Transforming Juvenile Probation

The Transforming Juvenile Probation Certificate Program is designed to guide and support teams from state and local jurisdictions—including probation leadership, judges, attorneys, and other key stakeholders—to fundamentally transform their system-wide approach to probation.

Developed by the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in collaboration with and through the funding support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Casey), the curricula for the program are based on the principles and practices outlined in the Casey Foundation publication, Transforming Juvenile Probation: A Vision for Getting It Right, and the CJJR and CSG Justice Center publication, Transforming Juvenile Justice Systems to Improve Public Safety and Youth Outcomes.

The Certificate Program builds on Casey’s more than 25 years of experience with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative® (JDAI) and five years of studying probation with researchers, practitioners, youth, families, and pilot probation transformation sites. The Program also rests on the decades of experience of CJJR and the CSG Justice Center in delivering high-quality training and technical assistance to juvenile justice systems across the country on research-based and data-driven policies and practices to improve outcomes for youth.

Over the past two decades, juvenile justice systems in the United States have seen significant advancements—juvenile arrest rates have dropped to historical lows, incarceration rates have been halved, and an increasing number of agencies have implemented evidence-based strategies. Despite these gains, however, recidivism rates remain unacceptably high for youth under system supervision, and resources invested in supervision and services have not consistently produced improved outcomes.

A key reason that jurisdictions struggle to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system is that the most common disposition—probation—remains largely unexamined and unchanged. Probation is often the default disposition for many youth whose needs could have otherwise been met through diversion or other non-probation responses. Once on probation, youth frequently face a litany of rules and orders disconnected from the offense and the goal of recidivism reduction, as well as system responses that are counterproductive, such as being detained for technical violations despite not presenting increased dangers to public safety. Further, and as an overarching issue, current probation practice often fails to provide positive youth development opportunities that assist youth in achieving the developmental milestones of adolescence and perpetuates racial and ethnic disparities.

Curriculum

The Transforming Juvenile Probation Certificate Program is a five-day period of intensive instruction, discussion, and planning for jurisdictions that seek to fundamentally transform their approach to probation in order to significantly improve public safety and outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. Participant teams will receive instruction from researchers, policymakers and practitioners, and guidance from CJJR, the CSG Justice Center, and Casey throughout the training to develop and implement a Capstone Project to advance system-wide improvements in their jurisdiction.

The engagement of participating jurisdictions begins with a gap analysis, system mapping and targeted prework and data collection to be completed ahead of the Certificate Program. These activities are aimed at identifying relative strengths and weaknesses across the key domains of juvenile probation practice, and will allow teams to begin to assess their current policies and practices, identify initial goals for system improvement, and enable the fine-tuning of Certificate Program curricula to align with the status of participating jurisdictions.

Specific training modules of the Certificate Program will cover the following topics:

Achieving better outcomes for youth and improving public safety requires a fundamental shift in probation culture and practice. This new vision of probation includes reshaping approaches to focus on promoting youth’s personal growth, positive behavior change and long-term success, including intentionally embracing and incorporating into everyday practice the core principles of fairness and equity, positive youth development, and empowerment of youth, families and communities. This module will include facilitated conversation and identify the key foundational principles that will be addressed in more detail throughout the week.

To be effective, probation practice must incorporate an equity lens, beginning with an understanding of implicit bias across race, gender and ethnicity, and inclusive of a focus on institutional and structural racism. It must also implement cultural and gender responsiveness and strategies to identify and reduce disparities through a decision point analysis. The impact of this approach is a more equitable set of system responses, one to which youth are more likely to respond.

In order to truly maximize the potential for community-based services, probation must meaningfully engage youth, families and community partners in core probation practices (e.g., by including teaming, case planning, and credible messenger strategies), as well as in the court process and view them as assets not barriers. Amplifying the voices of youth and families will both improve probation and court practice and promote the importance of procedural justice.

