Implementing procedural justice strategies in community supervision could improve the relationship between parole and probation officers and supervisees, and possibly lead to fewer re-arrests and convictions, according to a new report.
The Urban Institute, the Center for Court Innovation, the American Probation and Parole Association and LaGratta Consulting partnered to develop a procedural justice pilot program that analyzed how applying procedural justice techniques in community supervision affects individuals on probation or parole.
A report released earlier this week detailed the findings of the pilot program.
While much of the data was inconclusive, the study overall saw positive results from implementing the program.
The authors’ definition of procedural justice had five main categories: giving the sentenced individual a voice, treating them with respect, making sure they feel understood, providing help where the supervisor can, and making sure that any decisions made remain neutral and fair.
A survey detailed in the report showed that of representatives from 74 community correction agencies, 71 percent of individuals somewhat understood what procedural justice was, but only 24 percent said that their agency actually implemented those tactics.
Procedural justice is “a framework for authority figures to treat people with fairness and respect, [it] can improve probation supervision and core supervision outcomes,” said the authors.
By implementing these measures, a better relationship could be established between officers and the individual, which could lead to more trust and less violations.
The pilot program featured an all-day, in-person training class administered to a group of officers and two supervisors at the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, which was chosen as the department to pilot to program with.
The training covered a multitude of topics, ranging from defining procedural justice in the community correction sphere and leading workshops on how the officers could realistically implement the practices.
Three weeks after the initial training, there was an in-person “booster training” to evaluate progress with the officers and allow them to voice their successes and concerns with implementing procedural justice tactics.
“The procedural justice training was intended to provide supervision officers with new skills for engaging their supervisees and their families and friends to make interactions more positive and increase supervisee compliance,” said the study.
While parole or probation tends to be seen as a more favorable or humane than keeping individuals locked up, distrust between community supervisors and their supervisees is common.
The relationship between an individual on probation or parole and their supervisor is often not a good one, demonstrated in horror stories like getting sent back to jail for missing an online assignment or struggling to pay fines and fees associated with being in the criminal justice system.
“Procedural justice is focused on how people experience authority, which often determines people’s satisfaction with encounters with authorities more than the outcomes of such interactions,” said the authors.
“Although procedural justice cannot fix the deep and racialized inequities in the US justice system, it could promote foundational principles of fairness and respectful treatment in it.”
The organizers of the project used officers’ body camera footage to analyze if the procedural justice measures were actually being implemented. However, only about half of the officers consented to share footage – which the authors note could skew data as a biased sample.
Although unable to use body camera footage as a standard for data, a survey of the supervisees noted an increase in the “understanding” quality of procedural justice from pre-training interaction to post-training interactions with their officers.
According to the report, officers were more likely to prioritize the understanding of the supervisee, use plain language to communicate, and clearly state goals and expectations post-training than they did pre-training.
There was also an increase in officers’ tone of voice and “respectful manner of address” when talking to their supervisees.
According to the report, supervisees who had officers that received procedural justice training also saw fewer arrests, fewer delinquent reports and less warrants and convictions.
Although the project garnered a lot of baseline evidence in the practice of procedural justice, the authors noted that a lot more research needs to be done before the findings become conclusive.
“Although these initial findings are not conclusive, the fact that results from a small sample indicate some evidence of positive change in officers’ behaviors during interactions in the post-training compared with the pretraining period is promising,” said the study.
According to the report, the next steps in procedural justice would include creating a revised intervention model for training and bringing the idea to leadership among other agencies to enforce department-wide reforms that include procedural justice measures.
Although the trainings were conducted before the Coronavirus pandemic, the authors noted that the pandemic only increases the need for procedural justice, with less face-to-face communication between officers and their supervisees.
“Every type of contact from routine calls or text messages, to the signage in probation offices, to initial interviews, to responses to violations may contribute to the overall perceived legitimacy of officers and their supervising agencies,” said the authors.
Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.