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Enhancing supervision by engaging Families. (Probation and Parole Forum).

The benefits of engaging the family to help supervise offenders is clear: Families are there when probation and parole officers are not, according to Carol Shaprio, keynote speaker at the American Probation and Parole Association's Winter Training Institute, held Feb. 10-13 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Shaprio is executive director of Family Justice, a nonprofit agency in New York that evolved from a Vera Institute demonstration project, La Bodega de la Familia, a neighborhood support center for families with members who have addiction difficulties and are embroiled in the criminal justice system. Family Justice continued and broadened the concept developed in the project. One of the lessons learned in its work is how probation and parole can partner with community-based agencies to support families of offenders and how these families can provide support to their positive supervision.

Shaprio began her presentation by outlining the shifting landscape that is changing the way probation and parole officers perform their jobs. She noted reforms in the areas of welfare and education. Also, the changes in the economic realm (partly as a result of Sept. 11) and the new emphasis on security have begun to affect the public's opinion regarding what should be done about offenders. There is, she said, a shift in public opinion that is asking the government to address the underlying causes rather than the symptoms of offending behavior. Informed members of the community are asking for prevention of crime, not harsh sentences.

Shaprio then discussed the need for enhanced community supervision of offenders. She noted that part of this supervision is working with families, seeking to obtain for them the necessary supports. She stressed the need to examine the possibility that families are a natural support system and if probation and parole can provide assistance, families can become a natural connection to providing pro-social support for offenders. "We sometimes forget," she said, "that family is also a victim of the offender's behavior but also is a natural connection to that offender."

During her presentation, Shaprio described the work of Family Justice. Starting with the current drug addiction problem, she sees the family as a hidden natural resource. Her agency seeks to strengthen families and reduce members' drug use. Shaprio noted that families, can provide around-the-clock supervision and support, provide long-term involvement and sometimes have special insight into offenders' problems.

Family Justice has a broad and inclusive definition of the family; in fact, it accepts the participants' definition of their families (i.e., a more diverse definition describes family, such as unmarried, same-sex couples or communal arrangements of unrelated individuals). The emphasis is on family-focused interventions and Family Justice seeks to use the naturally occurring connections or the web of interdependence that exist in these relationships. Because these families generally are poor, they are involved with and connected to numerous government agencies. These agencies sometimes have a tendency to work at cross-purposes and thus fail to alleviate the problems they attempt to solve. By seeing families and government working as partners, the interdependency that is created by this arrangement can be positively influenced.

At the heart of Shaprio's work is an awareness of the value of using a family systems approach to help understand that families are complex organizations. The interrelation of government agencies with the family unit, such as probation and parole, can have either a positive or a negative impact. The question, she noted, relates to "how to engage" the family. Shaprio suggested four approaches:

* Use a family systems approach to develop the necessary knowledge and skill required to work with families.

* Develop strength-based assessments and interventions rather than deficit-based approaches.

* Examine the case management approach currently used in probation and parole and ensure that it includes working with offenders' families.

* Engage in partnering activities with community-based agencies that work with families.

Returning to the theme of her presentation, Shaprio noted that probation work is short term and raises the issue of how to transfer support for the long term. Offenders dealing with addiction need support for longer periods of time. By involving the family as a support to supervision, the transfer of support for offenders can continue after probation ends. The family, she reminded the audience, has the power to encourage one to do something. Working with families allows probation officers to understand the context in which the behavior they are trying to change occurs. She again emphasized the role of the family as an instrument of supervision and support. It is an opportunity to shift coercion to the family and a way to keep the offender in treatment programs.

Shaprio offered four reasons probation and parole officers should consider family involvement in supervision. It:

* Provides an opportunity for families and government agencies to work together;

* Provides a way of avoiding learned helplessness on the part of families, and thus, helps to break the cycle of dependency;

* Assists in treatment by providing for a better match between the intervention and context of the offender; and

* Enhances public safety and public health.

Shaprio noted that social services and corrections are in the midst of a paradigm shift -- from the individual offender as the unit of analysis to the family as the focus for analysis. If this analysis only succeeds in acknowledging the deficits of the family and not its strengths, progress is not made; in fact, it will become an impediment to effective work. Another possible hurdle to this way of working also was suggested by Shaprio -- namely, legislative impediments, such as barring families from housing if a member is convicted of drug offenses.

Shaprio concluded her presentation by issuing a challenge to the delegates at the institute: What would be the role of the family in supervision and treatment of the offenders on your caseloads? It is a challenge worth accepting. Building healthy communities starts by engaging families in their development and in the reintegration of their members.

Donald G. Evans is president of the Canadian Training Institute in Toronto.
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Title Annotation:social services, United States
Author:Evans, Donald G.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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