Probation Evolution

Evolving Probation Services at Seattle Municipal Court

In June 2020, Seattle Municipal Court released an evaluation of our Probation Services department commissioned from the Vera Institute of Justice. We have committed to implementing the report's recommendations to improve services and further our court-wide commitment to lessen barriers and increase equity in the criminal legal system. We began to implement changes in June 2020 and will continue restructuring the Programs and Services division, which includes Probation Services, through 2021. 

Redesigning Probation Services

Based on the Vera Institute's recommendations, we are restructuring our services in the following ways: 

Focus on high-risk case types.

  • Prioritize probation referrals on domestic violence, driving under the influence, and mental health cases
  • Discontinue practice of monitoring individuals' criminal records after case obligations have been completed

Make probation goal-based. 

  • Shift to a goal-based supervision approach, focused on short term engagement aligned with client treatment needs and community-based supportive services
  • Ensure meaningful client interactions and use incentives, such as early release from probation supervision when obligations are completed

Redesign Pretrial Services. 

Engage with community.

  • Identify ways to reduce race and gender disparities through listening sessions and analysis of probation outcome data
  • Listen to community members and people with lived experience to inform policies by soliciting client feedback

Results in 2020

  • Reduced clients on active supervision by 16% and reduced records checks by 78%, resulting in 1,640 less clients on supervision
  • Engaged community through restorative healing circles, court user focus groups, and court user survey
  • Implemented online hearings, online appointments and virtual services offered through the Community Resource Center
  • Welcomed nearly 100 participants in the first five months of the transformative Community Court program
  • Instituted probation exit survey
  • Eliminated discretionary supervision fees
  • Transformed Day Reporting to more supportive pretrial services, including a treatment connection program
  • Reorganized and downsized department by 25%, consistent with evolution goals to better serve fewer clients
  • Identified new risk assessment tools that focus on individuals' needs 

What is Probation at SMC?

Probation is a post-adjudication jail alternative in which counselors are paired with clients to support them as they meet court ordered obligations, which often include engagement in drug treatment or other therapeutic interventions. Judges rely on probation as a rehabilitative alternative to jail to address high public safety risk offenses, and it is vital that Probation Services be as effective as possible in permanently transitioning clients out of the criminal legal system.

Stay Involved

Vera's recommendations give us a path to achieve our goals more effectively. As we evolve how probation is used at SMC, we ask you to join us on this journey to make this the best probation program in the country.

  • Read updates on our news blog
  • Sign up for updates from Seattle Municipal Court, including updates from Probation Services.
  • Follow @SeaMuniCourt on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay informed on court news and opportunities to give feedback.

*A previous version of this page incorrectly stated that a Client's Bill of Rights and grievance policy have been implemented. We expect these will be implemented in early 2022.