Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of Criminal Justice Sciences
Over the last two decades, specialty mental health probation caseloads have become increasingly common – focusing on offenders with serious mental illness (SMI). Scholars have examined overall effectiveness, the organization and design of these programs, and the differences between standard probation and specialty probation. Less attention, however, has been placed on examining how the officers supervising these SMI caseloads perceive their roles as specialty mental health probation officers and how discretion impacts their caseload management. In the current study semi-structured interviews were conducted with a complete census of 24 SMI caseload probation officers and supervisors in Maricopa County, Arizona over a 14-month data collection period. Using a grounded theory approach, the SMI caseload probation officers’ perspectives were explored in detail regarding officer perceptions of the role of a SMI caseload probation officer, as well as their use of discretion in the management of their specialty caseloads.
Overall, the analysis of SMI caseload officers revealed five key findings. (1) Clinical orientation was an important factor in the consideration of officer’s perceptions of their role as specialty mental health court officers. (2) Traditional officer supervision styles extend into specialty probation. Law enforcer, social worker, and synthetic supervision styles were all existent. Each varying supervision style impacted the use of control and discretion differently among each officer’s caseload. (3) SMI caseload probation officers perceived differences between standard probation and SMI probation in many ways, including probationer characteristics, job duties, and management styles. (4) Social control was viewed as an important aspect of SMI caseload officers’ jobs. Both beneficent and coercive control was used to maintain social control over the caseloads. Methods and means for the use of control vary, often dependent on the supervision style of the officer. Finally, (5) discretion appeared to be the most important aspect in the daily work of probation officers on the SMI caseload. SMI caseload officers used discretion day-to-day in a variety of situations to make decisions over probationers’ lives, specifically those with pervasive mental illness. In turn, this discretion seems to impact offenders both positively and negatively. In this study, common themes in the narratives of officers on the SMI caseload surrounding officer discretion included acceptance onto the caseload, the use of mental health court, and the intersection of discretion and gender.
Terpstra, Brice, "Understanding the Experiences and Perceptions of Specialty Mental Health Probation Officers" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 892.