Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Topic 5:
Probation and Parole Solutions 

Field Note: The Chief Probation and Parole Officer told me "As a society, we get gang members in the system too late - after they're seventeen and are defined as an adult. We need to get involved much earlier with our young people. And I don't mean just gang members - I mean all the young people."

Offenders placed on probation are typically sentenced to treatment in the community for a specific period of time while under the supervision of a probation officer. In many cases, an equally long prison sentence is imposed along with the sentence to probation, but it is "suspended" - held in abeyance. If the offender serves he or her probation without violating its conditions, the suspended sentence to incarceration is dismissed.

Offenders on parole were sentenced to prison, served a portion of their time in the prison, and, because they behaved well while incarcerated, were released into the community under the supervision of a parole officer. Both probationers and parolees are required to abide by certain conditions while in the community which, if violated, may result in revocation (loss) of their probation/parole status. When probation or parole are revoked, the offender is incarcerated for the remainder of their original sentence.

There are both juvenile- and adult probation and parole officers. Juvenile officers perform many of the same functions of a probation or parole officer, but their caseload is made up exclusively of juveniles. The solutions discussed in the remainder of this section apply to probation and parole officers as well as juvenile officers (hereafter all are referred to as "officers").

When the court determines that a juvenile offender may remain in the community, the most frequently ordered disposition is probation supervision. Unfortunately, probation becomes meaningless when juveniles are assigned to overburdened probation officers who at best can have brief and infrequent contacts with them in sterile office settings.

However, probation supervision that remains true to its theoretical purpose and incorporates critical elements such as small caseloads, opportunistic supervision, and community involvement can effectively hold youth accountable for their behavior. (Kurlychek, et al., 1999 , page)

Due to overwhelming caseloads (in number and in the variety of pathologies exhibited), most officers have become brokers of community services. They know what their clients need and which services (social agencies) are available in the community to help them. The work of the officers, then, is to match their clients to the appropriate services in the community. Instead of offering such things as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, or substance abuse intervention themselves, they send clients to agencies in the community for those services.

The extent to which any of the officers can assist their clients depends upon the intelligence, foresight, and generosity of the community and the willingness of the officer to avail themselves of those services. Some probation/parole officers, faced with too many clients, sort them into categories, for lack of a better term. I have often heard officers say "There's about a third of my clients who can't be helped. They don't want help and it's a waste of my time and the resources of the community to push help on them. Then there's about a third of my clients who don't need any additional help. They are genuinely sorry they did what they did, their parents are on their case, and matters will improve for them without much assistance from me. Then there's the final third - the ones who need help and are willing to be helped. Those are the ones I focus my time and effort on."

If community leaders and residents recognize the need for and value of community-based treatment for offenders, and are willing to provide the resources needed, then the amount of gang activity and youth violence in the community may be reduced through their use. If they don't have that foresight, offenders will not be treated nor will gang activity or crime subside.

If the resources are available, here are some of the ways in which officers could contribute to a reduction in gang activity and youth violence.


Specialization and Training-Related Solutions

bulletCreating the position of gang-dedicated officer:
A community has a much better chance of reducing gang activity and youth violence when it aligns gang-dedicated officers with gang-dedicated police and prosecutors. Police gang unit members and officers are important allies. The knowledge each has of the gang situation should be shared on a regular basis. Shared intelligence is then possible and, together, a concerted effort can be focused upon gang offenders and either treatment sought or suppressive measures used.

bulletProviding on-going training for gang-dedicated officers:
The effective treatment of gang member clientele (wannabes, associates, and hard core) requires special knowledge, special techniques, and an unusually close working relationship between  officers, police, prosecutors, judges, school officials, and community-based organizations such as a community task force on gangs.

Training is needed on how to conduct oneself in the presence of gang members, how to identify gang identifiers, how to keep from exacerbating relationships between gang members and different gangs, how to keep track of migrating and immigrating gang members, and much more.

Training is also needed on how to establish a working relationship with gang-specialized police and prosecutors. Gang behavior-related laws, for example, are unique and of critical importance to an officer and his or her gang client. Given the special knowledge gang-specialized officers possess, they should be trained to work with the community as educators and facilitators for bringing about changes needed to reduce the formation of gangs.

Gang-dedicated officers should be sent to local, regional, and national conferences, seminars, and workshops on gangs to remain current on gang-related matters (i.e., which gangs are starting to appear, what new kinds of crimes are being committed, who's coming out of prison, what new techniques are police or correctional personnel using to deal with gang members), treatment modalities being used in other jurisdictions, etc.

bulletTraining the entire staff:
All officers should be trained to recognize gang-member traits in their clients and to have clients transferred to the gang-dedicated officer or familiar with the network of community-based youth-serving agencies designed to deal with gang members.

