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 probation officers and their clients. EPICS has become the go-to model for parole and probation in much of the U.S., writes Governing Magazine. Since 2006, more than 80 state and county criminal justice departments have adopted EPICS. 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, Or. “They just can't figure how to get out of it.”
EPICS is part of a larger change that is developing within parole and probation systems. Parole boards are under scrutiny for keeping people in prison without explaining why they don't qualify for supervised release. Many states have changed sentencing requirements so that nonviolent offenders are increasingly the responsibility of local jails and community supervision agencies, not state prisons. Parole and probation officers are using risk assessment tools to concentrate services on people who are most likely to reoffend. Almost five years into using EPICS, some Oregon officers don't like it. One calls it “paint by numbers” because the model is so prescriptive, it can feel like there's little room for improvisation or natural conversation. Every meeting follows four steps. Every step comes with its own protocol and training. Even though the clients are adults, officers assign homework and go over clients' answers at the next session.