Juvenile Probation Officer Workload and Caseload Study

Juvenile Probation Officer Workload and Caseload Study

André B. Rosay and Thomas S. Begich

"Juvenile Probation Officer Workload and Caseload Study" by André B. Rosay and Thomas S. Begich. Alaska Justice Forum 26(4): 6-9 (Winter 2010). This article provides results of a recent Justice Center study of juvenile probation officer (JPO) workloads and caseloads in the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which examined the resources required in both rural and urban Alaska to adequately meet minimum probation standards, to continue the development and enhancement of system improvements, and to fully implement DJJ's restorative justice field probation service delivery model.

A recent Justice Center study of juvenile probation officer (JPO) workloads and caseloads in the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice examined the resources needed for the Division to meet its standards and goals. The study examined JPO workloads and caseloads to determine the resources required in both rural and urban Alaska to adequately meet minimum probation standards, to continue the development and enhancement of system improvements, and to fully implement the restorative justice field probation service delivery model. Restorative justice is a critical part of DJJ's mission and approach to fulfilling DJJ goals. Restorative justice focuses on accountability, competency development, and community prevention, with the aim of repairing the harm caused by the juvenile offender. The Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice is committed to restorative justice; the Division's mission is "[to] hold juvenile offenders accountable for their behavior, promote the safety and restoration of victims and communities, and assist offenders and their families in developing skills to prevent crime." In addition, Alaska Statutes specify that the goal for the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice "is to promote a balanced juvenile justice system in the state to protect the community, impose accountability for violations of law, and equip juvenile offenders with the skills needed to live responsibly and productively" (§47.12.010). In this study, we identified the staffing levels necessary to fully implement the restorative justice field probation service delivery model, as specified by Alaska Statutes and DJJ field policies and procedures.

Workload determinations were estimated for each Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice office, and office specific workload determinations were then aggregated by region. All workload calculations were determined as (1) a function of the time available to provide direct (client) services in each office, (2) the number of cases in each office, and (3) the time required to handle each case in each office. The time available to provide direct (client) services was compared to the actual time needed to perform all the required activities in each case. This comparison allowed us to determine whether the available time was sufficient, and how much, if any, additional time was required to provide direct (client) services.

Time Available

The time available to provide direct (client) services in each office was determined by the number of juvenile probation officer and social service associate positions in each office and took into account time for holiday and personal leave and for other required activities (training, community involvement, public relations, records and reports, supervision, and clerical support). The statewide total time available to provide direct (client) services was 108,349 hours. (See Table 1.) Each position provided an average of 1,224.3 hours per year of time available to provide direct (client) services.

Table 1. Total Time Available by Office

Number of Cases

Law enforcement agencies make referrals to the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice if there is probable cause that a youth committed an offense which would be criminal if committed by an adult, committed a felony traffic offense, or committed an alcohol offense after two prior convictions for minor consuming in District Court. Adults may be referred to the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice if their offenses were committed as juveniles.

This study included five types of cases handled by juvenile probation officers and social service associates. Workload determinations were based on the depth of processing that each case received. New delinquency cases may result in one of five dispositions-(1) dismissal, (2) adjustment without referral/follow-up, (3) adjustment with referral/follow-up, (4) informal probation, and (5) petition for formal adjudication or formal diversion (See "Alaska Juvenile Justice Dispositions" on page 9). (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Referrals for New Offenses, by Depth of Processing

In addition to these five types of cases, workload determinations took into account interstate-in and interstate-out cases, as well as workload differences in responsibility between ultimate and immediate probation officers. (The Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice belongs to the Interstate Compact on Juveniles (ICJ). Interstate-in cases are incoming out-of-state probation or parole cases that require courtesy supervision from the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice. Interstate-out cases are outgoing Alaska probation cases that require courtesy supervision in another state.) Ultimate responsibility rests with the probation office nearest the court of jurisdiction where the case originated, whereas immediate responsibility rests with the probation office in the district where the juvenile resides. The annual number of cases in each office was calculated as a three-year average, from FY 2006 to FY 2008. In Table 2, we summarize the average caseloads by office and show the annual average number of cases under ultimate and immediate supervision in each office by type of case, from FY 2006 to FY 2008. On average, the Division of Juvenile Justice handled 5,675 cases per year from FY 2006 to FY 2008. Statewide, the most advanced disposition within each case was most likely to be a petition, followed by an adjustment without a follow-up, or a dismissal. Adjustments with follow-ups and informal probations were less common dispositions.

Table 2. Average Caseloads by Office: FY06-08

Time Required

The time required to handle each case was calculated through discussions with eight focus groups of juvenile probation officers and social service associates (two groups in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks, one in Juneau, one in Palmer, one with rural offices with juvenile justice facilities, and one with rural offices without a juvenile justice facility). Focus group participants provided time estimates for 145 different activities in different types of cases. These included activities related to intake and assessment, detention, court, case management, and supervision.

The average dismissed case required 4.3 hours of staff time. The average case that was adjusted without a referral required 5.6 hours, while the average case adjusted with a referral required 7.2 hours. The average informal probation case required 13.6 hours, and the average petitioned case required 99.7 hours. Within each case type, estimates reflect the average case.

