The Client Mix
Not all probationers and parolees are alike in the kinds of offenses they
commit. Among them are murderers, people who commit assault, sex
offenders, gangsters, the psychologically disturbed, and others. Larger probation and parole offices are designed to meet the demands and needs
of these various categories of offenders by having their officers specialize. Smaller, sometimes rural,
offices are not specialized and individual officers must each learn to deal with a wide
variety of offender types.
Gang member offenders are, in the words of one probation and parole officer,
"a breed apart." The nature of their offending distinguishes
them from non-gang offenders. Gang members have a cadre of fellow
gangsters who encourage and support their criminality. If helping a non-gang offender change his or her life to break away from criminality is
difficult, it is even more difficult to accomplish the same end with clients
whose associates discourage change and demand continued criminality.
Formats for Delivery of Service to Gang Members
From what I observed, there are at least three ways in which a
probation/parole office may configure the use of its personnel in order to deal with gang
|Random Assignment: Randomly
assign gang member clients across all officers. Depending upon how
many officers and gang members there are, all officers will have one
or more gang members on their caseloads.|
|Case Emphasis Assignment: Assign most gang members to some of the officers but no officer has
a gang-only caseload.|
Specialization: Assign all gang members to one or more
officers as needed. No officer has a mixed caseload - some
have gang members only, others have no gang members.|
The format used by each department I observed seemed to reflect the politics of
admitting whether or not there were gangs in the community or the number of gang
members on probation or parole. It also
reflected an apparent concern on the part of administrators for the safety of their
|Field Note: An
administrator of a large probation and parole office with a gang specialist
officer told me he is "concerned about her safety. We know she's had a death threat - one of her parolees made it to her
A probation and parole officer in
the same office suggested "The philosophy of upper administration
[in the department of corrections], as it filters down through the
probation and parole structure, determines the approach taken by our
officers. That philosophy, right now, is to not create
specialized case loads of gang members or recognize any special
treatment needs for gang clients."
This community of 448,000 residents
has, according to police, over 5,000 documented gang members in some 116
known gangs. It is rumored that there are as many as 1,000 gang
members on probation or parole in this city. There is only one officer with a gang caseload.
It consists of 130 gang members.
Spergel and his associates (Spergel,
et al., 1994) found that organizing a probation and parole
office to address the local youth gang situation was the exception rather than
Most probation departments and parole units have not
given special attention to the gang problem, particularly through special
units and procedural arrangements. However, innovative approaches have
been developed, for example, in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and Orange
County in California. The specialized programs emphasize suppression in
collaboration with law enforcement, and to a lesser extent, close coordination
with community-based youth service agencies. These programs may involve
vertical case management and intensive supervision.
A few probation and parole units have experimented with combinations
of individual and group counseling, remedial education and alternative school
arrangements, employment training, job placement, and residential care. (Spergel,
et al., 1994, p. 9)
Which Format is Best?
There are arguments on both sides of the issue as to whether one or the other
format for assigning gang clientele should be used. Favoring specialized case
loads are the arguments that officers with only gang clients develop a greater
understanding of their clients' social environment, gang, their clients' role in the
gang, and the nature of the people with whom clients associate. According
to this premise, given the
unique culture of a gang, a better understanding of it should facilitate the
process of helping clients help themselves.
Arguments against specialization include the heightened danger to which
affected probation or parole officers may be exposed, the amount of stress that dealing
with gang members may produce in the officers, and the resulting labeling of
clients as gang members due to whom their cases were assigned (dealing with them
as gang members first rather than as individuals).
Field Note: The
administrator of the Office of Probation and Parole expressed his
concern with having officers specializing in gangs. He said "Given
the steady movement of officers from one office to the next, resignations, and replacements, it's
difficult to expect to build up
expertise on the gang problem in any one officer and have that mean
anything over time."
He also expressed his concern
labeling some clients as gang members. He said "You have to
realize that there any many neighborhood youths who dress and move like
gang members to simply protect themselves They are
not gang members. So determining who should go on an
officer's gang case load is sometimes unclear."
