about the drug court coordinators, but that's also a key position for people to give in their drug courts because if new members come in, a new probation officer and a new judge — that's the time when the coordinator can sit down and say, "Here’s how things did not work in the past, here's how we can fix it, and maybe implement new things into the program". That's the overview of the program which can maybe have some trickle down on how supervision happens.

 

 

Audience Question:  What are your thoughts on using the team approach with general caseloads outside of specialty courts or intensive supervision?

Paul Ventura: I'm in complete agreement with it. Having a team atmosphere in all types of supervision is key. I've been in my previous department before I was here in Yavapai County. We had some of those caseloads. Sometimes they go by the wayside because of a lack of funding, we didn't keep statistics well enough to basically justify why we were doing it. But I've seen teams of three probation officers where we have minimum caseloads, low-risk people. We have standard probation supervision which is the majority of people in probation. They're that medium to low-risk. We have drug court, specialty court, and intensive probation — those are for more high-risk people and high-need people too. Whether it's a standard caseload or not, the teamwork helps. Knowing each other's probationers is helpful — who you're supervising. I've seen it with three officers and with four officers. They have different names for the programs but basically saying, here's this population of people who think they're being under supervised or we're not helping them they way we need to. So, the best way is to get more hands on deck. Sometimes, they get divided — one of the officers is the one mainly going to court, one is mainly doing the petitions or the paperwork, one might be doing more of the field work, but it overlaps. I think that in the future, we're going to see that more. As statistics come out on it I think we're going to see that more as well. When people start to look at the drug court model and realize that the reason for its success is the teamwork. That it's a team model. I think people will realize that can be used at any level of supervision – except maybe for minimum because if you're a low-risk person, there's no reason to have five people supervising you. I believe that teamwork is probably the best practice.

 

 

 

Audience Question:  Does the drug court address offenders who are caught cheating to pass their drug tests? And how do you address that as a supervisor?

Tiffany Griffith: That happened a couple of times. You know your people, you know when they look little off, when they're acting funny. A couple of years ago at our old office, I actually had one of our undercover drug detectives from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office call me and he said, "You've got so and so coming in today, and one of my informants told me that she's going to try to package something inside of her feminine area. I want to let you know in case you want to do a drug test today". That's coming from someone that I've worked with out in the field or done searches with. They're calling me and telling me, "Hey, this is what I'm hearing about your people". And lo and behold, she did have something, and we found it. That is addressed in court and they'll probably be stiffer with sanctions for that because you're bringing that into the office, other people know you're doing that. A couple of months ago, we received a call from our drug testing facility that they found a device that someone is trying to use in a drug test and it has fallen out as they were providing a sample. If you think that somebody's going to try to do something to get away with the urine sample, that's why we have the saliva test, other ways — hair follicle tests. We can do different types of things if we think they're trying to buck the system one way. Again, it's about communication with all those other people — your testing facility people. I stop in every once in a while, just to say, "Hey, how's it going? Thanks for so much", because they probably have one of the worst jobs in the world and I just want them to feel appreciated too. It's knowing that someone's going to communicate. And even having your own people. I have some people running honest programs and they'll come to me and tell me what the other people are doing.

 

Paul Ventura: That's why being in therapy is so big. If you observe the drug test, you're going to know, it's evident. Tiffany played down that incident because it was awful and hilarious at the same time. I've had guys using whizzinators and you can usually tell. The new things that we've seen, like saliva tests and hair follicle tests. People use baking soda or apple cider to flush their system. Back in the day, it was bleach, someone who is willing enough to drink bleach. Nowadays, they're using other things. If you have real suspicions because of behavior changes and they're passing these drug tests, it could be because of those things. They're taking that substance to flush out their system, and you can use the saliva test or hair follicle test if you have that access.

 

 

 

Audience Question: How do you best balance your time when you're carrying out supervision? Talk a little bit about who does what?

Tiffany Griffith: The probation officer they're basically the head of the team. They're the ones who are pretty much going to say I need to accomplish A, B, and C. We always try to be the first ones to meet with new clients in the office. We're the first ones communicating with everybody else. The main job of the surveillance officer is just to do mostly field context. They're going to be the ones out making those contacts. If they talk that John Smith may be up to something, "Can you add them to your list and see them today to make sure". You want the surveillance officer to work opposite schedules as the probation officer. In their role, essentially, they will be out there giving out the random drug test in the field. They will be out there waking them up at night and giving them that breathalyzer. They're your eyes and ears – so of course, if they do something great, we should give them praise and report the commendation to the judge for doing a great job. They have a good rapport with them as well. With my surveillance officer, I like her to make some of the decisions too, like curfew extensions. I want the client to feel comfortable with her so she's able to make some important decisions as me. Sometimes, things get a little hairy and she tells them if she thinks they're up to something, "You know what, I'm going to check with the team first before I make a decision". Generally, you want them to work opposite schedules, work nights, weekends, so you can have almost 7 days a week covered with somebody contacting them or available for a phone call. And when she's on vacation, I try to work a schedule similar to what she would work.

 

Paul Ventura: I think it's important to have a lead person. The probation officer is not the boss of the surveillance officer. But in this circumstance or this model, she's the person putting her name on the report. She's the one who is stating things like under a penalty of perjury I am affirming that these things are true. So, the probation officer does have a lead role in that. Even if it's not a boss-employee role, there's a lead role. To be able to sit down and say, "Here are the things that I need from you". And then letting them know, this is what I'm doing. The surveillance officers need to understand that its ok too. If it's a team of probation officers, that's where I come up with that same type of idea. That this is a more senior officer – they're the lead officer of this. They coordinate what each person is going to do. And maybe schedule times where you're getting together to give your part of what's going on, so people can be able to decipher things that need to be done differently. It's like having a chair of a committee. Everyone's a committee member but the chair is the person making sure that everything is running and continuing to move forward. Tiffany is the leader of this team so when she asks the surveillance officer to do something, she isn't saying, "Do this, I'm your boss". She's saying, "I need you to do this because this is how the team has to function". If that person doesn't take a lead role then there could be a problem. What we're talking about is if the probation officer doesn't take a lead role, that could lead to problems down the road. If it's a group of probation officers and one person isn't designated as that person, there could be problems. That's what coming down to knowing your personalities is a key part of it too.

 

Click here to see a recording of "Effective Use of Teams in Probation and Parole."

 

 

 

Additional Resources
1 year ago
The Effective Use of Teams in Probation & Parole: An Interview with Paul Ventura
While supervision teams have become more common throughout the US, certain characteristics - such as […]
1 year ago
Practicing What Probation Officers Preach: An Interview with Michelle Hart
While community-based supervision is an important part of any probation program, many supervisors co […]
1 year ago
The Importance of Connecting with Your Probation Clients: An Interview with Paul Ventura
Managing probation clients can be similar to managing employees: it's critical to make a connection […]
X