When a person is placed on probation, there is an opportunity to enhance public safety by helping change the probationer’s behavior so that he does not commit more crimes. All too often, we miss that opportunity. Sometimes our failure is due to a lack of knowledge about how to affect change. Sometimes it is missed due to a belief that criminal thinking cannot be changed.
Through research, we now know what works and that probation can help a person who is at high risk to reoffend become a productive citizen who does not commit new crimes. We can identify programs that work, ones that do not work, and those that increase the person’s likelihood of reoffending.
Probation can, and must, be more than a monitoring service waiting for a violation to occur. Research shows that traditional probation is no more effective than merely imposing fines or community service. It also shows that the typical probation meetings miss opportunities to change the thinking and behavior of probationers.
While Noble County judges were attending the Indiana Judicial Conference annual meeting in September, the Noble County Probation Department underwent training in Effective Practices in Community Supervision (EPICS), conducted by the Corrections Institute at the University of Cincinnati.
I became interested in EPICS because of a presentation at a meeting of Court Alcohol and Drug Programs about EPICS and a pilot project conducted in Grant County. I learned that EPICS could change criminal thinking, decrease criminal behavior, increase public safety, and provide accountability. Upon returning from the meeting, my fellow judges and our chief probation officer decided to use probation users’ fees to pay for EPICS training for every probation officer.
EPICS targets high and moderate risk probationers and trains probation officers to:
- focus on criminogenic needs and criminal thinking
- teach new behaviors
- reinforce acceptable behavior
- sanction unacceptable behavior
Resources are shifted from low-risk probationers to provide more intensive supervision of medium and high-risk probationers. Each meeting addresses criminogenic factors in the probationer and assigns homework focused on developing a new skill.
Probation officers learn how to develop a collaborative relationship, how to engage in active listening, and how to provide feedback. Probation officers then are equipped to teach probationers social and problem-solving skills through positive and negative reinforcement.
Under the EPICS system, a probation meeting consists of “check-in,” “review,” “intervention,” and “homework.” At check-in there is discussion about compliance and any difficulties the probationer may have, and it is a time to build rapport. In review there is discussion about the prior session and what has been done to apply the new skills. The intervention is used to identify needs, teach relevant skills, and identify criminal thinking. Any new skills are discussed and used in role-playing. During the homework portion of the meeting, the probationer is assigned tasks to which he must apply the newly learned skill, and he is given instructions to follow before the next meeting.
The effectiveness of EPICS has been demonstrated through research. That research indicates that probationers supervised under the EPICS model have lower levels of re-arrest. Another benefit of EPICS is an increase in job satisfaction for probation officers. They feel that their work has more meaning and is helping probationers and their communities. With EPICS, fewer probation officers leave their jobs.
In Noble County, we are excited to see the positive results as our probation officers learn and apply EPICS to their high and medium risk probationers.