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Seattle Municipal Court Responds to Office of the City Auditor Assessment of Probation Services

The Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) thanks the Office of the City Auditor (OCA) for its thorough and thoughtful review of SMC Probation, a post-adjudication jail alternative in which counselors are paired with clients to support them as they meet court-ordered obligations. SMC participated in OCA’s assessment, released earlier today, with transparency, full cooperation and concurs with the auditor’s 14 recommendations.

“SMC shares a goal with OCA, to ensure that probation is not contributing to racial disparities present in our criminal legal system and that probation results in successful outcomes for everyone” said Assistant Presiding Judge Adam Eisenberg. “We take the auditor’s findings of racial and ethnic disproportionality in SMC’s 2017-2019 probation population very seriously. We have implemented many changes since then, and we will continue our efforts to ensure all who come to our court are heard, feel that they were treated fairly and with respect, and leave better than when they came to us.”

In 2020, SMC redesigned its Programs and Services division which includes Probation Services, in response to stakeholder feedback, a desire to decrease disproportionate impacts to court clients, and a 2020 report commissioned from the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera). SMC asked Vera to help identify ways to most effectively serve clients and improve its probation program.

SMC is addressing Vera’s findings and anticipates this will result in better and more complete data, and significantly improved probation client outcomes from what was found in OCA’s assessment. SMC has made the following changes since 2020:

  • Discontinued records checks, except in cases where records monitoring is required by statute. As of early 2021, SMC had reduced records checks by 78% resulting in 1,640 less clients on SMC probation.
  • Focused Probation Services on high-risk case types, which has reduced clients on active supervision by 16%.
  • Eliminated discretionary supervision fees imposed in criminal cases including all probation-related fees.
  • Incentivized early release from probation by utilizing a goal-based approach to supervision. Newly published key performance indicators suggest a decrease in the average length of supervision to 18.7 months.
  • Implemented a new case closure policy where counselors administratively close cases when clients have completed their goals.
  • Began collecting client feedback as they exit probation. Initial results show 78% of clients completing the survey feel supported, encouraged, and motivated by their probation counselor.
  • Began collecting self-reported race and ethnicity data through a new probation intake process.

SMC is actively seeking to implement a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion approach across the court. This starts with adopting equity-focused performance metrics that root out racial and ethnic disproportionality in the court’s programs and services.

The court will prioritize remedying the gaps identified by OCA in SMC’s internal operations and strongly concurs with OCA’s finding that its new information technology system, due to be implemented in 2022, must be able to monitor and report on probation outcomes. Currently, the court is reliant on 30-year-old technology for case management, probation, and tracking financial information. As SMC modernizes its technology platforms and transforms the ways customer service is delivered, implementing consistent data entry protocols, and creating ways to quickly analyze meaningful outcome data across court service areas are major priorities.

SMC encourages community members to be a part of the process as we continue to implement changes to Probation Services and other court programs. To stay informed, visit the court’s website, follow @SeaMuniCourt on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for email updates.

*A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that a Client’s Bill of Rights and grievance policy have been implemented. We expect these will be implemented in early 2022.