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Programs and Resources for Experienced Probation and Pretrial Services Officers

Coaching for New Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts are specialized dockets designed to address the needs of certain groups of offenders, such as military veterans, people with substance use disorders, or people with mental health disorders. This workshop introduces new federal problem-solving court teams to the research and practice principles related to evidence-based problem-solving court operations and provides one year of expert consultation. The intent of this program is to guide problem-solving court teams to improve defendant or offender outcomes (e.g., reduced recidivism, reduced supervision violations, improved behavioral health, improved vocational or educational achievement, and improved interpersonal relationships).

Following this program, problem-solving court teams will be able to summarize the research related to evidence-based problem-solving court operations and apply the research principles to their practice of problem-solving court work.

Over the course of one year, program participants

  • Engage in a dedicated online forum about the research related to problem-solving courts, share information (documents and videos), and participate in discussions with their peers, Center staff, and an expert consultant
  • Attend an in-person workshop in which they engage in activities designed to reinforce the application of research concepts to their everyday work, visit an operational problem-solving court, work as teams to develop and refine their operational practice, and learn from their peers and experts
  • Engage in ten monthly telephone consultations with Center staff and an expert consultant
  • Experience an on-site observation by Center staff and an expert consultant who evaluate the team’s operations and provide feedback.

Everyday Ethics: A Matter of Choice

This e-learning program is designed for probation and pretrial services staff. It covers the canons in the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees.

Learning Objectives

  • Apply the Code of Conduct and relevant statutes to daily activities
  • Identify areas  where ethical issues most often arise for probation and pretrial services staff (e.g., confidentiality, conflicts of interest, gifts, political activity, outside activities, outside employment, and misuse of position)
  • Respond appropriately to ethical challenges

Competencies:  Integrity, Problem Solving, Quality Driven

Leadership Development Program

In this three-year program, participants learn and develop leadership skills through a combination of formal instruction, project-based learning, and one-on-one interaction with faculty mentors. During the program, participants formulate and carry out three major projects:  a management practices report, an in-district improvement project, and a temporary duty assignment. The last two projects require participants to identify projects that will assist them in developing and applying the leadership skills they have learned in the presentations and management practices reports. Participants are supported by faculty members or mentors whom they choose with the advice of the program facilitators. During the program, participants also attend two seminars to allow them to discuss their projects in a small-group setting and to receive additional leadership training. 

Participants in the Leadership Development Program

  • Develop a personal approach to leadership and management as they consider a multiplicity of available approaches through a review of literature and interviews with managers and leaders in the public and private sectors
  • Develop new skills in the area of change management as they try to introduce new programs and projects into their district
  • Develop an ability to benchmark the achievements of federal probation and pretrial services offices by comparing their performance with the performance of other public- or private-sector agencies
  • Broaden their own understanding of judicial administration
  • Learn from the best practices of other probation and pretrial services officers across the country.

Off Paper: The Criminal Justice Podcast

This program focuses on issues of federal criminal justice and, more specifically, how those issues affect probation and pretrial services officers and their clients. Episodes of the podcast feature interviews with distinguished subject-matter experts in the field. The name of the podcast derives from a commonly used term in federal criminal justice practice:  When an individual has finished serving any time and successfully completed release requirements, that person is deemed “off paper.”

Quality Improvement in Federal Problem-Solving Courts

Problem-solving courts are specialized dockets designed to address the needs of certain groups of offenders, such as military veterans, people with substance use disorders, or people with mental health disorders. Quality Improvement is a reflective approach to analyzing performance and making systematic efforts to improve it. This approach is modeled after processes developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and NIATx (formerly the Network for Treatment Improvement) for use in health care and behavioral health treatment. In criminal justice, this process is designed to facilitate deeper team and systems integration and improved supervision of defendants and offenders.

The goal of this program is to enable participating problem-solving court teams to develop and maintain a self-directed quality-improvement process that identifies their practices that effectively support offender reentry and those that need modification. This program consists of a two-day seminar for four problem-solving court teams, preceded by a one-hour web conference and followed by 11 monthly, one-hour phone consultations with each team.

Supervising U.S. Probation Officers in an Evidence-Based Environment

The role of the supervisor in U.S. probation and pretrial services is critical to successfully reducing risk in the community. The Center provides supervisors with education and training in more effectively monitoring officers’ supervision of defendants and offenders to ensure that officers’ actions correspond with evidence-based principles. This year-long, in-district, blended-learning program teaches supervisors and the officers who report to them how to fully engage in supervising defendants and offenders by using evidence-based methods.

At the conclusion of this program, supervisors will be able to

  • Listen actively, provide effective feedback, and reinforce officers’ efforts
  • Apply evidence-based (i.e., risk-need-responsivity) principles and help officers connect risk/needs assessment results, case plans, and supervision strategies
  • Conduct focused discussions—based on risk drivers and strategies to reduce risk—during case staffing and interactions with officers
  • Review case plans to ensure that they reflect evidence-based supervision strategies and that officers are actively seeking to address criminogenic concerns.

Tailoring Justice: Science-Informed Decision Making

This workshop focuses on helping federal criminal justice stakeholders improve the way they work with justice-involved individuals (offenders and defendants) with mental health and substance use disorders from initial appearance to sentencing. The goal of the workshop is to enable federal court stakeholders to translate clinical insights and scientific advancements into everyday practice.

The workshop brings together federal court stakeholders to learn from scholars and clinicians about how research can be applied at key criminal case decision points, including initial appearance, violation hearings, presentence investigation, and sentencing. Each participating district team includes a district judge, a magistrate judge, a pretrial services officer, a presentence officer, a defense attorney, and a prosecutor.

During the workshop, practitioners learn together in sessions designed to develop their shared understanding of how justice-involved individuals with mental health and substance use disorders move through the federal criminal justice system. In addition, each day of the workshop includes skill-building sessions in which district stakeholders work together on a case study to practice applying what they’ve learned about science to real-world federal criminal case challenges. Participants work through the case studies with assigned expert clinical consultants, who help them identify issues and possible interventions. Participants leave the workshop with an approach to decision making that they can put into practice when they return to their districts.

Following this workshop, participants will be able to

  • Make individualized recommendations and decisions that have been informed by clinical insights and scientific advancements
  • Identify opportunities within their districts for improved collaborative responses to the risks and needs of justice-involved individuals with mental health and substance use disorders
  • Devise actionable ways to take advantage of clinical insights in addressing the unique challenges within their own districts.

This program is a collaboration between the Federal Judicial Center; the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior; and the Petrie Flom Center for Health Law Policy at Harvard Law School.

Treatment Services: Negotiating Pathways and Supporting Successful Transitions

This program helps U.S. probation and pretrial services treatment specialists and other interested members of the judiciary understand the latest research on substance use and mental health disorders, treatment services in the community, and development of job-related skills.

After the program, participants should be able to understand treatment modalities and have knowledge of available resources in order to make appropriate treatment referrals; match individuals to appropriate treatment services when indicated based on needs; collaboratively plan and implement a continuum of care for each individual, ensuring quality in every stage; and act as agents of change, exhibiting leadership in the supervision of treatment cases.

This program consists of an online course (open to all interested members of the judiciary) and an in-person seminar (for probation and pretrial treatment specialists only). The online course includes documents, videos, and links to resources to enhance officers’ knowledge about such topics as the science of behavioral health, treatment modalities, evidence-based behavioral responses, identifying community treatment providers, assessment tools, and medication-assisted treatment. The in-person seminar develops such skills as effective communication, case planning, interviewing, and assessment.