Policy-related Solutions

bulletKeeping caseloads manageable:
I almost feel silly mentioning this. Everyone in the field of criminal justice knows how important it is to have small caseloads. And nearly everyone knows that most of the money spent on wrongdoers is spent on jails and prisons. 
That means there are fewer dollars to hire intervention workers (folks like juvenile- and adult probation and parole officers). The net result is an overwhelming number of clients per officer. Every effort should be made to keep the community and its leaders appraised of the need to keep caseloads manageable.

bulletIdentify violent and gang youth at the earliest age possible for intervention purposes:
Parents, school teachers, and juvenile officers will likely encounter a soon-to-be gang member at a very early age. That child should become a focus of attention in order to assure that he or she doesn't continue on the path they have chosen. Recognized early, intervention is simpler and more effective.

Collaborative Solutions

bulletFacilitating the flow of information between police, prosecutors, and the gang-dedicated  officers:
Justice practitioners are operating in a blind if there is not an open, honest, and continuing flow of information between every component of the justice system (legislators, police, courts, and corrections). The tendency for each component to build a wall between itself and the other components is counterproductive. The higher the wall, the more like gang activity and youth violence will continue to increase. Community leaders and administrators of the justice components in a community should insist on an open forum of ideas and a sharing of intelligence about gangs.
It doesn't all have to be made public (although the public needs to know about what's going on), but it should certainly be shared within the system.

bulletBecoming part of a team focus on gang activity:
"In September 1995, three-year-old Stephanie Kuhen was shot and killed by members of the Avenues gang when her parents became lost while driving in a gang-controlled neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles. Mayor Richard Riordan tasked his Criminal Justice Planning Office (CJPO) with developing recommendations for combating gang crime. The CJPO completed a concept paper proposing the creation of the Los Angeles City/County Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) Program. The concept paper was submitted to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and launched the President’s Anti-Gang Initiative, which provided funding for 15 anti-gang programs nationally, including Los Angeles’ CLEAR Program.

"The goal of the CLEAR Program is to reduce gang activity in Los Angeles. The Program utilizes an operations team consisting of representatives from the following five agencies: the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. Each operations team is housed at a site within the target area. They [handle] all gang crime within the target area. Here's the legislation that created the CLEAR program." (Parks and Papke, no date, page)

Programmatic Solutions

bulletImplement the "Breaking Cycles" program:
"Breaking Cycles is a family-focused, delinquency prevention and intervention system which was established in July of 1997 under the auspices of the Juvenile Justice Commission and out of our County’s (SB1760) Local Action Plan to reduce Juvenile Crime.  The system’s intent is to:
bulletPrevent youth from becoming delinquent by focusing strengths-based, family-centered community resources and programs on “at-risk” youth and their families.
bulletImprove the juvenile justice and community intervention for juvenile offenders through a system of Graduated Sanctions (Intervention).

The Breaking Cycles intervention component, known as “Graduated Sanctions” is a multi-disciplinary, collaborative system that combines community intervention with incarceration.  This graduated sanctions approach reduces the reliance on incarceration.

Family involvement and parental participation are essential elements during the entire Breaking Cycles commitment.  The system includes substance abuse services, mental health treatment, and educational services.  Program services are responsive to gender and cultures as well as offender accountability.

bulletConsider adopting Operation Night Light:
In the early 1990's Boston (MA) was experiencing heightened gang violence, "a rise in homicide victims under the age of 17, ... increasingly bold behavior of gang members in courthouses, and criticism by minority community leaders and judges of police 'stop and search' tactics. Probation officers worked independently of police, and curfews were not commonly imposed by the court and were difficult to enforce. In response to those problems, some probation officers met informally with a few police officers to develop the Operation Night Light model (a promising strategy) as a more effective way of deterring juvenile violence.

"Operation Night Light pairs one probation officer with two police officers to make surprise visits to the homes, schools, and worksites of high-risk youth probationers during the high crime hours of 7 p.m. to midnight, rather than from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which was previously the norm." (OJJDP, 1999, page) 

The program also gives all Boston police officers information on who is on probation and what conditions they are required to obey, allowing officers on patrol to act as additional eyes and ears for probation around the clock. In doing so, officers discovered that many offenders under supervision in the community were violating the terms of their probation by breaking court-imposed curfews and associating with other known offenders.

