Probation Evolution

Evolution of Probation Services at Seattle Municipal Court

At Seattle Municipal Court (SMC), we pride ourselves on being an innovative and accessible court that seeks to holistically address the underlying needs that bring people through our doors. We are committed to continuously improving how we work with individuals across all areas of our court. In 2019, we sought an evaluation of our Probation Services by the Vera Institute of Justice, aiming to identify ways to most effectively serve our clients and improve our program.

Vera is an independent nonprofit research and policy organization that works to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. Recommendations from the Vera evaluation give Probation Services a path forward to undo systemic inequity and serve the people of Seattle most effectively. SMC committed to implementing recommendations from the evaluation to improve services and further our court-wide commitment to lessen barriers and increase equity in the criminal legal system.

We began to implement the report's recommendations in June 2020 and will continue restructuring the Programs and Services division, which includes Probation Services, through 2021. By embracing the six principles of effective community supervision outlined by Vera, we demonstrate SMC's core values of fairness, integrity and justice.

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.

Programs and Services at SMC

Actions SMC is Taking Now

Focus on high risk case types.

  • Prioritize probation referals on domestic violence, driving under the influence, and Seattle Mental Health Court 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 for early release

Redesign Pretrial Services. 

  • Center our pretrial justice approach on Seattle Community Court, and promoting community-based social service connections through our Community Resource Center
  • Phase out in-person Day Reporting program and shift to more supportive model to engage individuals returning to court

Engage with community.

  • Engage stakeholders 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 through mutliple community engagement approaches

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.

  • 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.