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Seattle Municipal Court Probation Receives Innovating Justice Award

On Friday, October 20th, Seattle Municipal Court Probation was honored with one of four Innovating Justice Awards by the Washington State Court’s Board For Judicial Administration.

The award is given to individuals or groups who have provided exceptional leadership in helping courts deliver innovative and responsive justice by promoting race equity and access to justice, provide exceptional leadership, go above and beyond what is expected and apply innovative and community-driven responses that significantly impacted and resolved critical court system needs.

SMC Probation was recognized for their “Probation Evolution Project,”  an effort focused on improving client outcomes and minimizing disproportionate impacts probation has on women and people of color.

“This is great work,” SMC Judge Willie Gregory said. “It’s important to help our court realize our vision, and that vision that we have is to become a people’s court that provides fair, equitable and innovative delivery of justice. With our probation evolution, we intentionally moved away from traditional reactive approaches towards an approach that is more hopeful, equitable and supportive of client success and growth.”

One major change SMC made was replacing a risk assessment tool believed to be rooted in bias and institutionalized racism, with a new three phase method that ensures all probation clients — regardless of race or gender — have equal opportunity to limit mandatory meetings with their probation counselors to six months.

Other changes include standardizing case management, so that clients can co-create individualized plans that address specific needs and include personal goals, revamping their non-compliance policy in a way that should lead to fewer revocations for technical violations and increasing training requirements for probation counselors in a way that should result in equitable, personalized responses for different situations.

Tangible improvements are already being shown from Seattle Municipal’s dedication to making their probation system more equitable. The number of review hearings for probation is on pace to be 30% less in 2023 compared to 2021, and the number of probation activities imposed on a client fell from 6.8 activities per client in 2017 to 3.3 activities per client in 2022. 

To learn more about the project, read SMC’s recent newsletter on the topic.