Ingredients for Success

SCF supervision regimes can dramatical improve outcomes for supervised individuals and for the communities where they reside. However, like any new venture, they can also underperform or simply unravel. In order to realize successful outcomes in your jurisdiction, the following ingredients for success should be examined prior to launching a SCF program.

Checklist: Ingredients for Success

If your jurisdiction can check all these boxes, it is a good candidate for adopting a SCF program. If any of these boxes remain empty, there probably is more work to be done before launching a SCF program.

  • Does the program have critical leadership from the judge or community corrections supervisor responsible for implementing the program? Programs that are spearheaded by a prosecutor, public defender, or other stakeholders frequently face major obstacles to successful implementation.
  • Have all the relevant stakeholders bought in to the program and committed to working through the inevitable transitional challenges of starting a new venture? In particular, are the different stakeholders aware of the stress and additional time pressures during the start-up period of the new program and dedicated to not letting these derail the program?
  • Has the judge spent the necessary time to learn the philosophy of SCF and why the programs operate as they? Is the judge committed to executing such a program through appropriate warning and violations hearings as well as organizing monthly stakeholder meetings?
  • Has the community corrections supervisor also learned the philosophy of SCF and committed to working with the community corrections officers to implement it? Is the supervisor prepared to keep a close eye on all fidelity measures and work with the relevant individuals to keep the program on track?
  • Is the court staff committed to working through a dramatic increase in the pace of work that they do? Are other stakeholders prepared to provide the court staff the support they need as well as sharing credit for the successes realized through their effort?
  • Are the community corrections officers prepared to be the lead implementers in instituting the program? Are they familiar with the philosophy of SCF and prepared for a loss of discretion in handling client violations? Are they prepared to institute a new drug testing regime?
  • Are the community corrections officers prepared to avoid an enforcement only mentality? An enforcement only mentality which treats the discovery of a violation and subsequent punishment as a success outcome will undermine the program. So too will a wholly therapeutic mentality that refuses to consistently sanction violations. Success needs to be defined as a successful completion of the supervision term with as few violations as possible, but every single detected violation sanctioned swiftly, fairly, and consistently. Officers who are able to be both rules enforcers and success promoters will generate the best results for their clients.
  • Is law enforcement prepared for an increase in the number of bench warrants and committed to prioritizing serving these warrants? Law enforcement is absolutely critical to ensure offenders are truly accountable for complying with the program rigorously rather than absconding or evading the program.
  • Have both the prosecutor and public defender’s offices agreed to the sanctioning regime? Although the roles of both these offices can vary dramatically, each needs to agree to the structure of the SCF sanctions for operations to proceed smoothly.
  • Does the jurisdiction have the necessary capacity to institute a SCF program? Even if all the other factors are met, if a jurisdiction does not have the organizational capacity to start up a new program, then launching a SCF program may be unadvisable.

If a jurisdiction has done the necessary work to be able to check off all these different criteria, then they are a good candidate for implementing a SCF supervision program.

Judge Alm’s 12 Benchmarks for Success

The founder of one of the first successful SCF programs, Judge Steven Alm of the HOPE program in Hawaii, outlined 12 Benchmarks for Success that are an additionally useful guide to starting a SCF program:

