CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY CHANGES FOR THE PROBATION DEPARTMENT

This is the Executive Summary, Conclusion, Findings and Recommendations only. For the entire report go to:   2016 – 2017 Final Report

Executive Summary

Alameda County’s Probation Department, along with law enforcement and the court system, plays a key role in maintaining public safety. The Probation Department’s mandate is to keep track of criminal offenders and to provide them with support services to reduce their chances of being arrested again. After a comprehensive review of the operations of the Probation Department, including interviews with leadership and staff, the Grand Jury found several serious deficiencies that raise questions about the department’s ability to protect the public as effectively as possible.

The Grand Jury’s investigation focused on the work of the Adult Services Division. The jury discovered that the department has been using 20th Century tools to address 21st Century problems by relying on paper-based systems, outdated technology, memory and instinct to do its work to protect the public. While probation departments throughout the nation have long ago adopted technological solutions to help them make evidence-based decisions about case management, risk assessments, treatment planning, and resource management, previous attempts by Alameda County’s Probation Department to modernize these systems have failed.

Recently, new leadership within the Probation Department has taken steps to focus on these issues again. The department has acquired a proven case management system to

replace paper files, and has invested in a validated risk-assessment tool to measure the needs and dangers posed by the supervised offenders. The department is also planning to implement an electronic referral system to manage offender treatment plans more effectively. Each of these tools, when implemented, will provide necessary information for the optimal utilization and assignment of Probation Department staff and resources.

Although the department has made significant investments in these data-management technologies, successful implementation will require comprehensive department-wide training and staff buy-in. Without changes in both organizational structure and in departmental culture, the new systems will meet the same fate as the department’s past efforts at modernizing the agency. This report underscores what is at stake and outlines best practices used by other agencies.

Composite Case Study

To protect individual privacy and the investigative process, this case study combines related facts taken from three different instances.

Fred S. is a potential threat to the community. Fred has been arrested for domestic violence and beating his two children several times. Each time, he has struck a plea deal to a lesser offense.

Fred has just been released from jail after serving his time for an attack on his wife that put her in the hospital for a week. His case was assigned to a newly hired probation officer who already had 60 clients (almost twice the recommended case load) to oversee. Three days after he was released, and one day late, Fred reported to the probation officer. Because there was no electronic database, the officer could not review Fred’s probation file, which contained past efforts to address his problems along with his amenability to supervision. It would take another two days to get Fred’s hard copy paper file because it had to be messengered from another town and it was the weekend. Meanwhile, the probation officer deemed Fred to be low risk – no need for extra supervision because the risk assessment tool did not take into account that Fred had prior domestic violence or child abuse arrests. Three days later, Fred was stopped for speeding on I-580. The officer noted the woman in the car appeared battered and bruised and the child she was holding was crying. Fred was detained and arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

CONCLUSION

As part of creating this new management structure, great care must be taken to identify the proper stakeholders who have the knowledge and experience to create the specifications of the new system. Without the involvement and ownership of the people who know how the Probation Department should operate, no new system will be successful.

While the Alameda County Probation Department has suffered for years from a lack of focus and misplaced priorities regarding modernization, the Grand Jury is encouraged that new leadership at the department is taking positive action to address these deficiencies. The old policies have caused probation staff frustration and burnout, ill- served clients, and a public at risk because of inadequate supervision of dangerous offenders. This underscores why it is so important that the new case management and evidence-based risk-assessment systems be successfully implemented.

FINDINGS

Finding 17-22:

By making decisions without ready access to necessary information, the Probation Department has been putting the public at risk. The lack of a comprehensive case management system prevents probation officers from effectively managing and tracking their workloads, properly evaluating their clients’ needs, and accurately identifying potential issues.

Finding 17-23:

The Probation Department has been unable to report accurate recidivism rates due to inadequate collection, storage and analysis of data.

Finding 17-24:

Probation decisions about which service and/or service provider is best for an individual client have not been sufficiently data driven. Service providers have been chosen based on anecdotal evidence of reputation and previous experience.

Finding 17-25:

Current Probation Department management structure doesn’t allow for focused attention on data collection and evidence-based analysis.

Finding 17-26:

In the past, staff has been reluctant to embrace/accept new technology and processes. Staff buy-in is critical to the success of any proposed changes.

Finding 17-27:

Recognizing that the department needs an integrated information system that includes case management, risk assessment, reporting, and an access portal for staff, management has begun addressing these issues, beginning with the purchase and installation of new software systems.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 17-14:

To ensure public safety, the Alameda County Probation Department must quickly implement and evaluate the new evidence-based integrated case management and risk- assessment systems.

Recommendation 17-15:

The Alameda County Probation Department must staff appropriately for successful implementation and support of the new case management and risk-assessment systems.

Recommendation 17-16:

Once the new integrated technology is in place, the Alameda County Probation Department must publicly report recidivism data in a timely manner.

Recommendation 17-17:

The Alameda County Probation Department must develop an evidence-based vendor evaluation system to ensure that service decisions impacting clients are based on data, not anecdotes.

RESPONSES REQUIRED

Alameda County Board of Supervisors:

Findings 17-22 through 17-27

Recommendations 17-14 through 17-17

Alameda County Probation Department:

Findings 17-22 through 17-27

Recommendations 17-14 through 17-17