In nearly all juvenile justice systems, opportunities exist to expand and improve the use of diversion with the goals of serving youth that are low risk through alternative approaches to formal system involvement and focusing juvenile justice system resources and probation officers’ time on youth that have the highest risk of reoffending. Community-led diversion seeks to provide an exit or “off ramp” from the formal system through multi-disciplinary approaches and partnerships with child-serving partners, incorporation of restorative justice principles, and effective diversion conditions and services.

Disposition decisions are central to promoting success for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Specifically, probation officers, attorneys and judges must work together to incorporate strengths-based opportunities, evidence-based risk and needs and behavioral health/trauma assessments, and youth/family engagement to craft the right disposition for an individual youth. This module will also raise fundamental questions about key decisions that establish the foundation for probation practice, including the purpose of supervision conditions and how decisions are made about the length and intensity of the probationary period.

At the heart of improving outcomes for youth is fundamentally examining the role of the probation officer, and what it means to be an agent of change to support, strengthen, and empower youth. In order to achieve this shift from a “control” probation model to one that features “assistance,” hiring; retention and performance management policies and practices must align with the changing role; training must emphasize relationship building and effective communication with youth and families; probation caseloads and workloads must allow staff the time and flexibility to engage with youth, families and communities; and probation agencies must implement best practices in case planning and management, including a strengths-based graduated responses approach focused on incentivizing positive behavior and goal achievement.

Managing the implementation of system-wide transformation requires agencies and leaders who are committed to implementation science and a strategic approach to organizational change. This session will highlight key elements of effective transformation including using research and data to evaluate and inform practice; staff training and targeted communication approaches to facilitate staff and stakeholder buy-in and collaboration; and ongoing efforts to promote sustainability and continuous quality improvement.

Capstone Project

As a critical part of the Certificate Program, teams will develop a Capstone Project laying out the transformational plan for their jurisdiction. The Capstone Project is a detailed, concrete, strategic action plan and a blueprint for the broader transformative local system changes that each team will seek to effectuate.

Throughout the Certificate Program, participants will have dedicated team-planning time to develop and refine their Capstone Project, and will receive facilitated support from Certificate Program instructors. In order to finalize their Capstone Project, participants will refine the strategic plan created at the end of the Certificate Program once they return to their community. A one- to two-page Capstone Summary is due approximately one month after the Certificate Program. The final Capstone Project Proposal outlining key deliverables, timelines, and responsible parties (5-8 pages) is due approximately three months after the Certificate Program.After the Capstone Project is developed and approved, participants receive an Executive Certificate from Georgetown University and become part of the CJJR Fellows Network. While the initial Capstone period will occur over one year, the full transformative plan will be an ongoing, iterative process.

For the one-year initial Capstone period following the Certificate Program, participants will receive distance and on-site technical assistance (TA) from CJJR, the CSG Justice Center, AECF, and relevant subject matter experts to help them implement their plans and projects. TA will help jurisdictions to: develop new policies and practices; identify and advance best practice implementation strategies; train staff and stakeholders to promote their buy-in and collaboration; and assess, evaluate, and sustain progress. After the conclusion of the initial Capstone year, CJJR will also request formal annual progress updates for at least two years, to track progress. Based on these updates and implementation progress, CJJR recognizes the individual or team across all of its Certificate Programs that has made the most significant progress in improving outcomes for youth in their community with the Capstone of the Year Award. First distributed in March 2012, this award marks an annual CJJR practice to honor and recognize the success, innovation, and tremendous work of CJJR Fellows through their Capstone Projects. The recipient of this award can be any CJJR Fellow from any year. The award recipient will receive national recognition for their accomplishment through the release of a Georgetown University publication highlighting their work, and is awarded free tuition and travel for one individual to attend a future CJJR program of their choosing.

