Greater Demands on Time: Launching a SCF program can significantly increase the demands on a judge’s time during the startup period. In most cases, SCF programs start as a caseload in addition to existing judicial responsibilities. At this point, time management is a critical skill. Working in SCF cases along with a full docket of normal cases requires that the judge prioritize the SCF cases to ensure that no backlog develops while also maintaining their normal duties.
Greater Team Involvement: In many SCF programs, the judge plays a critical leadership role in the implementation of the program. Generally the judge is in charge of coordinating the monthly meetings of SCF stakeholders and reviewing the fidelity measures at such meetings. SCF requires an even higher degree of coordination between the various players in the criminal justice system, and the judge often plays a key role in making this happen.
In building the team and providing leadership, judges must understand the philosophy of SCF and why the programs operate as they do. They need to prioritize early buy-in from the other stakeholders. Because bench warrants are generally given lower priority, and SCF programs require that they be served expeditiously, law enforcement is often a group that needs particular cultivation. Given that absconders often engage in further criminal conduct, greater priority on these warrants is a valuable crime prevention strategy.
Scale Matters: SCF programs are much different in their initial stages compared to how they operate once they have achieved scale. This change affects not only the judge, but all the stakeholders. For instance, once a program has scaled successfully, generally there are dedicated individuals in the prosecutor and public defender’s offices for the SCF caseload. Prior to this, often a judge may be scrambling to find individuals from these offices on short notice and in an ad hoc fashion. When a judge moves to an exclusively SCF caseload, they lose the demands of managing both a regular docket combined with the SCF responsibilities.
Community Corrections Supervisor
More Active Leadership: Along with the judge, the key leadership role for a SCF program is the community corrections supervisor. In fact, Texas’s SWIFT program was started by such a supervisor. The supervisor has the responsibility of actively leading the transition to a SCF program. This requires recognizing that some community corrections officers—or other team members—are going to be more enthusiastic about the program than others. People need to be worked with people at whatever level of buy-in they have. Providing information on the front end can be a critical catalyst for the process: when community corrections officers are involved from the beginning, they feel more respected, and will subsequently have greater buy-in. Providing them information not just what needs to be done, but why it needs to be done, also aids the transition process. Concretely, helping the officers understand their loss of discretion—and why this loss of discretion is central to the new program—can go a long way toward supporting good implementation.
Monitoring Fidelity Issues: The community corrections supervisor is also responsible for thinking though fidelity issues: if they notice things are moving slowly in their department, they’ll need to work to expedite work. If the bench warrants are delayed, they will need to work with law enforcement or bring in the judge to get things back on track. They typically have the most capacity and regular access to data to keep an eye on these metrics in between monthly team meetings.
Dramatically Faster Pace: Court staff play a critical role in SCF operations. The day job of court staff gets much busier under a SCF program: the timeline for paperwork to be collected and notices provided might become hours rather than days or weeks. In the beginning, workloads go up, frequently stress levels go up, and everyone should expect the start-up period of the first two months to have disruptions as people operate outside of their comfort zone.
Distance from Results: The additional challenge for court staff is that unlike other stakeholders, they often do not see the direct benefit of their work. Given their workload, and their placement, they often see greater demands on their time without the reward of seeing offender behavior change as result of their work.
Unsung Heroes: The combination of faster work demands and a less personal connection to the results means that court staff are often the unsung heroes of SCF programs. If court staff are not enthusiastic, the program can dramatically slow down and lose efficacy. Therefore good leadership is required—especially at the judge level—to combat this dynamic and make clear the important improvements achieved through court staff work and share the credit for improved results with them.
Community Corrections Officer
New Routines: The community corrections officers need to learn new protocols and new paperwork. Frequently, everything under SCF happens much more quickly than they are used to in the past. Initially, this means workloads go up and stress levels frequently increase. However, after the first three months, probation officers often begin to enjoy the program: they most directly see the results of the program as their relationships with the clients are changed and the client begins abstaining from drug use and generally improving.
Less Paperwork: Any jurisdiction that properly implements SCF will likely eventually see the paperwork be significantly lowered. The source of much of this decline in paperwork is the large reduction in motions to revoke probation. Although officers will fill out more motions to modify, this is a quick form, so numerous motions to modify still involve less paperwork than just a few motions to revoke.
Loss of Discretion: Officers will find they lose some of their discretion under a SCF program. If a client arrives at the office intoxicated, for example, under probation as usual, there often is a large amount of discretion about what to do. Under SCF, there is a protocol for what is to happen in that circumstance and many others. In some jurisdictions, the officer might have some discretion over certain sorts of behaviors, and sanctioning regimes will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But in every jurisdiction, the process is much more routinized than business as usual.
Interactions with the Clients: Because of this loss in discretion, the relationship between clients and officers under SCF provides much less of a scope for debate between the officer and the client about whether a violation has happened or not—and if it has happened how it should be responded to. Because everything has been routinized, and the clients arrive at the office already knowing what to expect, the conversation changes from an argument or negotiation over possible consequences toward more of a discussion of implications of the violation and how it might be avoided in the future. This has a tendency to shorten meetings, reduce stress, and allow people to focus on more productive work. SCF’s ability to effectively reduce drug use also can help interactions, as clients instantly become much more likely to report to the office sober.
Drug Testing: Community corrections officers may also gain the responsibility for drug testing. In a large jurisdiction, a probation officer’s aide does the drug testing. But in a small office, the greatly increased drug testing is an additional demand on the time of a probation officer.
