National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women

Innovator Profile: Connecticut Court Support Services Division (CSSD)

The Connecticut Court Support Services Division (CSSD), which provides supervision to juveniles and adults on probation in the state, was selected by the National Institute of Corrections in 2007 to pilot a gender-responsive model, the Women Offender Case Management Model (WOCMM).  Developed by Dr. Marilyn Van Dieten of Orbis Partners, Inc. in partnership with NIC, the model includes evidence and gender-responsive techniques and is designed to reduce recidivism, increase the availability of services and enhance outcomes for women. 

Outcome Evaluation Results from WOCMM in Connecticut

A recent outcome evaluation of the model as it was applied by CSSD indicates a consistent trend of lower recidivism rates, absconding rates, and technical violations for a sample of WOCMM participants as compared to non-participants.

The WOCMM results were consistent with the risk principle. As expected, participating in WOCMM produced a larger impact on higher risk women than medium risk women.

Implementation of WOCMM by CSSD at a Glance:

  • The pilot was implemented in 2007 by CSSD probation staff in four Connecticut supervision offices: Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, and New Haven.
  • In 2011, CSSD expanded the implementation of the WOCMM model statewide (the use of the model in Connecticut is referred to as WOCM).
  • A WOCM Central Office Oversight Team is responsible for planning, training staff, supporting implementation (i.e., coaching, supervision, problem solving), and monitoring the implementation of the WOCMM model for quality assurance.
  • The number of clients on a caseload is controlled, allowing case management teams with time to work collaboratively with the women to define individual needs and strengths, establish mutually agreed upon goals, deliver and broker the necessary services, and monitor progress.  Probation officers serve as the primary case manager, and are joined by a gender-responsive case manager (formerly called a resource advocate) and an intervention specialist. 
  • Women who are selected to participate in WOCM must be 18 years or older, committed a non-sex offense, newly sentenced to probation for a minimum of 12 months, and score as medium or high risk to reoffend.  CSSD currently uses the Women’s Risk Need Assessment (WRNA) developed by NIC and the University of Cincinnati to determine female probationers’ risk level and criminogenic needs.  Women that participate in WOCM exhibit high risk characteristics and multiple needs including mental health conditions, histories of abuse, substance abuse, poor relationships, and financial hardships.
  • CSSD continues to ensure model fidelity and monitor WOCM outcomes as it is implemented statewide.  The department is currently in the process of developing measures for 3, 6, 12, and 25 month recidivism rates and will track these rates over time. CSSD reports that as of September 2012, WOCM participants averaged a 37% 12 month rearrest rate (according to data collected over the first 9 months of 2012).

For more information about the WOCMM implementation in Connecticut, see:

About the Women Offender Case Management Model

Case Management is defined as “a dynamic, seamless process that starts at sentencing and continues beyond discharge from prison and/or community supervision until women are stabilized in their communities.”

In order to be successful, the case management team must work collaboratively with women offenders to identify individual needs and strengths, and to define mutually agreed goals and outcomes. The team must also utilize a common framework to monitor progress as women transition through the criminal justice system.

The WOCMM has four stages, all of which can and should be implemented at all stages of the criminal justice process including the institutional phase, the transition phase, and/or the community supervision phase:

  • Engage and assess: Gather a complete picture of the factors that contribute to criminal justice involvement and identify women’s protective factors and strengths
  • Enhance women’s motivation: Increase commitment and self-efficacy by enhancing intrinsic motivation
  • Implement the case plan: Identify personal goals for the case plan, and deliver and broker the necessary services to assist women in achieving these goals
  • Review progress: Determine if goals have been achieved, and update the case plan with new goals or alternative steps in achieving goals that have not been realized

The implementation of WOCMM is guided by nine “core principles”:

  • Provide a comprehensive set of mutually supportive services that address the complex needs of women.
  • Recognize that all women have strengths and resources that can be utilized to address their challenges (i.e., do not solely focus on risk factors).
  • Work intentionally to ensure that women are involved in case planning and the supervision process (i.e., enhance their intrinsic motivation) and respect women’s rights to choose which needs to addressed and in what order.
  • Promote services that are “limitless” and are available to women and their families long after the termination of criminal justice supervision.
  • Match services to the risk level and criminogenic needs of women.
  • Build essential partnerships with the community and enhance its capacity to serve women offenders (i.e., ensure that critical resources are available and readily accessible).
  • Establish a multi-disciplinary case management team (including women as part of this team).
  • Monitor progress and evaluate outcomes (i.e., assure that case plans address the unique needs of women offenders).
  • Establish quality assurance methods to ensure program integrity.

WOCMM continues to be implementing in a number of criminal justice settings including Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Utah, and Colorado.  For more information on WOCMM see: http://static.nicic.gov/Library/021814.pdf

 

Interview with Erika Nowakowski, MSW, Court Planner II, State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, Court Support Services Division, Adult Programs and Services Unit:

Ms. Nowakowski has overseen the WOCM efforts in Connecticut since July 2011. Her responsibilities include providing support to WOCM officers and their chiefs by sharing information, tools, and resources, coordinating meetings, and offering one-on-one assistance. She is also a key member of the Central Office Oversight Team, which supervises its implementation statewide and ensures fidelity of the WOCM model.

Q The WOCM model follows nine principles. Were some of these principles harder to implement than others? What are some of the major challenges you have experienced?