Results

The total amount of time required to handle the number of cases in each office varied from a low of 2,166 hours in Barrow to a high of 74,112 hours in Anchorage. On average, 89 percent of the total time required was attributed to petitioned cases (this percentage varied from a low of 83% in Kenai to a high of 94% in Craig and Juneau). This is an important result because it implies that the need in each office is primarily driven by the number of petitioned cases. Changes in the number of petitioned cases would dramatically alter the total hours needed in each office. This result is not surprising given that the average petitioned case required 7.3 times more hours than an informal probation case, 13.8 times more hours than a case adjusted with a follow-up, 17.8 times more hours than a case adjusted without a follow-up, and 23.2 times more hours than a dismissed case. (See Table 3.) Over half (53%) of the time required to handle petitioned cases is related to court activities, such as preparing for court, writing court reports, traveling to court, being in court, and documenting court activities.

Table 3. Summary Estimates for Hours Required per Type of Case

A comparison of the time needed to the time available in each office showed a variance from a low of -837 hours in Barrow (indicating that the total time available is sufficient to address the total time needed) to a high of 37,519 hours in Anchorage (indicating that the total time needed is 37,519 hours greater than the total time available).

Assuming that unmet needs would be fulfilled by new juvenile probation officers, each contributing 1,496 hours per year, we estimate that the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice needs 59.6 additional JPOs to adequately meet minimum probation standards, to continue the development and enhancement of system improvement, and to fully implement the restorative justice field probation service delivery model. (See Table 4.) With these new positions, the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice would have the capacity to wholly accomplish its mission, goals, and objectives.

Table 4. Final Results

Almost half (42%) of the new positions needed are in Anchorage, but Anchorage already has more Juvenile Probation Officers and Social Service Associates than any other office in the State. To examine the severity of unmet needs, the workload burden for each office was calculated. (See Table 5.) The workload burden is the ratio of time needed to time available. For example, a workload burden of 3.0 would indicate that the total amount of time needed is three times greater than the total amount of time available. Although Anchorage had the greatest need for additional positions, its workload burden was 2.0, far below Sitka's 3.6. Based on these ratios, the two offices with the greatest workload burdens were Sitka and Fairbanks, followed by Juneau, Kodiak, and Anchorage. Workload burdens are determined by the amount of time available and the amount of time needed. As previously explained, the amount of time needed is driven primarily by the number of petitioned cases. The amount of time available is primarily driven by the number of juvenile probation officers and social service associates in each office and by the amount of personal leave that they accrue. In some offices, high rates of accrual for personal leave significantly lower the amount of time available and significantly increase workload burdens. When senior juvenile probation officers leave the division and new juvenile probation officers are hired who accrue less personal leave, the amount of time available will increase and workload burdens will decrease.

Table 5. Workload Burdens
Table 6. Time Study Comparisons

This analysis examined the time that would be required to handle each case under a fully implemented restorative justice field probation service delivery model. An important limitation of this analysis is that it did not examine how case dispositions should be distributed. Instead, this analysis relied on local averages from the last three fiscal years. Within any office, increasing the number of petitions will dramatically increase both need and workload burden. As a result, one office's unmet need may simply be due to a higher proportion of petitions. This study did not determine why differences between time available and time needed existed. These differences may exist because of shortages in staffing levels, system inefficiencies, or case dispositions. In particular, it is possible that offices with large unmet needs simply petition too many cases. Similarly, it is possible that offices with no unmet needs simply petition too few cases. These offices may be too understaffed to adequately meet minimum probation standards. Although this study identified how unmet needs could be fulfilled with new positions, it is important to emphasize that unmet needs may also be fulfilled by reducing the time required to handle each case (e.g., by increasing system efficiency or reducing the severity of dispositions).

Comparison with Previous Time Study

A previous time study was conducted in 2000 by the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice. In Table 6, we compare the results from the 2000 study to the results of this study. In 2000, the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice had 57 positions that provided direct services to offenders, victims, and community justice partners. These 57 positions handled almost 7,500 cases per year. At that time, the Division estimated that an additional 83 positions were needed for a total of 133 positions. In 2009, the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice had 88.5 positions (a 55% increase since 2000) and handled almost 4,700 cases (a 37% decrease since 2000). Despite the increase in the number of positions and the decrease in the number of cases, we estimated that the Division still needs an additional 59.6 positions for a total of 148.1 positions. The 2000 study estimated that 43 percent of the new positions were needed in Anchorage. Similarly, we estimated that 42 percent of the new positions were needed in Anchorage. Over this nine year period, the total number of needed positions increased by 11 percent while the number of current positions (included in the study) increased by 55 percent. As a result, the number of new positions needed decreased by 28 percent.

André B. Rosay is the Director of the Justice Center and Thomas S. Begich is a nationally recognized trainer in strategic planning and community development. This project was supported by Grant No. 2008-IC-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime.  Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice or the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice. The final report, "Juvenile Probation Officer Workload and Caseload Study," was published in 2010 and is available on the Justice Center website at http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/research/2000/0902jpo/0902.01.jpo.html.