Adult Probation Program

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A look at recent successes within Arizona’s Adult Probation Program with Kathy Waters, director of the Division of Adult Probation Services for the Arizona Supreme Court. State Schools Chief John Huppenthal, the chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee who sponsored the probation-reform bill, gives his take on the issue.

Ted Simons: Five years ago state lawmakers passed legislation to reform Arizona's adult probation system. The safe communities act was designed to reduce the number of probationers that return to prison. With us is Cathy Waters Director of the Adult Probation Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court, and State Schools Chief John Huppenthal; who, as chairman of the State Senate Judiciary Committee sponsored the probation reform legislation we're talking about today, thank you for joining us.

Both: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: The problem of probation failures in Arizona, how serious was it? What was addressed?

Cathy Waters: It was more serious than we would want it to be. Our success rate on standard probation was probably around 60% success rate. Our most serious offenders, the IPS (Intensive Probation), less than 50% of those were successful on probation. We wanted to address, what could we do to help people be more successful under probation supervision.

Ted Simons: Were those numbers historically at that level? Were they increasing?

Cathy Waters: We were continuing to see, especially the more serious offenders.

Ted Simons: Changing the system, what did you look at?

John Huppenthal: I got this report from the Pew Foundation and crumpled it up and threw the in the garbage can. My assistant literally retrieved it from the garbage can and we went over it. The thing that caught me was the setting of very high standards, drug free, current on restitution, and absolutely current on community service. By establishing that very high standard, 100% drug free, current restitution and community service, it seemed that you would establish this high standard of conduct. And you could change their whole way of thinking and way of life and get greater success. So then I sponsored the bill.

Ted Simons: Weren't incentives involved? It's one thing say do this. It's another thing to get the carrot out in front.

John Huppenthal: For every month they get a month reduced on probation.

John Huppenthal: Almost 100% of failures occur during the first months of probation. It's something that has no value at the tail end and great value at the beginning. I thought this is a homerun, we want to do this.
Ted Simons: Did it make sense when it came down?

Cathy Waters: Yes. At the same time we were training probation officers based on research, what we call evidence-based practices. We were using a validated risk assessment to determine the high, medium and low-risk offenders. Who we needed to focus on and put or resources towards that, helped them to be more successful while on probation. By doing that and then also using other principles of evidence-based practice with the treatment, and helping to establish programs that help change their behavior, helping them be pro social and productive citizens, also it mirrored and fell very well into the incentives base of the Safe Communities Act.

John Huppenthal: I think the policy is one thing. But if you don't have execution -- and the courts have done a great job of executing, connecting probationers to church and a job and to their families in a way that works, and getting them to stay out of triggers for drug abuse. Then training them on values. Most of these probationers have been in families where respected adults have told them it's okay to steal or commit violence. Another adult comes in in a trained way and says, it's not okay to steal, it's not okay to commit violence. Techniques they execute are having results. We're talking 1200 reduced felonies. 1200 fewer murders, rapes, robberies, this is incredible. And at a lower cost, not a higher cost to the taxpayers.

Cathy Waters: We saw significant differences very quickly. Chief Justice Ruth McGregor had spoken to the legislature when we started using evidence-based practice, as well, and said, we will attempt to reduce the revocations to prison and new felonies by persons on probation. She said try to hit at least 5% in that first year. By numbers we're well on 12%. It's continued to build the success built as we've trained our probation officers to use these techniques. To really put our resources on the right offenders and help them to become proactive, based on other performance incentives, as well. Positive reinforcement to them, as well, throughout.

Ted Simons: And the performance incentives, I want to get back to that, as well. Incentives to the probationers with time off for complying, but the departments, as well -- correct me if I'm wrong, they were offered part of the budget savings if they could show results.

John Huppenthal: They were, and it was an offer that was made and being a part of the legislature, I have some guilt because it was an offer that was reneged on. Once they achieved the performance, they didn't get the money. That has consequences to the whole feedback loop. The thing the legislature needs to be aware of, these reduced revocations back to prison, that's $120 million less expense a year in the prison system. It's costing us $40,000 a year per inmate. This was 1200 fewer inmates going into the system. It's huge.

Ted Simons: That particular incentive didn't make it through, huh?

John Huppenthal: No, it was a little bit of a -- you know, there were a lot of things that didn't make it through the budget process.

Cathy Waters: I think, if anything, we established tremendous credibility, not only in Arizona with what probation was doing, our juvenile departments are modeling some of the same practices as far as evidence-based practices. We get calls from all over the country saying these numbers cannot be real.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the numbers. A 42% drop of revocations from 2008 to 2012. Revocations to prison down 44%. Revocations to jail down 12%. As far as a decrease in new felony convictions, down for the first three years. Do we know why? Fiscal year '11 there was an increase. Any reason for that?

John Huppenthal: I was worried about the legislature not following through on its promise and there was a little bit of a let-down by people. I think also, there's no policy that's going to be a straight downward slide. It's well within -- it's still at the terminal year, still over 40% reduction, at the terminal year 1200 fewer felonies.

Cathy Waters: Why we were so excited, when I go out and do the training, not only for the probation department but for the judges and prosecutors and public defenders -- we've blitzed the state with all of our training and the results that you can get, it was obvious that just it was a very big culture change in how we did business. So our numbers were better. We started seeing immediate results. The bigger part of that I think is you have safer communities, because of those 12 hundred less felonies by persons on probation. They are successful but you have that many less victims.

Ted Simons: But was there push-back initially on that culture change?

John Huppenthal: It was war getting this through the legislature.

Ted Simons: But what about the other aspects of the probation community, if you will?

Cathy Waters: No, it really was. We had full support of the 15 chief probation officers in the state, and they were all on board, they knew what the research said. They knew we could get those results. It was training, changing the way we did business and it was successful. The results spoke for themselves.

Ted Simons: Now, what's the deal with the legislature?
John Huppenthal: There is a sense any time you're reducing anything you're being soft on crime. We were reducing the length of probation, but for perfect behavior. That's what I was able to use as a hammer. We know this is going to reduce crime and protect families. We were making a prediction based on John Huppenthal saying, this is good policy. It's important too to let people know my prediction was correct, and the probation department's prediction was correct. You can do complex policy and get great results for families.

Ted Simons: Where does adult probation in Arizona go from here?

Cathy Waters: We continue to refine and make sure we have the same success, that we ton I. our evidence-based practices using our assessment, targeting the right offenders, developing the programs. The treatment programs, and instilling the right programs that really address their issues is very, very important. We're working on that program development continually.

John Huppenthal: I think some of the -- not only in this case but now we think the legislature needs to be thinking about a number of policies in a more complex fashion. Through policy we were able to save many tens of millions of dollars and many lives. They need to think about other areas, our prisons, 15%, they need to be thinking about that in terms of the standards they apply by which somebody reduces a prison sentence. There's a whole lot we know about prison where we can use these policies to do great things for society in that area, too.

Ted Simons: We have to stop right there.

Kathy Waters:Director of the Division of Adult Probation Services, Arizona Supreme Court; John Huppenthal:State Schools Chief and Chairman, State Senate Judiciary Committee;

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