Carey Group's Carey Guides and BITS Contest invited corrections professionals from across the country to share their stories about how these tools have impacted their work and changed the lives of offenders. CGP awarded 1st, 2nd, and three 3rd place prizes, for stories that were full of insight, data, and hope. We hope that these stories, which appear below, serve as inspiration to you.
In all of the following entries, the clients’ names and other identifying characteristics have been changed or omitted to maintain confidentiality.
Robert A. DeJesus, Santa Clara County Probation, San Jose, California
In October 2011, the Santa Clara County Probation Department executive team began its work with The Carey Group. At the time, evidenced-based practices were relatively foreign to many of us. Yet, it took no time to begin to understand how the use of research and data would help to establish best practices and inform decisions. However, it took numerous trainings provided to all levels in the organization over a period of time to become familiar with the concepts of risk, need, responsivity, and the importance of cognitive behavioral-based strategies in changing behavior.
Within the bevy of trainings, we were introduced to the Brief Intervention ToolS (BITS). These tools were proffered as cognitive intervention instruments that could be used with clients during regular check-in office visits. The six worksheets address client challenges such as antisocial associates and problem solving and decision making skill deficits. More importantly, the tools, accompanied by motivational interviewing techniques, help change the relationship and conversation between the Probation Officer and the client. Clients begin to experience their PO not just as someone who enforces court orders and conditions of probation, but as someone ready and willing to help them succeed during this difficult period in their lives. Additionally, this more meaningful exchange begins to change how officers view clients, allowing them to learn more about clients’ thinking process, past and present stressors, and life experiences.
Now let me introduce myself. During this period, I served as the Deputy Chief Probation Officer over the Institutions Division. My responsibilities did not involve interactions between Probation Officers and clients in the community but rather with clients held in our detention facilities. Still, as I became acquainted with the concepts and the tools, I was certain that they had a place in the work my staff did with the clients in Juvenile Hall.
Institutions are places of significant stress for our clients and our staff. Behavior control is challenging in an environment where violence at times feels like an everyday occurrence. The youth are surrounded and confronted by antisocial peers, rival gang members, and an uncertain future. Some staff feel a successful day is going home in one piece.
Our Juvenile Hall has a capacity of 390 and, when we began our implementation efforts, our population, like many across the nation, was declining. We were less than half full, but the clients we did have were being held for serious law violations leading to direct filings in adult courts and assessed at entry as high risk for recidivating. Even though the vast majority of our staff came into this business to help youth, it was extremely challenging for them to get beyond the thought of safety and security.
At the start, we constructed a team of one line level staff, one supervisor, two managers, and myself. We discussed our strategy to bring evidence-based practices, and in particular BITS, into the facility. We held a number of town hall meetings to present the information and answer questions. It was a tough crowd: many questioned why they needed to change and if, in fact, management truly understood and valued the work they were doing.
We kept our message simple: we hypothesized that we could improve youth behavior while improving the safety of both staff and youth. We asked for our staff’s cooperation, we guaranteed them training and support, and most importantly we promised them that we would track key measurements to see if change was occurring and that we would bring the data back to them regardless of whether it was good or bad.
We utilized our Incident Report database to track youth behavior, specifically fights, assaults, restraints for noncompliance, and control programs. A control program is the most severe consequence or restriction within our behavior modification system. Staff have, at their discretion, the option to apply a 2-day, 4-day, or 6-day control program depending upon their assessment of the rule violation. We believed by measuring the use of the control program, we would be getting a glimpse of staff’s developing understanding of responsivity and appropriate use of sanctions. We also used our worker’s compensation database to track staff injuries that occurred as a result of use-of-force incidents.
BITS training began in FY12/13. A few units came on board in the spring of 2013. By September 2013, the tracking systems were in place and we began to capture data. We continued to hear of staff resistance, but we also began to hear a growing voice of staff expressing their agreement with the changes. Over the next year, qualitative anecdotal comments from stakeholders who inspected our facility grew increasingly positive. The Juvenile Justice Commission and the Civil Grand Jury gushed about the remarkable climate change they noted. Volunteers who had been visiting the facility over the past 40 years were dumbfounded and wrote to the local newspaper about what was occurring. We had a sense that change was occurring, but when you’re in the midst of the change, it’s not as noticeable as when someone who comes around now and again notices it. Still we knew the proof would be in the data.
At the end of calendar year 2014, we decided to pull the data we had collected over 16 months and hand it over to our director of research to analyze and interpret. It should be noted that over the period of time we were tracking data, the population continued to drop. We asked that the analysis account for this drop as a preemptive measure to respond to those who remained skeptical and would use the population decline to explain any possible positive outcomes.
