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Misdemeanant Probation at Work

01-31-2012

 

Clark County’s Gender Responsive Case Management Program

By Beth Robinson, Probation Officer Women’s Program

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     Picture this happening at your next departmental meeting: an announcement is made that your agency is switching to gender responsive case management. How many volunteers do you think there would be to take on the women’s caseload? Chances are, not many.

      National studies and focus groups have revealed generally negative attitudes and stereotypes about women offenders, with officers describing them as inconvenient, more difficult to work with, complaining, more demanding, and more likely to refuse orders. In addition, women offenders take more time in session than required by males. From probation intake to report-in supervision, women will not only have more presenting problems, but also have the expectation that officers are there to help and will share more and generally present higher level of neediness. Their many needs and issues include childcare, housing, job training, employment, transportation, family reunification, substance abuse, mental health, and peer support. Who would want to take on all that?

      Since 2006, Clark County District Court Corrections has actively explored options for implementation of specialized supervision by gender. We queried researchers out of Cincinnati University (CU) who were involved with Orbis Partners Inc., as they developed the Women Offender Case Management Model (WOCMM). The complete WOCMM guide can be found on the National Institute of Corrections web site at http://nicic.gov/Library/021814.

     In April 2008, we implemented the WOCMM and formed Corrections Community Network for Women (CCNW): a broad-based network of available resources from the community, as well as from law and justice. Our work is geared toward the criminogenic risks, needs, and special challenges of women offenders. We balance meeting needs with accountability and community safety, while continuously promoting positive change and building self-efficacy. When looming budget cuts threatened the scaling back or elimination of the women’s program, we received federal Bryne Grant funding in August 2009 that allowed us to continue and expand services.

      Highlights of our program include:

  • Development of the CCNW stakeholders group of regional agencies and resources to serve female probationers, preventing reduction in services or duplication of efforts;
  • Monthly CCNW case staffing meetings to support gender specific community supervision and develop individualized case plans;
  • Smaller caseloads to allow the two officers assigned to the program more time to work with their female clients;
  • Intakes conducted by the assigned probation officer, to start building a relationship with the client from the first visit, as well as prevent the retraumatization that may occur when a client has to tell her story to multiple officers;
  • Use of the Service Planning Instrument (SPIn ), an evidence-based classification tool developed by Orbis Partners which helps keep our focus on high to moderate criminogenic risk and needs;
  • Enhanced case planning, where probation officers utilize Motivational Interviewing to help the client develop a plan where she truly feels ownership;
  • Implementation of a women’s support group using the “Trauma in Life” curriculum (http://www.changecompanies.net/preview/products.php), to explore through interactive journaling how trauma is often a woman’s pathway into the criminal justice system;
  • Extensive training in gender-responsive case management for our team, our coworkers, our community partners, and our region.

     The nature of our business often requires staffing changes, but switching probation officers midstream can be very disruptive to clients. Our model intends to keep the probationer assigned to the same officer throughout her total supervision period, unless she gets transferred to a “low” classification status. This not only benefits the client; it also gives the probation officer a chance to work with the woman on her long range goals. We see our clients graduate from treatment, go to school, and find work. We direct them to community service activities, which may form the basis for the only pro-social interactions in their lives. We work closely with their treatment providers and counselors, to all be on the same page rather than pull the client in different directions. We get to know their children, their families, and their significant others.

     In all cases, we assess the client’s stage of change and incorporate Motivational Interviewing techniques. Sometimes the change we see is a small one, like the client who decided to dye her hair from hot pink back to her natural brunette state, because she was ready to “grow up” and “get a job.” Other times it’s huge; for instance, the clients who complete all of their requirements to regain custody of their children. Our period of grant funding may now be over, but our commitment to providing these services remains.

     By the way, gender responsive case management doesn't benefit just our female probationers. Through the relationships and connections we've been able to nurture in our community, we are better able to serve our male clients, as well!

 

For more information about this program, please contact: Program Manager Linda Shaw, Clark County District Court Corrections, at linda.shaw@clark.wa.gov, or (360) 397-6119, ext. 4143.