My own observations of officers in all three formats suggest there
should be officers who specialize in working with gang members even
if their tenure in that position is for only a few years. The following are
among my reasons I favor specialization.
|In order to better understand a gang-member
client, a probation/parole officer must have an understanding of the
gang situation in the community. In order to do that,
they must be tuned in to it daily as the situation on the street
is always changing. |
Among those situations are: knowing which gangs and gang members are at one
another's throats; who the gang members, associates, and wannabes
are; where they hang out; where
their crimes are committed; what kinds of crimes they commit and with
whom; and whether their parents are involved
in a gang. Non-gang-specialized officers do not possess this
level of familiarity with their local gang members.
|Specialized probation/parole officers should become an integral part of
the community's task
force on gangs and youth violence (if available) and play an important role as
educators for the entire community. |
Included are educating school administrators, teachers, and students
about gangs and being available to make presentations to area
business- and faith organizations and others interested in knowing
more about gangs. Non-gang specialized officers do not possess
enough information to provide this needed service.
|Probation/parole officers who work with gang members need to
have a good working relationship with the local police gang unit/officer and
the gang-assigned prosecutors, where they exist. An information
flow among these parties is necessary in order to get a handle on the gang
situation and, by doing so, a handle on one's
For a community with a police gang unit/officer and a gang-assigned
prosecutor, it only makes sense to have both juvenile officers and
probation and parole officers who specialize in gang clientele. Communication among all of these parties is enhanced by gang specialization and clients,
too, may benefit from such an alignment.
For example, if a police gang unit member happens upon someone new
who is associating with a document gang member, the officer would
know there are gang specialist juvenile officers (if the new
person is a juvenile) and probation and parole officers (if the new
person is an adult) to whom he can forward the newly acquired
information. Information can be a powerful ally in getting
help to those who need it.
Commentary from the Field
I asked several probation/parole officers whether they thought having a
specialized gang caseload was a good idea or not. What follows are the
responses of two officers, both of which reflect the larger group
interviewed. One of the officers had a
gang specialized caseload, the other had a gang emphasis in her caseload (some of her
clients are not gang members). Here's how they answered the
Joan, the gang specialist officer, in an email received in July of 2001,
If an officer truly is interested in assisting
gang members to overcome this lifestyle, a specialized caseload would help
them become more familiar with ways to get out of a gang, where to send
someone for tattoo removal, where to send gang members for counseling, etc.
Having a specialized gang caseload affords the officer the
opportunity to personally know the gang members in the community. At times,
I have asked the assistance of other gang members in locating clients (other
gang members), and in encouraging these clients to report. If a gang member
was having serious problems, I have had ex-gang members assist in providing
Finally, I was able to begin new programs to assist gang
members and their families, i.e., "How to Gang-Proof Your Child"-
through a local treatment agency, educating elementary, middle school, and
high school students with the assistance of ex-gang members, the "Stress Management Program" at the Probation and
Parole Office where a massage therapy program was used to help reduce
assaultive behavior, the late night basketball program between cops and
gang members, and a public art
project that involved at-risk kids that could be or were already attracted to
Suzanne, the other officer, wrote
they should be specialized. Gang members are a breed apart. With the ones I
have worked with, if you gain a form of trust and respect up front, they
will turn their lives around. If they bounce from officer to officer, like a
normal caseload does, then there is no trust and respect.
Many of them are lacking something in their childhood that they think
they get from the gang. One of those things is stability. I
provided this [to one of my gang clients] from the beginning. His mom
took off and he didn't know where she went but I was there. He went to jail,
had different employers, brothers and sister came and went, friends came and
went, girlfriends came and went ... but I was there.
I noticed if I got clients from an officer that didn't like gang members
or didn't really 'care' about them, then I can't develop the kind of
relationship I need to get them to succeed on their probation. That is also
why an officer that doesn't want to work with gang members shouldn't.
A drug user uses because of an addiction or to escape reality or because
the enjoy the buzz. No matter what relationship you have with them, they
will not stop until they want to, no matter what support you offer them. Sex
offenders are assigned to specialized officers for the same reason. You
have to develop a relationship with them in order to understand them and get
Often sex offenders will let you know when they are going to re-offend
if they feel they have respect and trust with you. (Email,
The command personnel I interviewed in police departments with gang units
expressed the opinion that organizing to deal with
the gang situation was more effective than not organizing for it. That is,
police departments with a unit that specialized in gangs were viewed as
more effective in dealing with the local gang phenomenon than departments which did not specialize. Likewise, prosecutors
expressed the same belief and have, in many jurisdictions,
assigned one or more of their deputy prosecutors to specialize in gang cases.
trend toward specializing at the law enforcement and prosecutorial levels begs
the question Why shouldn't juvenile and adult probation and parole officers
specialize in the same manner? The knowledge each gathers is
enhanced by specialization and has the potential for facilitating communication
among all parties.
