Abstract: Probation Strategies Associated with Reduced Arrest for Adolescents on Probation (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Probation Strategies Associated with Reduced Arrest for Adolescents on Probation

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Background and Purpose

As many as 50% of adolescents on probation are arrested during the course of their probation supervision, placing them at risk of revocation and punitive court sanctions. To stem these high rates of arrest, probation officers employ a range of intervention strategies and tactics, including referral to programs, incentives/rewards, pressure/threats, and multidisciplinary case conferences. While these strategies are more or less ubiquitous across probation departments, empirical research has not reported on their effects. This study uses multiple spell event history analysis with a diverse sample of probation adolescents to assess the effects of these probation tactics and strategies on re-arrest.


Probation-involved adolescents (N= 144, 81% Black, 77% male, 15.1 years old) were recruited from the probation office of an urban jurisdiction. Study data included a cumulative recidivism risk scale coded from pre-disposition reports, adolescent reported ratings of their relationships with their probation officers (working alliance inventory, 12-items, α=.91; perceptions of fairness scale, 12-items, α=.83), and probation tactics and strategies coded from case notes (incentives/rewards, pressure/threats, meetings with parents, service referrals, service engagement, and multidisciplinary case conferences). Arrests were coded from probation case notes. Multiple arrest spell cox regression models controlled for age, gender, and race. Missing data was imputed using multiple imputation with chained equations.


The median survival time for the first arrest spell was greater than 365 days, with approximately 180 days representing an inflection point demarcating a relatively higher risk period during the first six months compared to subsequent periods. Female gender (h(t)=.61) and prior arrests (h(t)=1.19) predicted recidivism; race and age did not. Among probation tactics, case conferences were associated with reduced hazard of recidivism (h(t)=.40); incentives/rewards were associated with reduced hazard for recidivism (h(t)=.48); pressure/threats were associated with an increased hazard for recidivism (h(t)=3.22); referral to psychosocial programs (b=-.77, p<.05, h(t)=.46), and percentage engagement with psychosocial programs were associated with a reduction in arrest hazard (h(t)=.98). A qualitative follow-up analysis of probation meetings with parents noted substantial heterogeneity in the nature and focus of PO meetings with parents. Interactions of probation strategies and tactics with race, gender, age, and risk were not significant.

Conclusions and implications

The study found that three probation strategies were associated with reductions in recidivism risk – rewards and incentives, psychosocial programs and services, and case conferences. Negative pressures, like threatened sanctions and coercive reminders, were associated with increased risk of recidivism. These findings suggest that probation officers should emphasize service engagement and should favor the use of incentives and rewards over negative pressures. Moreover, these data support the use of multidisciplinary case conferences in response to non-compliance. However, caution is warranted when attempting to make causal inferences from these findings. While the statistical models reported here took account of the association of measurement with time under observation, these findings may reflect reverse causality in some instances. Limitations of this study will be discussed along with directions for future research.