In February 2015, we were presented with the following data. The first number, (a), does not take into account the population decline; the second number, (b), does.
Changes in Incidents
Injuries to Staff:
Use of 2-, 4-, and 6-day Control Programs:
We were quite impressed and somewhat shocked by the outcomes. Still, we knew that there was room to grow based upon some of the quality assurance processes that our QA Team—comprised of one supervisor and four line staff—had put in place.
We began by establishing policies for the use of BITS. In each general housing unit, we set an expectation that staff be required to administer a minimum of one BITS per week per youth. In our security units, we embedded the BITS into the behavior modification program. Youth could request to complete a BITS with staff; by doing so, they could reduce the consequence of a rule violation by half (e.g., a one-hour room restriction would be a 30-minute restriction if they completed a BITS).
Our QA Team began to track the use of the tools across units, as well as which of the six tools were being used, if they were being used as an intervention or as a prevention, and if they were being administered in a group or one-on-one setting. One of the most significant quality measure outcomes noted from a perspective of future implementation was the much higher rate of BITS use in those units where youth were incentivized to request them.
This data was not only informing future implementation but also challenged the belief of many who felt that the youth in our security units were too far gone to help. In reality, the youth took advantage of the opportunity to engage with staff, and over the initial three months of implementation, not one fight was recorded.
As part of our effort to assess youth and staff experiences with the tools, we conducted surveys to get their feedback. Although only 17% of youth said that they liked the tools, 69% stated they were “okay” with the tools. When asked if they would try another BITS, 46% indicated they would. When asked an open-ended question about their feelings about the tools, we received a range of responses from “They’re a waste of time” to “BITS are cool to do with staff because you learn something every time.”
When asked about their concerns in implementing the BITS, the vast majority of staff offered constructive responses. The two most common areas they identified as needing to be addressed were 1) more training and/or coaching so that they could feel more comfortable and confident administering the tools and 2) more time to administer the tools and facilitate the dialogue that followed. What became evident among both staff and youth was that the use of the BITS actually led to longer and more in-depth conversations.
In the end, we are certain that implementing BITS in our Juvenile Hall has played a significant role in assisting in our culture/climate change and increasing safety for everyone. We owe a debt of gratitude to those many staff who trusted in the process and believed there was a better way to improve the lives of our youth. We know we have much more work to do to develop our staff and provide the best services possible, but we feel we are well on our way.
Kathy Starkovich, Department of Probation & Court Services, 18th Judicial Circuit, Wheaton, Illinois
Our agency has been well trained in evidence-based practices and in a casework model based on EBP. These trainings have provided an excellent framework for conceptualizing risk and knowing what to focus on. Practice and feedback have improved our officers’ assessment and professional alliance skills. Where we have fallen short is providing officers tangible tools to shift their role from advocate and broker of services to an interventionist responsible for engaging offenders in activities that address thinking and skill deficits. This is where the Carey Guides and BITS have helped!
These tangible, impactful tools help make every minute of supervision count. They are user-friendly, address critical risk areas, and provide structure to one-on-one and group interventions. Simply put, they have truly helped reinforce the importance of intentionally focusing on risk areas and strengths and maximizing the impact of the limited time we have with our clients.
Our agency was first exposed to these tools through the use of grant dollars. We were able to receive an overview of both the BITS and Guides and to develop a group of in-house trainers for the BITS. Our agency is still in the early stages of integrating the tools into our day-to-day work, but you would be hard-pressed to find an officer in the Department who is not aware of them. More importantly, it has left many hungry for additional resources and tools to use with their clients.
BITS, in particular, have been utilized by our juvenile and adult officers, with clients in the community and in secure confinement situations. Regardless of the population or location where they are used, the feedback is the same: They are easy, practical, and keep the conversation focused on the important subject at hand. They allow us to provide our offenders with swift and meaningful interventions so that we can address issues as they occur. And, the tools offer our clients something tangible to take home.
What Officers Say:
Here is what some of our officers have said about the BITS and Guides:
“BITS have been one of the most versatile tools I have had the opportunity to use in my work with my offenders. Oftentimes I bring a BITS tool into my office visits with intentionality, knowing that an issue needs to be addressed…When doing this, I feel like I have a set direction for my meetings and I walk away feeling like I have made progress.”
“Kids love the colorful [Guide] worksheets! They are easy to fill out, not time-consuming to review, and are excellent conversation pieces. I feel like I have more substance to my interactions when I use these tools.”
“I use the Carey Guide Your Guide to Success with just about every person I’m assigned. My observation is that it helps the person take ownership of setting their goals, and oftentimes the self-evaluation helps them to recognize patterns of prior & current risk factors.”
“I have used many of the tools in a group setting…Each has enriched the group discussion as participants learn from one another in a healthy manner.”