What Kinds of Services do Gang Clients Need?
Like many non-gang clientele, gang clientele often require
a wide range of services in order to be helped out of the situation in which
probation/parole officers find them. The services required run the gamut from needing a substitute family to job training and legitimate
employment opportunities, as
noted in the discussion of
Observations in the field suggest the most needed services are for anger
management (being able to resolve conflicts without resorting to physical
substance abuse intervention, individual counseling to deal with the impact
of the client's home life on their current situation (i.e., abusive and/or drug
dependent parents), academic preparation (i.e.,
learning to write and read, completing a high school or equivalent education),
and job training and placement. Helping replace gang associates with
non-gang friends is a must and a challenge to accomplish.
In regards to the differing needs of non-gang-member clients and
gang-member-clients, a juvenile officer with nine years of experience working with gang
members said "The level of supervision is definitely different.
There needs to be more field work since a large portion of their problem
is being in the gang itself, so you need to ensure they are steering
clear of those associates and activities. Also, the safety factor [for
the officers] is an issue.
"There needs to be a
significant amount of gang knowledge on the part of the officer to deal
with these people, not just basic stuff. A huge need is for counselors
that are familiar with gangs and who specialize in dealing with them, what they are going through, and their frame of mind.
"Substance abuse issues will always
be there with gang members. Employment training is also needed
to provide a legitimate means of income and usually alternative
education since they have been kicked out of school, dropped out, or
habitually truant - at least to get them back into the swing of things."
The Ingredients Needed for Successful Treatment
At least five ingredients are needed in order for the treatment of gang- and
non-gang members on probation or parole to be successful. First, the community must be
sufficiently concerned about
juvenile delinquents and criminals to provide treatment services for them. Without services, there are no alternatives to incarceration.
Second, probation and parole officers must know about the services that are available.
This requires a willingness on the part of the officers to learn what programs are
out there and to participate in on-going training (i.e., to learn about new
services, new technologies).
Third, judges must know about and be willing to
recommend alternative sentences (i.e., to community-based services).
Fourth, offenders must be motivated to change their own behavior. The absence of any of these criteria will negatively impact the outcome of the
Finally, employers and landlords must be willing to extend job
training, jobs, housing and other basic elements of social life to those who are
on probation/parole or who have successfully completed their probation/parole.
|Field Note: A
parole officer said "A person has to be ready or motivated
to change his or her behavior. It isn't a matter of what I can
do. It's what my client can do for him- or herself. I
can be a positive, supportive, and motivating partner ... but that's
Directly by Probation and Parole
Sharing observations, insights, and simply listening to and caring about clients
has a positive impact on certain gang members. Several officers told me they felt this
was more likely to occur with very young offenders and much older
ones. Some of the young ones, they felt, could be diverted from further
immersion into a gang by providing a positive alternative because they are not yet
committed to the gang life. Older gang clients - 24 or 25 years of age or older in the officers'
experience - are sometimes willing to listen to advice and participate in
treatment because they are tired of the gang life, suffered enough pain, are getting married and/or becoming parents, or for any combination of these or other
The probation and parole officers I observed tried to provide their clients
with structure and discipline, particularly their gang clientele. Chaiken found that
A growing number of researchers and policy analysts agree that the decline
[in juvenile violence in many US cities] is largely attributable to concerted
community efforts to bring adolescents under the control of adults who have the
authority to make and make known clear and specific rules for behavior ... and
fair sanctions [punishments] for breaking these rules. (Chaiken,
2000, p. 12)
I observed a variety of in-house probation/parole programs in
which gang- and non-gang clients participated. The content of the programs
emphasized the development of self-esteem and learning how to work cooperatively
with others. An example of one such program was Day Report. While neither intended nor designed specifically for gang clientele, gang
members are sometimes sent to a Day Report Center for treatment. The
program, supervised by probation and parole staff, typically requires participants to be involved for periods of from one to several
months and for several hours every week day.
