Anatomy of a Probation System Review – Improving Workforce Efficiency & Client Outcomes

February 28, 2011

At a time when workforce efficiency and outcome efficacy are critically important to our juvenile justice and probation systems, a comprehensive probation system review has been developed and utilized to enhance practices and service provision on behalf of the youth and families involved in the juvenile justice and other relevant youth serving systems.

The elements of the review take advantage of the expertise provided by a local leadership collaborative, supported by expert senior consultation experience, to evaluate, assess and analyze current court, management and probation practice. The findings and recommendations produced by this collaborative set of activities have been used to enhance practices, procedures, policies and service provision that improve clearly articulated and sought child, family, department and community outcomes.

The upcoming session at the March 2011 National Conference on Juvenile & Family Law will highlight the activities that support the review, such as:

(1) Development of clear and comprehensive client outcome measures for probation programs to determine the level of effectiveness of such programs and services;

(2) Analysis of case management and flow as well as linkages with the organization it interfaces with as cases move through the system;

(3) Assessment of the performance in the areas of management and court practices and identifying enabling practices that result in improvement; and

(4) Determination of resources necessary to assist clients in preventing recidivism and in achieving and maintaining self-sufficiency.   

The conference session will identify the multiple methodologies, including document review, focus groups, case review, process mapping, interviews, and performance measurement that have contributed to the process. The session will detail the Probation System Review work plan components that are designed to address causes of performance issues – strengths and opportunities – and develop practical and measurable recommendations for program and practice enhancement.

Three jurisdictions have participated in this approach (Los Angeles County, CA [2006]; Jefferson Parish, LA [2009 – present]; and Newton County, GA [2010 – present]) and the latter two remain actively involved in the implementation of prioritized recommendations. A member of the judiciary from Newton County will be present in the 2011 conference session. 

Collaboration is key to this process. We consider the engagement of department leadership, probation management and other court and probation staff essential to the work. Our approach ensures objectivity while increasing the likelihood that the Probation Department/Juvenile Court Service agency will actively implement project recommendations. A rich practitioner and managerial experience within the probation and court system, combined with past implementation of probation system reviews, permits a detailed understanding of how strategy, policy, practice, processes and resources interact with each other. The review has gathered and analyzed data obtained through multiple methodologies, including document review, focus groups, case review, process mapping, interviews, and measure setting.

The reviews have addressed the wide array of probation programming for juveniles, including programs delivered by the Department/Court/Agency and their various contractors. The work has sought to determine how well they:

  • Achieve community safety outcomes;
  • Accomplish recidivism prevention and self-sufficiency outcomes for probationers;
  • Utilize evidence-based practices and validated assessment instruments to guide decision-making regarding placement, service, and program access;
  • Provide adequate guidelines, information and tools to support staff decision-making at critical decision points in case management;
  • Positively engage probationers’ families and communities in achieving these outcomes;
  • Collaborate with other departments/agencies (i.e., defenders, district attorneys, courts, child welfare, education, mental health, public); and 
  • Provide needed services to clients through effective coordination with contractors and through linkages with other relevant youth-serving systems.

In these remarkably difficult and challenging fiscal environments, it has proven particularly useful to engage in this introspective analysis to enable improved workforce efficiency and practice – and improved outcomes for our youth and families. Please feel free to contact John A. Tuell at if you wish to learn more about the probation system review.

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