– Structured Decision Support for Case Management Plans-

by Jacqueline Bosker

In 2010, the Dutch Probation Service introduced a digital decision support system for case management plans, a so called fourth generation risk/needs assessment instrument. Does this system help probation officers in determining the appropriate interventions that should prevent recidivism for each individual client? And to what extent are the case management plans based on existing theories on desistance from crime? These are the central questions in the thesis of Jacqueline Bosker of the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht: ‘Linking Theory and Practice in Probation – Structured decision support for case management plans’. “Further development is still needed, but we can conclude that the use of digital decision support helps improve the quality of case management plans.”

Bosker concluded in her research that this form of decision support enhances the quality of the case management plans. “In the most practical sense, it helps a probation officer not to overlook certain measures that might be applicable for the client considering the risks and needs. The plans also correspond better to the offenders’ goals and focus more on strengthening social bonds. Over the years, desistance from crime has been studied and researched. This knowledge should be used in practice. A decision support system helps linking theory and practice.”

Not all probation officers seem to be entirely positive about the instrument. A large proportion of them believe it takes to much of their time and that they do not need the instrument for making good decisions. This can partly be ascribed to components of the instrument, which require improvement. However, a resistance to introducing more protocols into their work and a lack of insight into their own potential biases in decision-making probably play a role as well. Bosker emphasizes that a system could never be a substitute for human work. “Probation is all about people. It takes a person to help another person. At the end, it’s always the probation officer who makes an assessment of the client’s needs, risks, chances and pitfalls and composes the case management plan. The decision support system helps to take all things into account that might not be on the probation officer’s radar. Either because he/she is very experienced and relies mostly on lessons learnt over the years, or he/she is a starter and still needs a complete scope.”

Decisions about case management plans are fundamental in the probation process, and can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of probation and on the life of offenders. Bosker’s thesis offers relevant insights in the quality of these decisions and in means to improve decision making in probation.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, you can download the thesis Linking Theory and Practice in Probation – Structured Decision Support for Case Management Plans here.