Among the activities in which they participate are small group discussions
focusing upon values and ethics, high school equivalency (G.E.D.) classes,
meetings with social workers and psychologists, and group activities which build
trust and confidence. Job training may be offered by outside professionals
presentations may be made on how to search for a job, complete a job application and
other contracts, manage one's own finances, and where and how to shop for
|Field Note: Describing her clients, a probation/parole officer said "Most are
unemployed or are frequently employed - skipping from job to job. Many
of them lack social skills and have been unsuccessful when placed under
less supervision than required of the Day Report Center (DRC) program.
"The DRC program requires attendance
every week day from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. In all, the program runs for ninety days.
As a level
of supervision, it's the highest of all - much higher than Intensive
Supervision. Clients experience three 'Phases' in the program and
are expected, by Phase III, to have found full time employment.
"In order to graduate, the client
also has to be drug free throughout Phase III - for 30 days. Throughout Phases I and II the client learns about the
social skills needed to live a full life in the community. Most
of the workshops on budget management, conflict resolution, community
awareness, chemical dependency, group therapy, victim empathy, job
skills, learning how to behave during a job interview, and others are
offered by professional trainers, not by probation and parole officers.
"Day Report is an integrative program -
it tries to integrate clients back into the community with a job,
better social skills, a sense of self-worth, and a willingness to work
with others. While they're in the program, clients do community
service. They have adopted about a mile of [a busy commercial
street in town]. They volunteer regularly to serve food at [a
residential hotel for homeless families] and have helped put wood chips
on the local rail-to-trail path."
I asked about how the program seems to effect the clients. She
said "It keeps them busy all day and off the streets. It gets
them up in the morning and gets them motivated. I've seen
Among the criteria for admission into a Day Report Center I
observed were that the
offender had performed poorly in a less restrictive supervision level,
that he or she had two or more special need categories, and was within one year
of being released from probation or parole.
Electronic monitoring of clients is a method of "treatment" offered
by some probation and
parole departments. The purpose of electronic monitoring is to provide cost effective
monitoring and supervision of low-risk clients which allows continued schooling or employment
and assures some level of safety for the community.
Clients who are thought to be appropriate candidates for this form of
supervision are fitted with a device which wraps around one ankle and
transmits remotely their whereabouts through a telephone line.
An Ankle-Worn Transmitter
for electronic monitoring.
Picture printed with permission.
Arrangements can be made to allow those being monitored
to leave their
residences to go to school, work, doctor's appointments, shopping, etc.
Monitored by the probation and parole office, clients who abscond (go missing
without permission) are reported to the police.
Home visits used to be part and parcel of what a probation and parole officer
did. Today, they are a luxury. Not only are home visits
time consuming (i.e., drive time, the client may not be home or may have moved),
they can also be dangerous. I asked a gang specialist probation/parole
officer if home visits made any sense today. She said
I think they
do. I can determine if the address the client gave on their original papers is accurate or
phony. I sometimes can determine who my client associates with by the cars parked in his driveway or in front of
his house or
apartment. Sometimes I have an opportunity to speak with a client's relatives or spouse and that has
value. Graffiti or other indicators on or around my clients' property suggests
gang membership or some kind of affiliation and it reveals which gang they may belong to and who my clients'
are associating with.
|Field Note: I
escorted a probation and parole officer during home visits today.
There was one client she hasn't been able to locate for several months. After
the first month she submitted a report to the court indicating he had
absconded. As we drove through one neighborhood
she noticed graffiti sprayed on two intersecting streets and on the
adjoining sidewalk in front of an apartment house at the corner.
Several different gangs were represented and there was a tagger who had
written his name several times - "KILR" (killer).
We got out of the car and the
officer began looking through all the graffiti and suddenly turned to me
and shouted "Amazing! I've been looking for this guy for months!
He must live here - this is new stuff." The graffiti was still
fresh - it hadn't been worn down by traffic as yet. She knocked
on an apartment door and the person who answered, upon being asked, knew
the individual the officer was looking for. She left her calling
card and wrote "Paid a home visit ... call me," on the back of
Several of the probation and parole officers interviewed said
they impose the following guidelines upon certain of their gang
|limiting their associations with known gang members
|restricting where they may be at any time (not on certain corners,
buildings, parks, or where ever else gangs may gather);|
|not permitting the wearing of colors;|
|not permitting the carrying of cell phones or beepers (used for
drug dealing); and|
|imposing restrictions on attending gang-related funerals.|
Among other tactics used by some probation and parole
officers are unannounced home and place of employment visits. Due to the risks involved, this doesn't seem to be a
very popular tactic, but it may be an effective one. Among other
things, a surprise visit may reveal who clients are associating with,
whether they are using illegal drugs, and if they are going to work (or
school, or a mandated treatment program) or not.