Lead Implementers: While the key leadership roles for SCF supervision are the judge and community corrections supervisor, the community corrections officers are the key frontline implementers of the program. They have the most robust interactions with the client, and they are responsible for delivering on much of the consistency of the program. Often they do this in ways with fewer observable metrics than many of the other team members. Therefore, officer buy-in and commitment is a non-negotiable in enacting a successful SCF program.
Major Variation in Role: Along with the public defender, this role varies widely from jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, prosecutors are central to the program. They participate in every HOPE meeting, warning hearing, violations hearings, etc. In other jurisdictions, they are relatively uninvolved: they will provide a support letter noting that they agree with the philosophy of the program and the overall sanctioning structure, and otherwise they will leave operations to the judge unless there is a contested hearing or a case is flagged for their attention due to a concern for public safety.
Potential Scheduling Conflicts: In jurisdictions where the prosecutor has an active role, scheduling—especially initially—can be a challenge. With no dedicated SCF court, the cases are frequently unscheduled, and the prosecutor needs to make it to the court often with only a few hours notice. As it grows to scale the program gets less disruptive, as there might be a dedicated person from the prosecutor’s office assigned to the SCF court, and violations and warnings hearings tend to be regularized so people can plan their schedules accordingly.
Critical Early Buy-in: There tends to be a very close working relationship between the prosecutor, the judge, and the public defender. As the programs are developed, these parties frequently meet and agree on a sanctioning scheme. Therefore when an issue comes up, everyone has already agreed on what is to happen. The prosecutor’s role therefore at a violation hearing can be just a few seconds, which is why in some jurisdictions they step back from day-to-day operations. However, as with the public defender, the prosecutor’s buy-in to start the program is essential: the efficacy of the program will fall apart without a prosecutor’s cooperation.
Varied but Critical Role: As noted above, both the prosecutor and the public defender can have minimal roles, but their buy-in is critical. Without buy-in from the prosecutor and from the public defender, a SCF program should probably not be implemented. However, beyond this critical early buy-in, their role varies greatly from extremely involved to basically uninvolved.
Client Advocate and Contact: In jurisdictions where the public defender is active in the program they can become the fist line of communication between court and the offender when something goes wrong. During court appearances, they do not dispute the sanction so much as work as part of a team to motivate clients to future compliance. If a client absconds, often the client might contact the public defender rather than checking in with the probation officer because of the public defender’s role as their advocate. Thus the public defender occupies an ideal space to let the clients to take accountability for their actions and turn themselves in, as doing so will dramatically lower their jail time. Thus the public defender becomes a potentially important and trusted line of communication to the client. In this way, the public defenders role can become less court facing and more client facing.
Key Stakeholder Group: Because their ongoing support and involvement is essential, law enforcement is typically invited to the regular meetings of the HOPE team and is a central part of that team. Highly successful SCF programs frequently build a more collaborative relationship between the courts and probation office and law enforcement.
Necessary Education: On the front end, law enforcement frequently requires more concentrated education about the philosophy and goals of the program. Otherwise there can be a lack of buy-in and the potential for the de-prioritization of bench warrants: why chase down an offender, especially a high risk offender, if all they are going to do is spend two nights in jail? Thus it is absolutely critical that the training and education for law enforcement happens on the front end. Certainty is an integral part of SCF, and consequently the need is for every violation to be responded to. Law enforcement need to understand that someone who has absconded has seriously violated, has not taken responsibility for their actions, and has a high probability of committing additional crimes while this violation is not addressed.
Increased Bench Warrants: Under SCF, there will be a substantial increase in the number of bench warrants law enforcement will be serving. This increase is so great that some jurisdictions have responded to this increased workload by authorizing additional overtime for officers. One factor in the magnitude of the increase in bench warrants is whether the community corrections officers have the power to arrest. Places where the supervising officers have the power to arrest will still see an increase in bench warrants, but not to as great an extent as ones that do not give their community corrections officers this power.
Swiftness as Critical to Compliance: If the bench warrants start stockpiling, and the word gets on the street about this, then bad behavior among offenders will tend to proliferate. So it behooves a jurisdiction to keep a close eye on the number of outstanding bench warrants and start taking on overtime to clear bench warrants if they have begun to stockpile. This is essential to establishing the pattern that running is not a good idea, and turning yourself in is a good idea, because you’re going to have far less time in jail as a result. Therefore swiftness in law enforcement efforts becomes central in providing certain consequences for offender behavior and conveying the credibility of the program to the offenders.
Message Reinforcement: In high-functioning, jurisdictions, law enforcement will use the transport to the jail as a teachable moment, reinforcing the goals of the program. This is a sign that the philosophy of SCF has permeated a program.
Radical Change: SCF represents a regime change form business as usual. Most supervised offenders are used to a system that is sporadic, delayed, and inconsistent. Surveying supervised individuals has shown that most offenders do not think the chances of being caught are good, and even if they are caught they believe they likely will not be punished immediately. Therefore the new system that focuses on certainty in detecting violations and swift consequences when violations are discovered can come as a dramatic change for these individuals.
Major Inconvenience… to Start: The number of drug tests will generally markedly increase under to SCF to roughly six times a month. Most courts will attempt to accommodate offenders work schedules, but these frequent tests can be inconvenient and disruptive, and offenders might well complain about this on the front end. However, as the program evolves—especially as the majority of offenders begin complying and work themselves to lower supervision levels—perceptions of the program greatly improve: they are happy to find that their good behavior earns them more freedom.