This article from Governing Magazine makes a good point and it is a strategy that can work in some situations.
As a parole and probation officer in Multnomah County, Ore., Andrew Skidmore can be tough when he has to be. He is trained in hand-to-hand combat. He likes guns enough to have a detailed schematic of his Glock tacked to a wall in his downtown Portland office. He also keeps a black tactical vest with handcuffs, a baton and pepper spray. If he needs to make a forcible arrest of someone breaking the rules of community supervision, he can do it, no problem.
But Skidmore is trying a different method. Officers in Multnomah County don’t want former criminal offenders to think of their “POs” as adversaries. Skidmore sees himself as a mentor and role model. Today, he is meeting with Aaron, a 24-year-old who has been under supervision for more than two years for selling meth and possessing heroin. For much of that time, Aaron has been either homeless or in jail.
On home visits, Skidmore has to wear his vest with a gold star emblem and “PAROLE” in large white font. Here, he’s in jeans with an untucked button-down shirt. In any given situation, Skidmore can choose whether to play the part of enforcer or counselor. When Aaron misses appointments or fails drug tests, Skidmore responds with mandatory community service, jail time or other sanctions. But when Aaron does what he’s asked, Skidmore peppers him with compliments.
After some perfunctory questions about housing and employment, Skidmore asks for the homework Aaron’s been assigned. He unfolds a crinkled set of worksheets subtitled “Friends Exercises.” The homework nudges Aaron to reconsider friendships that increase his chances of committing another crime. Aside from family, the people closest to Aaron are all drug users. Skidmore asks him how he can make friends who would be a better influence. Aaron looks frustrated. “I don’t know how to go about that,” he says.
Oftentimes, parole and probation officers are the only positive role models offenders have. About a decade ago, criminologists began asking if parole and probation visits were a missed opportunity for law enforcement. What if officers developed a more supportive relationship with offenders? What if they demonstrated to clients that they weren’t just checking boxes and delivering sanctions? The working theory was that given some personal attention, offenders might be more receptive to advice about resolving conflicts and avoiding crime. Amid a flurry of academic journal articles and pilot projects, researchers from the University of Cincinnati developed EPICS, short for Effective Practices in Community Supervision, a new model for structured face-to-face meetings between officers and their clients. While universities in Australia and Canada produced similar approaches based on the same underlying theory, EPICS has become the go-to model for parole and probation in much of the United States. Since 2006, more than 80 state and county criminal justice departments have adopted EPICS, including Multnomah County. By focusing on behavioral change, rather than just threats of being thrown back in jail, EPICS and similar efforts may help break the cycle of incarceration. “I don’t think the majority of people on supervision like being criminals,” says Scott Taylor, who runs the department of parole and probation in Multnomah County. “They just can’t figure how to get out of it.”
Retrieved October 6, 2015 from http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-probation-parole-states-community-supervision.html