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Policy Preview: Probation Non-Compliance

Probation Evolution is the Seattle Municipal Court’s effort to transform our approach to misdemeanor supervision to be hopeful, equitable, and supportive of client success and growth. The next step in our Probation Evolution project is to revise our policy for responding to non-compliance, meaning how counselors respond when clients are not fulfilling their court-ordered probation conditions.

What is probation non-compliance?

When individuals are convicted of a crime, either by plea or trial, or resolve their cases with an agreed continuance with conditions, judges often assign conditions that must be followed while the court has jurisdiction over the case. Examples of court-ordered conditions include substance use disorder treatment, mental health treatment, and Ignition Interlock Devices. Judges assign people to probation as a way to ensure the person complies with those conditions. The probation counselor’s job is to support the client to successfully meet their conditions.

While many probation clients have the ability and resources to comply with their probation conditions, some struggle. Non-compliance, or a violation, occurs when a client does something contrary to what the court has required them to do. Clients who struggle with compliance often benefit from the supportive case management provided by probation counselors.

Seattle Municipal Court is revising its non-compliance policy to create a consistent framework that focuses more resources on clients who have challenges following through with court-ordered conditions. 

Developing our future non-compliance policy

The goal of this policy is to provide a framework for probation counselors to address non-compliance in a consistent, supportive, and transparent way. Our objectives are to define the differences between “technical” and “substantive” violations and provide guidance for responding to each type.

This policy will give guidance for situations when brief interventions are enough to get clients back on track during temporary struggles. The policy will also give guidance for situations when more structured, supportive case management becomes necessary to address repeated non-compliance, chronic substance abuse, and continued offense-behavior.

This work started with the court listening to community members involved in the legal system about their thoughts on non-compliance with misdemeanor probation. Community members were asked to share their thoughts on appropriate responses to technical and substantive violations, how we can eliminate bias, and what types of responses to violations are equitable and effective. The court leveraged what we learned from community members, previous audits, and staff to develop the updated policy.

The updated policy creates a decision-making framework that identifies three levels of non-compliance and the response protocols for each level. The protocols are responsive to escalating levels of non-compliance, with a focus on enhanced case management in hopes of resolving the issue without a court hearing where possible.

Three levels of non-compliance

Level 1: Technical non-compliance

Violations include: not reporting to probation or not attending treatment sessions.

  • With a first incident, the probation counselor contacts the client to discuss the non-compliance incident and collaborate on a plan.
  • If non-compliance continues, the probation counselor initiates a case plan intervention to address the client’s barriers and increases contact with both the client and their treatment provider. The intervention should not last longer than 60 days.
  • If the client is not in compliance by the time the case plan intervention expires, the probation counselor requests a hearing. The counselor maintains the same level of support and client connection until the hearing takes place.

Level 2: Abstinence-related technical non-compliance

Violations include: positive or missed drug test.

  • With a first incident, the probation counselor submits an Abstain Violation Report to the court and connects with the client and their treatment provider to discuss the drug/alcohol use incident and collaborate on a plan. A hearing is NOT recommended.
  • With a second violation within 120 days, the probation counselor submits an Abstain Violation Report to the court, initiates a case plan intervention to address the client’s barriers, and increases contact with both the client and their treatment provider. The intervention should not last longer than 60 days. A hearing is NOT recommended unless there is an apparent risk to the community, client, or victim’s safety.
  • If drug/alcohol use continues despite the case plan intervention, the probation counselor submits Abstain Violation Reports to the court and requests a hearing. The probation counselor maintains the same level of support and client connection until the hearing takes place.

Level 3: Substantive non-compliance

Violations include: new criminal law violation, alcohol-related Ignition Interlock Device violation, substantiated victim contact, or extended technical non-compliance.

  • The probation counselor submits a status report and requests a hearing. If a case plan intervention is in place, the probation counselor maintains the support and connection identified in the plan until the hearing takes place.  
  • The counselor’s status report to the court will include a summary of the case plan intervention activities and a recommendation from the probation on whether the client is appropriate for continued probation. Recommendations to maintain probation will detail any monitoring or treatment plan adjustments that can be made moving forward. Recommendations to close probation will articulate the reasons for the recommendation, the efforts made to support the client during their time on probation, as well as any community, victim, or client safety concerns.
  • Counselors’ reports will no longer include recommendations on specific sanctions. The reports will also no longer include recommendations to add any mandatory conditions for the client, unless there is a clear intervention that is in the best interest of the client’s therapeutic health. Decisions to revoke (close probation) or add sanctions will be deferred to the court, the City Attorney, and defense counsel.

Why we’re updating the policy

The updated non-compliance policy will provide a clear, structured decision-making framework that creates consistency in probation’s responses to non-compliance. Focusing probation counselor resources on clients who need it the most, building relationships, and making supportive case plans will put clients in a better position to get back on track. If hearings become necessary, the enhanced time dedicated to struggling clients also better positions the probation counselor to provide critical information on the best approach to address risky, unhealthy behaviors that increase a client’s risk of recidivism (re-offending).  

We are planning to begin using the updated non-compliance policy early in 2023.

Learn more

The court is hosting a webinar about the updated non-compliance policy on November 18, 2022 at 1:30 p.m. via Zoom. RSVP to learn more: Probation Evolution Webinar: Non-Compliance Policy