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A personalized approach to probation saved Arizona $461 million

Arizona has saved millions of dollars by keeping people out of prison since it introduced a more rigorous adult probation program 10 years ago. With classes that help people on probation create goals and learn coping skills, violations have declined by 29 percent. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker talks to some of the people who have benefited from the overhaul.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    There are approximately four and a half million Americans on probation or parole – that’s a nearly four times what it was in 1980. But how effective is the system at keeping people from reoffending and ending up back behind bars?

    For the past decade, Arizona’s adult probation department has been quietly changing the way it does business, engaging with offenders in surprising ways, and the approaches are yielding results. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Watching Douglas Minkner with his 7-month old son, makes it hard to picture his past.

  • Douglas Minkner:

    “there you go…Drink”

  • Douglas Minkner:

    I started smoking heavy in the seventh grade and every single day I was going to school high.

  • Christopher Booker:

    The son of a police officer, Minkner has a long track record with addiction. His drug use started with marijuana in elementary school. Then came ecstasy and cocaine as a high school freshman, and finally crystal methamphetamine and heroin.

  • Douglas Minkner:

    I just didn’t wanna stop. I wanted to do that every single day of my life. That’s where my trouble began.

  • Christopher Booker:

    And the “trouble” was criminal, including breaking-and-entering, burglary, and narcotics possession.

    Racking up 9 felonies by the time he was 20, he spent most of his days either behind bars or on probation.

  • Douglas Minkner:

    Back when I was younger on probation when I was in high school it was just es– essentially, “did he test today? Did he collect– test clean? Did he do his community service?” That’s it. It was almost just like a– nagging parent, where somebody was just like, “hey, you know what you’re supposed to be doing. Why aren’t you doing it? Okay, you’re not gonna do it? Jail.”

  • Christopher Booker:

    But recently things have improved, he just celebrated one year sober. The person he credits is his probation officer, kelli Watson.

  • Kelli Watson:

    Addiction is difficult to deal with. if– if you lock them away, they may be sober for the amount of time they’re locked away. But as soon as they get out, they come right back to where they are. Now I try and find a good balance between holding them accountable but also understanding that we’re all human beings

  • Christopher Booker:

    Because arizona considers Minkner a high risk individual, Watson supervises him under what the state calls Intensive Probation Supervision, or IPS. It’s part of an innovative overhaul of the system that involves fitting the right kind of probation to the right person.

  • Kelli Watson:

    All right you can stop right there. All are zeros, so thanks so much, negative for alcohol.

  • Douglas Minkner:

    You know, obviously probation isn’t something that you Wanna be on. It’s not something that you enjoy being on.

  • Christopher Booker:

    IPS means Minkner lives under house arrest. And Watson must approve every hour of his day. That includes treatment, group therapy, his work schedule – even time just watching his son.

    If he runs out of diapers and needs to go to the store, he must ask Watson for permission.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Had you been on probation in the way you’re on probation now as a young person, your path may have gone in a different direction?

  • Douglas Minkner:

    Absolutely. 110% In my opinion. I would have gotten the help that I needed. I woulda had a positive relationship with an actual public figure that is wanting to make a change and a difference in peoples’ lives. And who knows where that would have actually led me?

  • Douglas Minkner:

    One year sober.

  • Kelli Watson:

    That’s a long time Douglas.

  • Doug Minkner:

    it’s the longest i’ve pulled in all 26 years of this life of mine. Plus having you guys on my side as well. You know doing these check ins at first I gotta admit they were really kind of like a pain to get acclimated to you and get used to you it’s like ahhh…. Here they are again at my door… but I mean it’s different now

  • Christopher Booker:

    How do you view Kelly? Who is she to you?

  • Douglas Minkner:

    So kelly to me, I would honestly say, is somebody that I can go to if I need help, if I’m struggling and she has the resources to be able to give to me so I can get my problem resolved.

  • Christopher Booker:

    The nature of the relationship between Minkner and officer Watson is not accidental. Rather, it’s a reflection of a radical retooling of arizona’s adult probation department that was rolled out state wide in 2008.

    Between 2008 and 2016 there was a 29% decline in probation violations, and a 21% decline in arrests of people on probation. That translates to fewer people behind bars.