Scheduling office visits can be a tricky matter if clients
from rival gangs arrive in the waiting room at the same time. This
occurred in one of the research cities just days before I arrived. Holes in the walls
of the Waiting Room from chairs being thrown were visible evidence of the
mayhem that resulted.
|Field Note: A probation and parole gang specialist officer told me
gang clients report to my office I sometimes ask them to empty their
pockets on to my desk. If I find a pager or cell phone I use
it to find out what phone numbers the client has been getting calls
from or is calling." She then checks those names with the
names of persons the client is not allowed to associate with
according to his or her conditions of probation or parole.
Some probation and parole officers use gang databases
law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions. The
databases are valued for several reasons, among them their ability to
provide information needed prior to a home visit (knowing if there may be a
safety concern) and their use in keeping conflicting gang members from
coming into contact with one another during office visits to the probation
and parole office.
There may be other tactics used with gang members, but most
of the tactics used are also used with non-gang member clients since, other
than their gang status, they share much in common with them (i.e., a need
for structure, discipline, and schooling, a relationship with a caring adult, a positive
role mode, guidance, assistance in finding a job or job training, housing,
marital/relationship counseling, and food).
A parole officer with a specialized case load of dangerous felons expressed her belief
that one of the solutions to the gang situation is better parenting. She
believed this so completely that she signed up for and received special training
on effective parenting so she could offer it to clients who needed it.
Upon completing the course she gathered related information to share with all of
her nearly 100 fellow probation and parole officers and sent an announcement asking them to send her clients they thought would profit
from the training. "A few weeks later," she said, "no one replied
and no one has sent me a client. I think the reason for that is it
would require additional conversation with their clients during appointments and
consume too much of the officers' time."
Like several other probation and parole officers I interviewed, she believes many of her colleagues simply follow the conditions of
probation/parole as handed down by the court and don't add anything - even if it
would help the client.
|Field Note: The
probation officer told me that "To do other than what is specified
in the conditions [of probation] is to take time away from doing
something else that I need to do. There are just too many people
on my caseload to spend time talking with clients and determining what
their needs really are."
This is the same officer I observed
with a client who was so high he could hardly open his blood-shot
eyes. At the end of the visit, after the client left, I
asked the probation/parole officer "Did you notice he was high on
something." "Sure," he replied. "I
don't have time for that. I'd have to drop him [give him a urine
test], analyze the sample, and write up a report. I don't have time
I learned later that it was the sixth
consecutive visit with this client during which he was high. This
circumstance was not unique to this officer.
In another community, three female probation/parole officers were offering a Positive
Solutions program (see the link below to another Positive Solutions program) to their clients, which included a few gang
members. The problem was that all three were volunteers because their
administrator didn't have resources available to hire trained personnel to run
the program. The three well-intended but incompetent officers struggled
through something about which they knew very little, but they were determined to
try and help.
Some probation and parole officers do much more than their jobs
require. They volunteer for community-wide efforts of all kinds including
those that focus on improving the life of children and families. One
of the officers I observed won the city's "Volunteer of the Year
Award." But these, and similar efforts, have a negative impact both on the
amount of time spent with clients and on the general stress level of the
How successful are their efforts?
The officers I interviewed thought that, if success in their work meant
their clients didn't get arrested again, they had a 20% to 40% success rate. None
of them knew with any certainty whether they had been successful or not. There
is no formal mechanism for obtaining feedback on whether a client ever
reoffended or not.
officers defined success as "breaking the law less often," "only
getting high once in a while instead of all the time," or "holding a
job for 2 months instead of just 2 days." No probation/parole office had
statistics on the recidivism rate of their clients.
Nor was information available on whether one type of program worked better
than another in reducing participation in gang activity among gang clients. Everything presented to me was either hearsay or conjecture.
wonder how much of it was wishful thinking.
This brief overview of some of the forms of treatment provided by probation
and parole officers may serve as a backdrop against which we can explore our
next topic - a "typical" morning of office visits from gang