Author: Greg Thomas
For probation/parole officers, supervising those on probation, parole or post-release can be a challenge. It’s even more of a challenge when those individuals are dealing with mental health issues. The NCDAC Division of Community Supervision is addressing that challenge with special training and creating mental health probation/parole officers.
Community Supervision has been working with the UNC School of Social Work to train probation/parole officers (PPOs) and chief probation/parole officers (CPPOs) to manage caseloads of people with serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders. The training includes information on diagnoses, symptoms, assessment of functioning in areas of daily living, and strategies for encouraging treatment adherence.
“Our officers witness mental health issues on a daily basis,” said Tracy K. Lee, deputy secretary for Community Supervision.” If we equip our officers with the skills and training to recognize and address mental health issues, we can keep our communities even safer and make greater improvements in the lives of those we supervise.”
Community Supervision holds ongoing training for officers and is dedicated to expanding those efforts across the state. Fourteen counties were added this summer for a total of 38 that now have specially trained officers and chiefs.
“We’ve worked very hard to better prepare our officers with helping this special population,” said Sonya Brown, social work administrator with Community Supervision. “Those with mental health issues present special challenges, and the better strategies and tactics we have to address that will result in better outcomes for those under supervision and help build safer communities.
The North Carolina model for Specialty Mental Health Probation is a multi-faceted approach that includes:
• Exclusive caseloads of people with serious mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders;
• A reduced caseload size for officers;
• On-going behavioral health and illness management training for officers and chiefs
• Active collaboration with community resources to connect people to services and recovery supports;
• A problem-solving supervision approach to address treatment or medication non-adherence;
• Monthly clinical consultations from a licensed mental health professional for officers and chiefs; and
• Stakeholder engagement events to begin building relationships between Community Supervision staff and community-based service providers.
Officers say that while the specialty caseloads can be very challenging, they can also be very rewarding.
“Mental health conditions are increasing in the people we supervise, and we need officers who have awareness of local and regional resources as well as understand that those cases need extra compassion to increase their odds for success,” said District 17 Chief Probation/Parole Officer (CPPO) Jason Gibson. “Having the training to safely interact with people in a mental health crisis ensures people get the treatment and support they need.
Currently, more than 90 PPOs and CPPOs are managing caseloads of people with serious mental illnesses and DCS will continue to expand that capacity.