‘Evidence-based Practices for Community Corrections’: San Diego County Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins

In this podcast recorded at the Courts,
Community Engagement, and Innovative Practices in a Changing Landscape
 symposium held
in Anaheim in December 2015, San Diego County Chief Probation Office Mack Jenkins discusses the importance
of risk assessment and how his department uses evidence-based practices to tailor its responses to offenders on probation.

following is a transcript

This is Raphael Pope-Sussman with the Center for Court Innovation. This podcast is part of a series of dispatches
from the Courts, Community Engagement, and Innovative Practices in a Changing Landscape symposium held in
Anaheim in December 2015. The conference focused on justice reforms including recent developments in California,
public safety realignment, and proposition 47. Public safety realignment refers to changes brought about by 2011
legislation that shifted responsibility for certain populations of offenders from the state to the county level.
Proposition 47, a ballot initiative passed by referendum in 2014, reclassified certain low level felonies as misdemeanors.

Today I’m speaking with chief Mack Jenkins, chief probation officer San Diego County. Mack, thank you
for speaking with me today and welcome.

Jenkins: Thank you for having
me. I look forward to the conversation.

After proposition 47, what’s the role of the probation department? How has your job changed and how is the job
of individual probation officers changed?

Jenkins: With 47, what
happens is a number of individuals that we’re responsible for supervising may be eligible to be re-sentenced.
If they’re re-sentenced, some of them might actually leave our workload as it were. In that sense, we really
don’t have a role. Part of what we do right now in San Diego County as a state actually as well, is going through
the process of trying to identify individuals who are eligible to be re-sentenced under prop 47. We cooperate with
the court, with the public defenders office, and with the district attorney’s office in trying to identify individuals
who again may be eligible to be re-sentenced.

Pope-Sussman: Can you
talk about your work on community supervision? I know you’ve worked on supervision programs for DV offenders,
sex offenders, substance offenders.

Jenkins: Sure, happy to. The
great role that the probation department plays in the criminal justice system is a community supervision role. What
that means is I actually think we are very key players and sometimes understated players because folks don’t
really have general public and sometimes even other system stakeholders, don’t have a great awareness of what
we do. What we do is critical because when you think about the American criminal justice system, law enforcement
is very well known. The courts are really well known, but law enforcement’s role really ends at arrest. The
court’s role in the traditional system ends at this position. Those individuals who are in the juvenile justice
system, probation is the most common judicial sanction in this country in the criminal justice system.

What that means is individuals who’ve committed crimes get arrested and are adjudicated come to probation.
Our role there is to work with those individuals, hold them accountable for orders that the court may have imposed
on them, then this is the most important part of our role. Our role is to help them make changes in their behavior
so that they can leave system better than how they came to it. That’s what we do. We, probation as an entity,
as community corrections practitioners I think are critical in recidivism reductions and keeping our public safe
and restoring troubled lives.

Pope-Sussman: How do you deal with
maybe some of those particularly challenging demographics?

Again, that’s a good question. I appreciate that you ask it because what we are learning in 2013, 2015 is that
in order to really deal with individuals that come into the system, we shouldn’t look at them by the crime that
they were convicted of. What we have to do is look at them to see who they are as an individual. See what has been
their history both in the criminal justice system but also outside of it. What have been their efforts at prior treatment,
other things in their lives so that we can have a better understanding of how that person got to where they are today.
Then craft an intervention, a case plan that addresses deficits that may have been in their life, and try and engage
them in a positive case plan or treatment plan to make changes.

That’s how we deal with them.
It’s not to say that folks that have been convicted of domestic violence offenses are the same as everybody
else because they are many times there are things related to individuals who and I’m just using domestic violence
as an example. Many times individuals who are domestic violence offenders do have some common traits. One of them
being alcohol. Alcohol is very, very common in domestic violence offenses. Again, we know that what we want to do
with individuals like that is focus on alcohol services, but at the same time maybe anger management and things like

Pope-Sussman: Something that I’ve been reading about in
this field of community supervision and I’m wondering your perspective is, how would you respond to concerns
that expanded community supervision makes it easier or more palatable to keep individuals under some form of correctional

Jenkins: Again, I think it’s a good question. Here’s
my thought, is part of what we do is we do use in my field right now the term evidence-based practices. I always
say evidence-based practices for community corrections. Some of the tenets of the evidence-based practices, in other
words, some of the basic tenets of using practices that show research, by research that they’re effective. One
of the tenets is recognizing who you need to spend time with and who you don’t. Not everybody that comes into
the criminal justice system is at the same risk or has the same likelihood of staying in it, or has the same likelihood
of continuing their behavior.

In terms of questions about community corrections keeps people under
correctional supervision, what we actually know is that even if somebody comes into the criminal justice system doesn’t
want doesn’t mean they need to stay there. Basically what I’m describing is the tenet of risk-based supervision.
What we do is we employ tools to help us identify who’s who. We try to identify those folks who are most in
need of intensive supervision. At the same time identify those folks who don’t need it. Those folks who don’t
need it, we call them low risk offenders. They might well be on probation, but they might be on an unsupervised probation,
because they don’t need intervention. That’s how I respond to it. We don’t treat everybody the same.

Pope-Sussman: Where would you like to see probation in your jurisdiction in
10 years?

Jenkins: What I’d really like to see is the rank and
file officers becoming in addition to as a part of being an impactful and effective deputy probation officer, behavioral
specialists. What I tell my staff now is that they are criminal justice [behavioralists 00:07:17]. What that means
is I think that the profession, the vocation, deputy probation officers can have a higher level of competency of
knowing more about what are some of the behavioral factors that or some of the factors that influence behavior of
the individuals that they work with, and can be across the board better prepared and better skilled at engaging with
those individuals and helping them change their behavior.

Sometimes it happens right now an experienced
officer might learn some of those things, I won’t say intuitively because it’s from experience, it’s
not intuition, it’s from experience and so they do that already. There’s a way for us to teach it. There’s
a way for us to teach those skills, to teach very specific interventions, to teach engagement techniques, that’s
what I’d really like to see and I think can happen. I’m retiring now so I won’t continue that effort
in my role as chief, but I do hope to continue where to try and take the vocation to that level across the board.

Pope-Sussman: Is there an idea of maybe of some sort of formal professional
development in that area?

Jenkins: I think so. I think we’re
already and a lot of individuals that become probation officers come with academic backgrounds in criminal justice,
but as many may come from academic backgrounds of social work or psychology and things like that. That just makes
the point that what a probation officer is is somebody who works with another person, who works with people. One
of the efforts that I’m already involved in is working on a way of changing criminal justice curriculum for
criminal justice schools around the country, to make sure that it includes a curriculum that better prepares future
probation officers to be behavioralists as it were.

That involves things like teaching motivational
interviewing skills so that criminal justice graduates I think should come out of the school with if not a level
of competence in motivational interviewing, a level of understanding about what it is, and so they may later can
get training to hone the skill. Again the effort is to really change criminal justice degrees around the country
so that we can take advantage of I’ll even use the word science of behavior change. The individuals that are
being educated right now are better educated and then later can be better skilled to employ some of the practices
that the research is very clear show is effective in behavior change.

Those are all my questions. I really appreciate you taking out the time to speak to me.

Thank you and good questions.

Pope-Sussman: This is Raphael Pope-Sussman
of the Center for Court Innovation and I’ve been speaking with Mack Jenkins, chief probation officer for San
Diego County. For more information on the Center for Court Innovation visit www.courtinnovation.org.