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UC-Developed Program Is Changing Approaches to Supervising Criminal Offenders

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The program, underway in five states, aims to build on the strengths of probation and parole officers as agents of change.

A program developed by University of Cincinnati criminal justice researchers strives to strengthen the working relationship between probation/parole officers and offenders to help offenders stay on track toward building a life away from crime.

The program, called “Effective Practices for Community Supervision Training” (EPICS), creates an action plan that addresses the criminal thought behaviors of higher-risk offenders.

“This program is unique in that it changes the way we typically supervise offenders,” says Ed Latessa, head of UC’s School of Criminal Justice. “Traditionally that supervision has been compliance-based rather than change-based.”

“Probation and community supervision typically has focused on electronic monitoring, drug testing, house arrest and making referrals, but these interactions between the officers and offenders haven’t necessarily made full use of their face-to-face interaction,” explains Paula Smith, UC assistant professor, School of Criminal Justice. “EPICS adds that element by providing the structure for officers to identify high-risk thinking and anti-social attitudes that lead to criminal behavior. Those behavior predictors have not been targeted in the past.”

UC researchers first launched EPICS in Indiana in 2008, with Smith and other UC criminal justice staff and students leading the training of the probation and parole officers.

Under EPICS, probation officers are trained to work four key components into their meetings with offenders:

• Check-in – A time to build rapport, discuss compliance and determine if the offender is encountering any crises situations that could lead to criminal behavior
• Review – Discussing the prior session and building on skills to success
• Intervention – The parole officer identifies continued areas of need and trends in problems that the offender experiences. This part of the session is also a time to examine skill-building and target the thinking that can lead to criminal behavior.
• Homework and Rehearsal – The offender is given opportunities for role playing as well as instructions to follow before the next visit.

“In our preliminary studies, we’re definitely seeing some important differences between trained and untrained offices in terms of their face-to-face interactions with offenders,” Smith says.

Smith adds that as officers become familiar with enacting the program, EPICS can be a relatively brief part of the officers’ workloads.

Pilot studies on the program’s effectiveness are underway at sites in Indiana, Hamilton and Franklin counties in Ohio as well as the Ohio cities of Akron and Chillicothe. The research is comparing the skills of officers who received EPICS training with the skills of untrained officers.

In addition to the sites around Ohio and Indiana, UC researchers have also worked with criminal justice programs using the EPICS model in Westchester County, N.Y., South Dakota and California. In Ohio, the program is supported by the Department of Youth Services and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

UC’s nationally-ranked School of Criminal Justice holds a number one ranking for research productivity, and recognition in U.S. News & World Report as one of the top three doctoral programs in the nation.