Article  |  Probation

Fidelity to the intensive supervision probation with services model: An examination of Adult Redeploy Illinois programs

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Key findings

Prison populations in America are the highest per capita of any country in the world.1 Illinois houses about 49,000 prisoners daily, spending $1.1 billion on corrections in 2014.2 Growing public support for prison reform has brought attention to incarceration alternatives, including intensive supervision probation (ISP).

ISP programs include increased surveillance, increased surveillance with treatment, and increased surveillance with evidence-based practices.3 The ISP programs examined for this study were a hybrid of the three, using increased surveillance with treatment services and evidence based practices. For the purposes of this report, these programs will be referred to as intensive supervision probation with services (ISP-S). ISP-S programs have better outcomes than deterrence-based, surveillance-only ISP.4 Research has shown ISP-S programs reduce recidivism by 17 percent, saving approximately $20,000 per offender.5

Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (Authority) researchers examined ISP-S programs operating in four counties supported by Adult Redeploy Illinois (ARI). ARI applies evidence-based, data-driven, and result-oriented strategies to curb prison overcrowding and enhance public safety. Since 2010, the Authority has administered grant funding for ARI and offered research, evaluation, and technical assistance to the program. In exchange for grant funding, jurisdictions agree to implement evidence-based prison-diversion programs, such as ISP, and reduce by 25 percent the number of non-violent offenders sentenced to prison from a target population.

Researchers examined ISP-S programs in DuPage, Macon, McLean, and St. Clair counties and used staff and stakeholder interviews, client interviews, and program data to evaluate fidelity to key components to evidence-based ISP-S. Researchers developed a list of nine key components of ISP-S drawing from Petersilia and Turner’s ISP literature and the National Institute for Corrections (NIC) recommendations for evidence-based practices, shaped largely by Andrews and Bonta’s Risk-Need-Responsivity model.6 Researchers used data collected during the 18-month, pilot phases of DuPage, Macon, McLean and St. Clair county programs, beginning in 2011. McLean County began accepting clients in January 2012.

Key components include:

  • Key Component #1: Goals are established for the program overall and for individual probationers.7
  • Key Component #2: The program has a defined, higher-risk, target population.8
  • Key Component #3: The ISP-S program has consistent selection criteria using a standard program acceptance procedure. Uniform selection of participants ensures that probation officer’s skills and resources will be well-utilized and that conclusions drawn about services will be generalizable to the target population.9
  • Key Component #4: Length of treatment conforms to evidence based-practice recommendations on dosage for high-risk offenders.10
  • Key Component #5: The program operates in phases which decrease officer-probationer contact gradually.11
  • Key Component #6: The program has smaller caseloads than standard probation.12
  • Key Component #7: Enhanced surveillance and control mechanisms (electronic monitoring, curfew, community service, drug testing, and financial obligations) are balanced with rehabilitative services (employment, education, and treatment).13
  • Key Component #8: The program is able to link probationers with appropriate resources and providers, including substance abuse treatment, health care, support in finding employment and housing, and education assistance, if needed.14
  • Key Component #9: Programs keep thorough documentation of relevant data, performing regular reviews and providing feedback to providers on what has been shown to effectively reduce recidivism.15

Overall, the four ISP-S programs maintained fidelity to some degree to most of the key components of ISP-S. Each conducted a program with clear and relevant goals for probationers, used consistent selection criteria, conformed to evidence-based dosage recommendations, and participated in measurement that allowed feedback. Three of four counties also met robust standards for treatment and service provision.

However, DuPage County slightly exceeded the requirement for small caseloads. Macon County did not have a majority of high-risk clients and they shared DuPage County’s oversized caseload issue.

The programs did best with meeting fidelity to evidence-based dosage (#4), decreasing probationer contact levels (#5), and treatment and services (#8). The programs did the worst with meeting fidelity to established goals (#1), small caseloads (#6), and measurement and feedback (#9). The table below depicts the counties and their fidelity to key components of ISP with services.

Illinois ISP-S fidelity to key components by county

Click or mouse over component numbers for explanations of each component.
County 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
St. Clair

Symbol key:

  • = did not meet fidelity criteria/insufficient evidence
  • = partially met criteria/some evidence
  • = fully met criteria/sufficient evidence

Key components:

  • 1= Established goals
  • 2= High-risk clients
  • 3= Selection criteria
  • 4= Evidence-based dosage
  • 5= Decreasing probationer contact levels
  • 6= Small caseloads
  • 7= Effective case management
  • 8= Treatment and services
  • 9= Measurement and feedback

Implications for policy and practice

What follows are recommendations to enhance ISP-S programs based on the evaluation findings and supported by literature and research.

Target high-risk clients

While all four ISP-S programs completed assessments to determine risk, two did not have a majority of their probation caseloads assessed to be at high-risk for recidivism. High-risk offenders have greater reductions in recidivism from larger numbers of treatment hours than low- and moderate-risk offenders.16 Government resources for programs are limited and targeting those at greater risk for recidivism and need for services can make the biggest impact.

Offer comprehensive services

All four programs presented evidence of providing health care and substance abuse treatment. However, one ISP-S program did not provide assistance with employment and housing and clients reported most of their service needs were not met. Research has found substance abuse treatment with health care, employment assistance, housing, and educational services reduces recidivism among high-risk offenders.17

Employ small caseloads

Successful ISP-S programs operate with caseloads of 20 to 25 offenders per officer,18 though the exact number likely depends on client recidivism-risk level and staff skills. Best practices recommend probation officers accurately measure risk and effectively respond to criminogenic needs, such as substance use, antisocial thinking, antisocial peers, dysfunctional family relationships, and unemployment.19

Training on evidence-based practices

Two of the four ISP-S programs emphasized training of probation officers on evidence-based case management techniques, which is considered a best practice.20 Research has found outcomes are improved when probation officers understand positive reinforcement, motivational interviewing, and social learning.21

Strategic drug testing

Drug testing should be conducted randomly and frequently, and failed tests should be addressed immediately.22 McLean County probation officers reported office visit drug tests were not helpful since clients would stay clean for the scheduled test. One community corrections study found that a group receiving drug testing that was random, frequent, with immediate feedback had 54 percent fewer positive drug tests after six months than those who had office visit drug tests.23

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Fidelity to the intensive supervision probation with services model: An examination of Adult Redeploy Illinois programs