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Section 3: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Components of Supervision: Specialized Approaches to Managing Sex Offenders

3 hours

TOPIC: CASELOAD ORGANIZATION: SPECIALIZATION
(5 minutes)

New Topic IconSPECIALIZATION AS A PRACTICE

Note: A good way to introduce this section may be to poll participants about practices in their jurisdictions and ask about the pros and cons of this approach. Make a list and refer to it as you proceed through the content.
Perhaps one of the most common considerations of practice in supervision generally is the way in which officers' caseloads are organized. In many jurisdictions, caseload size is determined by the levels of supervision assigned to offenders (i.e., offenders determined to be at a higher risk to re-offend than others are placed on smaller caseloads) and the type of criminal being supervised (i.e., certain types of offenders may always be placed on smaller caseloads because of their perceived risk to re-offend). Specialization has emerged as a way to address the supervision challenges associated with specific offender populations. A common example is the use of drug abuse caseloads in some jurisdictions. Increasingly, probation/parole agencies are supervising sex offenders in the community through the use of specialized caseloads. A survey of sex offender supervision practices nationwide*
*The survey referred to was part of English, Pullen, and Jones's research on the Containment Approach.
concluded that "policies which promote the specialization of job duties for (probation/parole) officers who manage sex offenders were found to accompany practices associated with the effective management of sex offenders."6 The survey also revealed that specialized caseloads allow supervision staff to gain expertise and training related to sex offender management, promote feelings of camaraderie and support among officers who maintain these caseloads, decrease burnout, and increase agency-wide consistency in sex offender supervision practices.7

In addition, specialized caseloads allow supervision staff to more effectively ensure that sex offenders, who might have gotten "lost" on general caseloads because of their seemingly compliant nature, are supervised intensively, and they encourage probation/parole officers to learn to establish rapport with sex offenders in order to encourage them to talk openly about their thoughts and activities.

At a minimum, the supervision of sex offenders requires a probation or parole officer to be able to talk knowledgeably and comfortably about sexuality and sexual deviancy, to understand offender and victim issues and dynamics, and to work collaboratively with treatment providers and others to ensure compliance with community supervision and treatment conditions, all while also treating the offender with dignity and respect. Training in a number of areas assists probation/parole officers in developing these specialized skills. These areas include—

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #6: Specialized Skills for Sex Offender Supervision
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  • Assessment of sex offender risk and needs;
  • Supervision strategies to identify and respond to high-risk situations;
  • The purposes, benefits, and limitations of treatment and such monitoring tools as the polygraph;
  • Legal liability issues (duty to warn);
  • Legislative mandates regarding sex offender registration, notification, DNA testing, etc.;
  • Victim issues; and
  • Restorative justice.8

The ability to specialize enables agencies and probation/parole officers to develop and maintain specialized skills and to begin to focus the energy and resources necessary to supervise this population safely in the community.

The survey that I alluded to a moment ago also concluded that mixed probation/parole caseloads are workable. Agencies that follow this approach have found it helpful to assign sex offenders exclusively to probation or parole officers who are willing to work with this challenging offender population and receive ongoing, specialized training.

Regardless of whether caseloads are mixed or sex offender specific, probation/parole agencies are urged strongly to minimize the number of sex offenders on an officer's caseload to the extent possible.9