Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

New Robina Institute Project Seeks to Help Community Supervision Agencies Reduce Revocations While Protecting Public Safety

The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice has been awarded nearly $840,000 by Arnold Ventures to fund the upcoming project “Aligning Supervision Conditions with Risk and Needs.” The three-year project will address a major gap in the research concerning evidence-based practices in community supervision: the assignment of supervision conditions. This project will be led by Erin Harbinson (Research Scholar, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice) and Kelly Mitchell (Executive Director, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice) in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute and Ebony Ruhland (Assistant Professor) in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati

Supervision agencies have put extensive effort into aligning their work with evidence-based practices, but this does not address a key underlying source of revocations: the assignment of supervision conditions. Most people on probation and parole are ordered to comply with a range of supervision conditions, many of which are unrelated to public safety or to behaviors that are related to their risk to reoffend. This project seeks to link sentencing and parole release decision making practices to the risk-needs-responsivity framework used in community supervision. Risk-needs-responsivity requires matching supervision level with the individual’s risk to reoffend, targeting criminogenic needs with appropriate treatment, and tailoring interventions to individual learning styles. Research suggests that in order to reduce re-offending, probation and parole conditions should reflect risk-needs-responsivity principles. However, without changing the policies and practices of the courts and parole boards, supervision officers are constrained in their ability to fully implement evidence-based practices. 

Robina will use multi-methods research and partner with the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute to offer training and technical assistance to supervision agencies and key decision-makers to understand how supervision conditions relate to revocations and other important outcomes. This project will be the first of its kind to assist courts and parole boards in establishing supervision requirements based on an individual’s risk and needs assessment, keeping in mind the need to include some additional conditions for public safety purposes.

“Probation and parole are intended to serve as paths out of the criminal justice system, but they’re failing and need to be reformed,” said Juliene James, director of criminal justice for Arnold Ventures. “This project will develop and test a new approach to supervision conditions—ensuring they fit with individual cases rather than burden people with unreasonable requirements.”

The project began on July 1, 2019 and will involve three pilot sites across the United States. 

As part of the vibrant University of Minnesota campus, and located at the University of Minnesota Law School, the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice is a mission-driven organization dedicated to engaging in original, interdisciplinary education, research, and policy analysis to achieve transformative change in sentencing and correctional policies and practices. 

The Corrections Institute at the University of Cincinnati is committed to the dissemination of best practices to communities, facilities, and agencies seeking to change offender behavior. They work with federal, state, and local governments, and with the private sector and professional organizations, to promote effective interventions and assessments for adult and juvenile offenders.

Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. Driven by a mission to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice, it invests in sustainable change, building it from the ground up based on research, deep thinking, and a strong foundation of evidence. In the realm of criminal justice, this means reducing the number of people behind bars while advancing community safety and the values of fairness, effectiveness, and racial justice. Arnold Ventures is headquartered in Houston, with offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City.