Probation Evolution

Probation Evolution Project Now Complete:
Seattle Municipal Court Transforms Probation Program to Provide More Equitable Client Experience

Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) is pleased to announce the completion of the Probation Evolution Project, an effort focused on improving client outcomes and minimizing disproportionate impacts probation has on women and people of color.

SMC thanks everyone who participated in focus groups, webinars, and surveys to share their concerns and expertise, including current and former probation clients, SMC probation counselors, support providers, community organizations, Seattle City Attorney’s Office, King County Department of Public Defense, Mayor’s office, Seattle City Auditor, and City Council. The insights of our stakeholders helped shape the changes implemented.

To learn more about what the project entailed, what changes were made, and to review recent program data, please read the July 2023 Probation Evolution Newsletter.

What Inspired the Probation Evolution Project?

In June 2020, Seattle Municipal Court released an evaluation of our Probation Services department commissioned from the Vera Institute of Justice. In 2021, the Seattle Office of the City Auditor released an additional assessment of Probation Services.

Based on the findings in both assessments and our goal of eliminating disproprionality among those we serve, the court embarked on a three-year journey to involve its probation program to increase equity and reduce disproportinate impacts on women and people of color.

What Changed?

We made four major changes to our probation program. These changes include:

1) More Equitable Assessment Guidelines

After researching multiple dynamic risk assessment tools and listening to feedback from the community, SMC stopped using the Wisconsin Risk Assessment Tool, which used subjective variables and tactics believed to be rooted in bias and institutionalized racism.

The new guidelines include three phases:

  • Phase One: Clients automatically meet in-person on monthly basis for first 3 months
  • Phase Two: Clients attend check-ins virtually or via phone for an additional 3 months
  • Phase Three: Clients no longer have to meet w/ counselors if meeting probation requirements

2) Standardized Case Management

SMC recognized case management practices were not consistently applied across the department and included discretionary decision-making points that could result in inequity.

We updated our policies and procedures based on best practices and community feedback to include client-focused case planning, quarterly progress reports, and regular reviews of probation counselors’ work.

  • Clients now work with their probation counselor to create indvidualized case plans that include both court-ordered and personal goals.
  • Case plans are reviewed at every monthly check-in. Clients do not receive violations if unable to meet personal goals.
  • Counselors provide quarterly reports about client accomplishments and barriers.

3)  Non-Compliance Policy Revamped

In the past, SMC’s non-compliance policy required staff to schedule court hearings for the next available date for all violations of a case plan.

After reviewing the policy with an equity lens and receiving feedback from community members and interested parties, it was determined that the past policy disproportionally impacted some clients.

The new policy separates non-compliance into two categories: technical and substantive.

Examples of Technical Non-Compliance:

  • Non-compliance with reporting requirements
  • Non-compliance with treatment requirements
  • Positive drug test
  • Missed drug test

Examples of Substantive Non-Compliance:

  • New criminal law violation
  • Alcohol-related Ignition Interlock Device violation
  • Substantiated victim contact
  • Extended technical non-compliance

4) Increased Training Requirements for Probation Counselors

SMC implemented new policies and processes to equip probation counselors with tools to better understand the impacts trauma may have on clients, and as a result, they can provide trauma-informed care.

Probation adopted new training requirements for all probation counselors, including Adult Services Academy, Harm Reduction, Motivational Interviewing, Trauma Informed Care, and Equity to Action courses.

  • Counselors are better equipped to understand how past traumas may impact a person’s life choices, particularly choices that led them to the criminal justice system.
  • Staff can better recognize how trauma may show up in the lives of clients in the form of addiction or behavioral health issues.
  • Counselors will consider any potential victimizations clients may have faced and factor those traumas into the support they need to be successful in the program.

Probation Services Data Reports

Seattle Municipal Court is committed to improving Probation and furthering our court-wide commitment to lessen barriers and increase equity in the criminal legal system. The Court publishes several data reports as part of our commitment to transparency in our reform effort. These reports are updated quarterly. They include: Probation caseload, Probation reporting level, Probation activity and compliance, Probation outcomes: revocation and hearings

Probation Data Reports Available Here

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Address: 600 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO BOX 34987, Seattle, WA, 98124-4987
Phone: (206) 684-5600

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