Officials in Boston found that Operation Night Light's efforts - joint patrols, curfew checks, and information sharing - have had a significant impact on gang members who are on probation because they have begun to take conditions of supervision much more seriously.

bulletAdopting a variety of specialized probation supervision programs:
Two examples of exemplary specialized probation supervision programs are School-Based probation and Orange County's Early Intervention Program. 

In a school-based probation program "the juvenile probation officer works directly in the school rather than the traditional courthouse environment. This model allows the probation officer to contact clients more frequently, observe client interactions with peers and behavior in a social setting, and actively enforce conditions of probation such as school attendance." (Kurlychek, et al., 1999, page)

In the Orange County (CA) Early Intervention Program a Juvenile Systems Task Force "developed the 8% Early Intervention Program to target young, high-risk juvenile offenders and their families. This small percentage of chronic offenders had been found to account for more than half of all juvenile arrests in Orange County.

"The 8% Program employs experienced probation officers, with caseloads of no more than 15 clients, to work intensively with young offenders and their families. First, staff try to control the offender's behavior, ensure that he or she complies with the probation terms and conditions, and stabilize the youth's home environment through counseling, parent aides, and respite care. Then, the probation officer helps the youth develop the necessary skills to avoid a life of crime and trains parents on how to supervise and support their children." (Kurlychek, et al., 1999, page)

bulletSupporting the creation of a community reintegration aftercare program:
One of the most critical moments for juveniles placed in residential facilities occurs once they return from placement and attempt to reintegrate into their homes and communities. Often, juveniles who benefit from a controlled, structured environment have difficulties applying their newly acquired skills and conflict resolution techniques to real-life situations. Aftercare programs provide an extended period of supervision, surveillance, and service delivery to assist youth during this transitional period with the goal of preventing and reducing recidivism." (Kurlychek, et al., 1999, page)

bulletSupporting the creation of after-care programs:
"One aftercare program for high-risk juveniles has been shown to produce very positive short-term effects.
(Josi and Sechrest, 1999) The Lifeskills '95 program, in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, CA, serves youthful offenders released from the California Youth Authority. In addition to other impressive results, Lifeskills '95 reduced frequent gang contact. Only 8 percent of the Lifeskills '95 youth had frequent gang contact (versus 27 percent for the control group)." (Howell, 2000, page

bulletSupporting the development of programs for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders:
"Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offender programs involve the development of a system of graduated sanctions of increasingly intensive treatment and rehabilitation services, including immediate interventions, intermediate sanctions, and secure confinement. Programs such as restitution, community service, and victim mediation are to be included among the range of sanctions adopted. 

"Development of an aftercare program to assist juveniles leaving residential facilities in their reentry to the community also may be part of this component. The approach anticipates that youth will be assigned to appropriate levels of intervention or sanctions based on the use of risk and needs assessment tools developed by the community. 

"Secure confinement is expected to be reserved for the most serious, violent, or chronic offenders. For those juveniles who are placed in residential facilities, aftercare programs are envisioned to facilitate positive reentry to the community.

"Several specific aspects of this graduated sanctions model have been shown to be associated with positive outcomes. The six most commonly cited are (1) continuous case management; (2) emphasis on reintegration and reentry services, including reducing the influence of negative role models and increasing prosocial bonding; (3) opportunities for youth achievement, emphasizing improved self-image; (4) clear and consistent consequences for offending; (5) educational and vocational training; and (6) individual, group, and family therapy." (Morley et al., 2000, page)

Gang members and violent youth who fail to respond positively to assistance provided by family members, peers, the faith community, school personnel, police, prosecutors, judges, as well as probation/parole and juvenile officers, leave us with little else other than incarceration as a means of addressing their misbehavior. That last resort is the topic for the next section.


Additional Resources: You can read the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Department of Labor) job description for a parole and probation officer. The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides information on the nature of the work, working conditions, employment, training and other qualifications, advancement, job outlook, earnings, related occupations and additional information for probation officer.

Focus on Accountability: Best Practices for Juvenile Court and Probation is an excellent publication sponsored by the Juvenile Accountability Inventive Block Grant Program, a division of the U. S. Department of Justice. Some of the material above was drawn from this publication.

You can learn about the award winning Boston (MA) strategy for preventing youth violence.

If you'd like to learn more about juvenile probation, you can read Juvenile Probation: The Workhorse of the Juvenile Justice System in either ASCII Text Format.

You can explore crime and probation in London (England). Fact: 34% of men and 8% of women in Britain will have a conviction for a criminal offence before the age of 40.

© 2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.