Examinig the Relationship Between Probation Officers and Probationers With Serious Mental Illnesses in Specialized and Standard Programs
Methods: We recruited probationers with SMI from two specialized (mental health court and specialized mental health probation) and one standard probation program in a large Midwestern city. Participants completed a demographic survey and the Dual-Role relationship Inventory, Revised (DRI-R), a 30-item survey assessing various aspects of the probationer/probation officer relationship. Differences in DRI-R total scores and three subscales (caring-fairness, toughness, and trust) were examined using one-way ANOVA. Linear regression was employed to test the relationship between supervision type and DRI-R total score and subscales, controlling for participant age, gender, race/ethnicity, and length of time on probation.
Results: One hundred probationers with SMI agreed to participate (Mental Health Probation: n=38; Mental Health Court: n=31; Standard Probation: n=31). Mean DRI-R total scores were high across supervision types (Mental Health Court: 185.5, SD=29.27; Mental Health Probation: 180.4, SD=35.28; Standard Probation: 170.3, SD=41.7), indicating a fairly positive relationship with probation officers. One-way ANOVA results show no significant differences across the three programs in total DRI-R score (F (2.97) = 1.46, p=.237) or for any subscale. Multivariate linear regression results also revealed a non-significant relationship between supervision type and DRI-R total score (β=.168, p=.095) and the following subscale scores: Trust (β=-.129, p=.20); Toughness (β=-.163, p=.10); and Caring/Fairness (β=-.166, p=.10).
Conclusions: Findings contradicted our hypothesis that probationers with SMI from specialized programs would report a more balanced, positive relationship with their probation officer compared to those on standard probation. It is important to better understand how standard probation officers in our study were able to achieve high quality dual-role relationships with their clients with SMI, in the midst of extremely large and challenging caseloads. The findings also question whether specialized programs are achieving their stated goals of providing an individualized, rehabilitative approach to probation. The specialized probation programs in this study report higher average caseloads than what is recommended for ideal specialized supervision, which may help to explain the findings.