  1. The players listed below must be involved, make a long-term commitment, and agree to the new, quicker procedures:
    • The Chief Justice and all Judges participating in the program
    • Probation Administrators and Officers
    • Jail Administrators
    • Prosecutors
    • Public Defenders/Defense Attorneys.
    • Sheriff/Police to take offenders into custody who fail drug testing, and to serve arrest warrants for absconders
  2. A judge should be in charge of the program in order to answer questions, quickly address emergent issues and provide the necessary leadership and collaboration to drive the program. Regular meetings (e.g., monthly) with the judge, probation administrators, and other key personnel are very helpful for identifying and addressing problems and concerns.
  3. The most difficult, high-risk probationers should be targeted for HOPE, including violent, domestic violence, and sex offenders.
  4. Start small! Begin with no more than 30-50 offenders so as to readily identify and resolve the inevitable challenges that arise.
  5. It is critical to hold a brief warning/notification hearing by the judge, with counsel present, at the start of HOPE Probation for each offender to clearly communicate program expectations and consequences and to encourage his or her compliance and success.
  6. Routine, effective, timely and, ideally, randomized drug testing (with a confirmation process when positive results are disputed) is key. A drug testing hotline is a good way to ensure that every supervised offender is aware he or she is subject to testing every week day, with the number of tests varying from a maximum of six per month to a minimum of once per month. The frequency of the randomized testing is gradually reduced for offenders who consistently report for testing and have negative results.
  7. Positive drug tests and/or admissions to drug and/or alcohol use should result in an immediate, on-the-spot arrest. Non-appearance for a drug test or a probation appointment should result in the immediate issuance of a bench warrant.
  8. Violation/noncompliance hearings should be held swiftly (within two business days of the arrest date is ideal; it should be possible to hold three-quarters of the hearings within three days). High bail is set, and offenders are usually held in custody pending the hearing.
  9. A brief—but virtually certain—jail sentence as a consequence for probation violation/noncompliance is a central tenet of HOPE. In most cases, the initial sanction should be for a few days to one week, with subsequent violations resulting in similar or longer sentences. Exceptions should only be made for rare and compelling reasons (e.g., documented hospitalization excusing a missed probation appointment).
  10. Expedited warrant service is needed to ensure absconders are apprehended as quickly as possible.
  11. Resources and funding for a continuum of care (e.g., outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment) should be available for offenders who request treatment and/or fail to achieve and sustain abstinence with monitoring and consequences alone.
  12. An independent research component is needed to compile, evaluate, and publicly report program results. Statistical updates should be provided to key stakeholders on a monthly or quarterly basis, at least during the first 24 to 36 months of program implementation.

Key Stakeholder Metrics

As noted in Judge Alm’s 12th Benchmark, rigorous monitoring of key metrics at each step of the SCF process maximize the fidelity and success of the program. Therefore it is important to monitor the following key metrics for each team member.

Judges

  • Time to hearing from detected violation.
  • Time to hearing from an arrest.
  • Does the warning hearing clearly elaborate all the agreed upon rules of the SCF program?
  • Is the judge sanctioning according to rules of the program? What is the magnitude of the dose? Is it applied consistently both across offenders and for each individual offender?
  • Do individuals get a smaller sanction if they turn themselves in than if they are arrested?
  • If the judge is the leader of the program, is the judge holding regular meetings of key players and resolving any problems that arise?

Probation Officers

  • Are office visits and positive drug tests being properly recorded? Documented appropriately? Are proper authorities notified of positive tests? Are arrests happening immediately (or according to agreed upon procedure)?
  • Both judge and probation officers: Are the warrants being issued according to policy?
    • That doesn’t mean that the warrant is issued immediately upon a client failing to appear for an appointment. You want to give the client the opportunity to do the right thing and turn himself in, so some jurisdictions have the rule: 48 – 72 Hour: Before Bench Warrants issued.

Law Enforcement

  • Once the bench warrant is issued, how long does it take to serve the bench warrant? This a key time to monitor closely, as law enforcement is critical to maintaining the integrity of the program.

Relationship between Law Enforcement and Courts

  • Number of absconders.
    • This is a critical metric of how well this relationship is operating. Sometimes law enforcement will need to bring in friends across jurisdictional lines, sometimes they will need to bring in U.S. Marshals. Whatever is required to get the abscond rate down is essential for both the swiftness and certainty of the program. Generally absconding has not been a major problem with SCF programs, but it is particularly important to watch for jurisdictions with more complicated jurisdictional lines nearby that make absconding a more realistic possibility for an offender.