“During an office visit, one person with whom I was working mentioned that she was arguing with her mother so frequently that she was concerned about relapse. After asking her permission to define and work on the problem together, she did a fantastic job of completing the BITS Problem Solving tool. Without my intervention, the offender was able to come up with multiple positive alternatives to use when she and her mother are engaged in an argument. Once she made a plan, we briefly practiced how she would handle the situation. She was sent home with a plan of action and related that she felt more confident about the situation. The offender followed up with me the next day, stating that she had utilized the tool at home and even used other options she brainstormed when her original plan failed. She continued to reference this sheet for that situation until her successful termination of probation.”
“They are user-friendly teaching tools that have made a strong impact on our Department as we continue to move forward and reinforce the importance of intentionally and effectively focusing on high risk areas. They have ignited an excitement over the use of tools which I am hopeful will have a positive ripple effect on our Department as we continue to move forward.”
“One client liked doing the tools so much she kept asking for more homework!”
What Clients Say…
And here’s what some of our clients have said about the BITS and Guides:
“It made me think.”
“It helped me focus on what’s really important in my life.”
“I didn’t want to do the work…I wanted to talk my way through. I couldn’t do that when I had to do [these tools]; they helped me think about how I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. I am almost grown and I need to do better.”
“I found that some of the things such as positive self-talk, stopping and thinking, automatic thinking, and seeking compromise were tools that I was already sort of using but this helped me realize how therapeutic they are. Once I recognized situations better, I was able to apply them a lot easier. Every day is a challenge, so having some problem solving tools and methods of managing those challenges can yield more positive results.”
Melissa Stephenson, Grant County Correctional Services, Marion, Indiana
At Grant County Correctional Services, we often referred to what happened during community supervision meetings as the “Black Box,” because, quite frankly, we didn’t know what was taking place during those sessions. Then we decided to develop our own version of the Black Box—one equipped with the tools needed to have purposeful meetings with clients.
The supervision team noticed that a significant number of probation officers/case managers were not consistently using the tools we had previously provided them. Some were unaware of the tools; others didn’t know where to locate them; some knew where the tools were but didn’t think to use them; still others didn’t know how to apply them. We created the Black Box and provided it to each probation officer/case manager to address these barriers.
The Black Box contains a file folder for each Carey Guide as well as vibrantly colored folders for each of the BITS. The name of the specific Guide is written across the top of the Guide folders, for easy identification. The front of each folder lists the specific tools associated with that Guide. Inside is a sheet protector for each tool containing ten copies of the tool and one copy of the instructions. This allows each probation officer/case manager to have tools at their fingertips; they don’t have the barrier of making copies while developing the new habit of utilizing the tools.
By focusing on an activity from the Black Box, probation officers/case managers can have purposeful conversations during one-on-one interactions with clients; these have been shown to reduce criminogenic risk. Moreover, using these activities prevents the likelihood that one-on-one interactions will focus on non-criminogenic risk factors. In addition, using the Carey Guides and BITS helps our clients move beyond not taking responsibility, minimizing, avoiding, and getting stuck in thinking traps; instead, these tools disrupt their thinking traps and encourage them to take responsibility to change.
Understanding that access to tools is not enough to ensure staff competency in delivering them, a bi-weekly training schedule has been developed during which staff are trained on the tools and given many opportunities to practice using them. Learning teams were established to help staff overcome any attitudinal resistance toward evidence-based practices and to give them opportunities to share what they are learning as they use the tools. These weekly meetings are led by a peer facilitator. Supervisors also participate in their own learning teams.
Grant County Correctional Services has developed and recently implemented an updated case plan that is based on the Indiana Risk Assessment System (IRAS). The case plan identifies goals and objectives for each response that indicates a risk on the IRAS based on criminogenic domains, as well as tools (e.g., Carey Guides, BITS, program referrals, other assignments/tasks) to assist clients in each domain. This lessens the guesswork involved in determining what tools to use in different circumstances.
Another opportunity to use the Carey Guides and BITS stems from Grant County Correctional Services’ Violation Response Matrix, which offers guidance for responding to noncompliant behavior. The Violation Response Matrix requires the probation officer/case manager to not only address the violation behavior with an accountability response, but it also mandates that the criminogenic need that is driving that behavior be addressed through an intervention response in order to promote long-term change.
In order to incentivize staff for embracing the Black Box and other change initiatives, behavior-specific words of praise are written on “high five” hand cutouts and placed on staff members’ doors by the Quality Assurance Supervisor. Staff members have been leaving these “high fives” on display, which has helped foster a community of learning and affirmations. Probation officers/case managers, clerical staff, and supervisors have been nominating each other for “high fives” when they start catching each other doing things well.
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