At the end of the initial Capstone period, there will be an opportunity for teams to receive additional TA to assist them with the continued implementation of their Capstone Project. While technical assistance will be provided throughout the initial Capstone year, this additional engagement could help support:

  • Creating a community-led diversion continuum
  • Building and sustaining community partnerships, including to promote the development of an array of research-based services and supports to promote youth’s positive development
  • Risk-need based decision making, case planning, and service delivery
  • Applying principles of adolescent development to juvenile probation practice (general training on adolescent development and TA on use of graduated responses and incentives)
  • Strength-based, family- and youth-centered case planning training
  • Using a Race/Ethnic Equity and Inclusion lens in probation practice
  • Family engagement and partnership
  • Data collection, reporting, and performance management
  • Transforming organizational culture within probation
  • Supervisory training (supervising in a reform environment)

Instructors

Instructors will include (additional instructors to be added):

  • Nate Balis, Director, Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Ana Bermudez, Commissioner, New York City Department of Probation
  • Shay Bilchik, Founder and Director Emeritus, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy
  • Stephen Bishop, Senior Associate, Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Tim Decker, Former Director, Missouri Department of Social Services’ Division of Youth Services and Children’s Division; Founder, Social Innovation Partners
  • Scott MacDonald, Consultant, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Gina Peralta, Director of Site Management, The Burns Institute
  • Mindy Schweitzer Smith, Senior Research Associate, Center for Criminal Justice Research; Deputy Director, University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute
  • Mark Soler, Executive Director, Center for Children’s Law and Policy
  • Michael Umpierre, Director, Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy
  • Josh Weber, Deputy Division Director, Corrections and Reentry, Council of State Governments Justice Center

Application Guidelines

The most recent Transforming Juvenile Probation Certificate Program was held on November 4-8, 2019. Through the generous support of the Casey Foundation, participant travel, lodging, meals, on-site activities, conference venue and materials, and one year of distance and on-site consultation and implementation technical assistance is provided at no cost. Teams were responsible, however, for a contribution of $20,000, which will cover tuition and registration-related costs.

While the application window is currently closed, please see below for program information about team composition to prepare for when the program is offered again.

Team Composition

A total of seven multi-disciplinary teams will be selected for participation in the Certificate Program. Each team should be comprised of a maximum of eight members and include representatives from the following constituencies:

  • Core Probation Team
    • Chief Probation Officer
    • Field Probation Supervisor/Deputy
  • Judge (presiding or designated by presiding)
  • Prosecutor (e.g., District Attorney, County Attorney)

  • Probation Mid-level/Line Staff
  • Community-based Organization Leader (someone who is viewed as a leader among the CBO community and is committed to cross-system collaboration and positive youth development)
  • Law Enforcement Official

  • Public Defender
  • County Commissioner/County Manager
  • Human Services Leader
  • State Agency Representative

The teams selected will represent both geographic and demographic diversity and are expected to have representation from a local jurisdiction. In this regard, state-level teams, whether from a state or locally-run probation system must include a pilot local jurisdiction on their team. Local teams applying from a state-run probation system are expected to have state-level participation and approval for selection. Applicants should note that the Capstone Project is intended to be implemented at the local level, so team composition should reflect the guidance noted above.

While the requirements and recommendations detailed above should guide team composition, the exact composition of the teams will depend on the jurisdiction applying and any significant differences from the guidance provided should be explained clearly within the application. Further, successful applicants will propose teams composed of individuals who hold decision-making authority within their agencies and the ability to influence the successful implementation of the Capstone Project.

Teams should demonstrate most or all of the following characteristics:

  • A commitment to system-wide probation transformation.
  • A history of juvenile justice reforms and evidence of effective implementation of these reforms.
  • A history of successful cross-agency/systems/stakeholder collaboration and reform initiatives.
  • Stable organizational structure, leadership, staffing, and funding; a foundation of guiding policies and practices; and the ability to reallocate staffing and other resources in a flexible manner.
  • The capacity to collect, analyze, and report data on both system performance and youth outcome measures over time and routinely monitor outcomes to measure change and sustain improvements.