    And because it costs just over $66 per day to keep someone in prison , and less than twenty two dollars to put them on probation, Arizona says it has saved more than $461 million dollars since 2009.

  • Barbara Broderick:

    I think the– the easiest way to explain it is we weren’t being very successful.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Barbara broderick has been spearheading arizona’s changes in adult probation since 2004.

  • Barbera Broderick:

    People weren’t changing, they weren’t succeeding, they were failing at a great rate. Sitting down with officers, people were getting– kind of– “we’re hitting our head against the wall. What can we do differently– that would really make a difference in people’s lives?”

  • Christopher Booker:

    What followed was a fundamental shift in the way arizona approached probation.

    They began, says broderick, by personalizing their dealings with each probationer, learning the details of their lives, and the patterns of their negative behavior.

    The department works to change those patterns by providing classes that help them create goals and learn coping skills. The idea is to get to the bottom of what is driving the criminal behavior.

    They also reduced the number of cases for officers like Kelli Watson, so they can spend more time with offenders on IPS.

  • Barbara Broderick:

    So the sorting of people really gave us the ability– to basically spend more time with the more difficult– the medium to high-risk individuals and less time with the low-risk individuals.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Scott Gibson is what’s called a standard probation officer. That means the majority of offenders he oversees are lower risk than officer Watson and he sees more of them.

    That doesn’t mean they aren’t required to check in with him once a month, attend group therapy and perform community service.

    And like Watson, Gibson has been specially trained to know the details of each of their stories.

  • Scott Gibson:

    If building– a rapport with somebody– and– and letting them know that you’re really trying to help them is what works and then, then that’s huge.

  • Christopher Booker:

    But Arizona is not just trying to change the way offenders think and act. It’s trying to do the same with probation officers.

    The officers meet regularly to discuss what’s working with their cases, what’s not, and how they might be able to improve outcomes.

  • Scott Gibson:

    So these two types of interventions are most effective in changing offender behavior over the long term.

  • Scott Gibson:

    If we can help one person not reoffend in the future that’s one less person committing a crime in the future. If this is what works, this is what we’ve been shown to work– why not do it? You know, why not take that approach?

  • Scott Gibson:

    So these two types of interventions are most effective in changing offender behavior over the long term.

  • Scott Gibson:

    If this is what works, this is what we’ve been shown to work– why not do it?

  • Christopher Booker:

    But what happens with the toughest of cases?

  • Kelli Watson:

    Hi Kristin

  • Christopher Booker:

    Kristin Patrick is a three-time felon, a crystal meth addict who relapsed just 6 weeks ago while under officer kelli watson’s supervision.

  • Kelli Watson:

    Lets do a walk through.

  • Christopher Booker:

    In Arizona, a state that has mandatory minimum sentences, that has traditionally put a person right back in jail.

  • Kelli Watson:

    Lets do quick breathalizer

  • Krisitin Patrick:

    I’ve never not been arrested for screwing up. It is kind of like clockwork for me. I just expected that. I was blown away when she walked away and I wasn’t in the back of her car or something you know. And then I sat there all night thinking should I run I run but I didn’t.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Why did you decide not to run?

  • Krisitin Patrick:

    Because of the way Kelly handled it. I’ve done this so many times. Like, why can’t I just get it right?” And it’s so frustrating, I was just like, she didnt say, im going to jail. My main goal right now, is to stay out of jail. Like, so I can be a part of my kids’ lives, regardless of what that looks like. And because she didn’t arrest me, I did the thinking– tool that she’s started to push on me, and I implemented it. And I didn’t run because of it, so.

  • Kelli Watson:

    In this situation whats a new thought you could of had?

  • Krisitin Patrick:

    I dont reach out enough, i need to start doing that because obviously what i have done in the past wasnt working.

  • Kelli Watson:

    Write it down, that is good.

  • Krisitin Patrick:

    I’ve done several of these acLtivities, and I’ve actually caught myself in the middle of, like, implementing it. So, I know that it’s working, you know what I mean? Like– the thoughts that come into my head are different.

  • Kelli Watson:

    I hope she feels that I do have her best interest in mind. And that I’m not here to lock her up and– and throw away the key. And as long as she’s willing to work on herself, I’m willing to work with her too.

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