Juvenile probation officers get new tool to help curb recidivism

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A mix of senior and trainee welfare and probation personnel participated in a two-week certification course designed to maximize case management and reduce recidivism among youth offenders. They are pictured here with Wayne Munroe, Minister of National Security.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” is a saying that motivates the team in the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services (DRWS) of the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development.  

The group which works with juveniles in conflict with the law is challenged at times to cope with huge caseloads, produce comprehensive probation reports for the courts while they help youths navigate their deeply complicated lives and work to change challenging behaviours.  

On Friday (July 8), a dozen welfare and probation officers completed the first phase of training in the use of a risk assessment-case-management tool, designed to modernize and improve the efficiency of the team, according to Dr Valerie Knowles, the coordinator of this inter-ministerial, collaborative intervention launched in partnership with the Citizen Security and Justice Programme Unit (CSJP). 

This new system would allow welfare and probation officers to assess the risks, needs and response patterns of their clients, track and share information among themselves and with administrators more quickly. 

It is also expected to generate reports faster, thus leaving officers with more time to work directly on individualized programs to help juveniles manage their offending behaviours which landed them in trouble with the law in the first place. 

The goal of Friday’s soft launch of the new assessment-case management system is to have officials and employees from the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services, Simpson Penn Centre for Boys and Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls better match their clients to the right types of services and focus limited resources on those youths who possess a higher risk of reoffending. 

“One of the goals of the assessment-case management system is to train the officers to make more evidence-based, objective decisions rather than having to rely heavily on subjective opinions when deciding on which direction to move when working with a child. No doubt, this is a step in the right direction. Officers will be empowered to respond more quickly and more effectively in deciding how to divert vulnerable children and adolescents away from the adult criminal justice system,” explained Joel Lewis, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development. 

The strengthened system is just the latest in a series of initiatives designed to reduce recidivism, that is, a relapse into criminal behavior.  

In 2016, the government received funding and technical support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to implement a Citizen Security and Justice Program (CSJP), executed through the Ministry of National Security but working in tandem with other ministries, agencies and institutions in an effort to reduce crime and violence in The Bahamas. 

Dr Deborah Koetzle, a professor at City University of New York (CUNY) led the intensive, two-week, certification workshop in the standardized assessments of probation/parole cases. She is pictured here with Dr Valerie Knowles, a clinical and educational psychologist who serves as coordinator for the program.

“We want to do everything in our power to prevent young persons, in particular, from ending up in custody of the police or other law enforcement agencies. A strong probation team is a vital part of securing this objective,” said Wayne Munroe, Minister of National Security. He brought brief remarks at Friday’s press conference. 

The new system should also reduce paperwork as it shifts officers to a digital platform, ensuring that an individual’s case management services could continue uninterrupted should employees have to work remotely, as was the case during the pandemic. It also makes it easier to track cases and evaluate an individual’s progress, from the first point of contact to the last. 

Essentially, it’s about removing the guesswork from rehabilitation and reintegration, according to Dr Deborah Koetzle, a professor at City University of New York (CUNY), John Jay School of Criminal Justice. She led the intensive, two-week, certification workshop in the standardized assessments of probation/parole cases.  

Participants from the DRWS, the Simpson Penn Centre for Boys and the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls included trainee welfare officers, senior probation officers, a senior custodial officer, an assistant director and a chaplain. 

According to Dr Knowles, the certification course for the group is part of a six-month development programme which will expose the participants to quality assurance activities designed to assess their ability to implement the theory and use the tool accurately.  

In October, officers are expected to participate in webinars to review concepts covered and clarify any issues which arose.  

Officials say, the program is designed for a slow, sustained roll-out to ensure its proper introduction, utilization and full integration now and into the future. 

Writer: Tosheena Robinson BSc, MSc