A Implementing principle six – which includes building essential partnerships with community providers in order to make sure critical resources are available to women under supervision – was a struggle for us and continues to be. While we had already built a range of partnerships prior to WOCM, we had some difficulties recruiting new partners, as well as getting both new and old providers to work with us in the collaborative way the WOCM model proscribes. For example, we don’t want a job development specialist to just find a client a job, we want them to educate the client and build her skills set so that years from now, she will be able to find a job on her own.

Another challenge that we have faced is how to balance our officers’ caseloads and assist officers who may be experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma. We have to be very mindful of what officers are going through, what supports and training they need, and when they need to take a break. The officers must balance their role of providing ongoing support to probationers with their responsibilities to community safety. The occurrence of vicarious trauma is greater in supervision offices where there may be only one WOCM officer for the entire jurisdiction and they do not have other peer officers who can offer support.

Q Can you tell me more about the status of the use of the model today? Does it continue to be used in the original four offices? Has its use expanded or changed? 

A In 2007, WOCM was piloted in four adult probation regions – Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, and New Haven. Starting in 2011, we have expanded the use of WOCM to all supervision offices statewide. Currently, we have a total of 25 adult probation officers, 18 probation chiefs, and 18 Gender Responsive Case Managers participating in WOCM across the state of Connecticut. The criteria for inclusion on WOCM specialized caseloads remains the same, so all clients originally assessed as high-risk who meet the criteria are supervised according to the model.

Q The WOCM model requires that individuals on the case management team have the skills necessary to engage and enhance the motivation of women, help them with problem-solving, and set and achieve goals. Can you talk about the process used to select officers who would participate in the case management team? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes did you look for?

A When we first piloted the model, we shared information broadly about the WOCM model and asked for officers to volunteer to participate. When we expanded, we took both volunteers as well as handpicked officers that came recommended by their chief and/or had demonstrated good success rates with their clients. In general, the traits we looked for in officers included an interest in learning more about women, recognition that women have unique needs, prior case management experience, and motivational interviewing skills, to name a few.

Q The probation officers that supervised the women when WOCM began were all women. Was this a deliberate decision? Has this changed over time? Do you think that this made a difference in the outcomes of the probationers?

A Yes, we made a deliberate decision at the beginning to only include female staff in WOCM. We had thought that including male officers could potentially pose a barrier to providing true trauma-informed services. However, when we expanded statewide, a male officer volunteered so we revisited this decision. Today we have one male officer and a few male probation chiefs and believe the change has been successful.

Q The WOCM approach requires extensive and ongoing sharing of information between case management team members, including supervision staff, service providers, others in the community, and the woman herself. Can you describe how information is shared among all of these stakeholders?

A Individuals on the case management team meet regularly and often, and in different forms depending on the ongoing needs of the client. For example, the probation chief and officer hold supervision sessions on a regular basis to discuss their caseload, discuss challenges, and brainstorm solutions. Once a week the “WOCM core team” (i.e., chief, officer, and gender-responsive case manager) meet to talk about the client’s needs and develop or update the case plan to ensure that she is receiving the necessary interventions or services. Thirdly, the entire case management team (i.e., chief, officer, case manager, intervention specialist, any other service providers working with the woman, and the client) meet on an as needed basis. Typically, meetings of the full team occur when there are red flags that the woman is not achieving goals in her case plan or at risk of violating conditions of her probation. Also, women have a set number of contacts with their probation officers each month, however, it is not uncommon for a woman to stop by at unscheduled times for additional support.

Q It is expected that many women will “fail” over the course of community supervision, violating their conditions of probation or committing new crimes. Are these situations handled differently under the WOCM model than they would be under traditional probation?

A What we are seeing is that WOCM officers really want to give it their all. They hone in on the specific barriers that are causing a client to fail and try numerous methods to address her needs. It is a really fine line they are struggling with – they want to give her another opportunity to succeed, however, they also need to consider the woman’s safety and the public’s safety. WOCM officers have numerous conversations with the client before they violate her. What we have found is that through this process of open and honest conversation, the client often “owns” her setback. In fact, clients who have violated their probation are able to come back onto the WOCM caseload, and some have reported more readiness to accomplish the task at hand the second time around. As with many therapeutic interventions, relapse if often part of the process.

Q What positive changes or successes have you seen occurring since the implementation of the model?

A We have found our quality assurance methods to be a success. Officers are required to audio record the first two visits with each client, during which they conduct the Women’s Risk/Needs Assessment tool and work with the woman to develop a case plan. “QA coaches” review the recordings and once a month meet with the officer to provide feedback on their level of skills (e.g., use of motivational interviewing, focus on strengths, use of empowering language) and administration and scoring of the assessment tool. While initially officers were resistant to being recorded (e.g., for fear that the tapes might be used against them in the future), they have since realized that the coach is there to serve as an additional resource or support in the WOCMM process.

Q What advice do you have for other jurisdictions who might be interested in implementing the WOCM model?

A I think that having a Central Office Oversight Team was critical to our success. This team includes representatives from all divisions within the department, including supervision, data and research, training, etc. Also important, is having someone on this team that can serve as the liaison with executive leadership in the department. Having the ability to coordinate the implementation effort at multiple levels in the department undoubtedly impacted our success.

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