The oldest and most important program available to offenders is supervised probation through Adult Probation & Parole (AP&P). While we typically do not think of probation as a diversion program, in 2010 we made significant changes to adult probation services in Utah County, changes that are based on the same evidence supporting what we generally called diversion programs.
In 2009, the Sentencing Reform Committee of the Board of District Court Judges held a conference to discuss ways to improve sentencing and probation supervision practices in Utah courts. After that conference, the participants realized that we could either wait for State government to make changes that could take years to implement, or we could try to make immediate changes in the Fourth District Court. We met with stakeholders in the Fourth District and formed a subcommittee of the Sentencing Reform Committee. This subcommittee met to discuss improvements it could implement in the Fourth District and decided to look first at making improvements to the felony probation process. Specifically, it decided that its first task was to set up evidence based practices in the felony probation sanction process, with the ultimate goal of reducing probationer recidivism.
Over many months of research, discussion, and planning, the subcommittee developed project goals and outcome measures, identified problems and weaknesses to the current probation sanction process, identified evidence-based solutions and improvements to the probation sanction process, developed a probation violation sanction matrix, and developed a probation compliance reward matrix.
In March of 2010, AP&P began implementing the suggested improvements to the probation sanction process. Specifically, AP&P began using a Sanctions Matrix and a Rewards Matrix in its supervision of offenders in the Fourth District. This allows AP&P greater authority to handle in house most of the probation violations that had previously been referred to the court for orders to show cause. It means that the sanctions are swiftly imposed, fair and certain, and that probationers will not be referred to the court until AP&P is unable to supervise them effectively or they have committed a new criminal offense. It also means that AP&P and the court will use rewards to recognize and motivate probationers who are complying with probation.
The subcommittee anticipates that these reforms will result in fewer hearings in court, fewer probationers in jail, and shorter jail terms. It also anticipates that AP&P will be empowered to hold probationers to the terms and conditions of probation more strictly and will have a greater number of tools to work with probationers more effectively. Ultimately, the subcommittee anticipates that these reforms will result in more probationers successfully completing probation, remaining crime free, and becoming productive members of our community.
Although the initial data suggests that these reforms have been successful, we will not know for certain until the Department of Corrections conducts a thorough study.