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Developing Transformational Leaders

The historic punitive culture of courts and corrections tries to scare people involved in the criminal legal system into success. Importantly, how staff working in the legal system treat individuals navigating it looks eerily similar to how criminal legal system agencies treat their staff. Agency leaders have historically scared staff into checking policy boxes and scrutinizing staff when they make mistakes.

However, new evidence suggests enhancing community safety and helping individuals successfully navigate out of the system requires community supervision staff to do something different. Specifically, new models of community supervision suggest staff must leverage their own identities, experiences, and personality – their authenticity – to connect with people under supervision to create a supportive environment. When staff can rely on these connections, then individuals navigating the system are more likely to navigate out of the legal system successfully.

This new way of how staff interact with system-involved individuals does not work in settings where staff are afraid to make mistakes and where they cannot build these connections. Getting better outcomes for individuals and communities requires leaders across the criminal legal system not only to take a mirror to their organizations, but more importantly, to themselves.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in collaboration with Justice System Partners (JSP) is reimagining leadership training to do just that. Together, NIC and JSP built the Community Supervision Leadership Learning Lab (CSLLL) to help probation leaders understand how their own identities, experiences, and personality contribute to their authenticity. The Lab then helps leaders harness this authenticity to create a workplace safe for staff to be themselves and do their best work. The goal of the CSLLL is to ultimately help leaders take the first step in doing probation differently and setting a new tone for the culture of probation.

This curriculum is an evolution of NIC’s existing executive leadership curriculum and asks leaders from all staff positions to lean into transformational practices, connect their work to their purpose, re-examine their role through an equity in the workplace lens, and create safe and inclusive spaces promoting staff wellbeing. The curriculum understands increasing staff effectiveness requires investing in the people helping people.

The new CSLLL is a 12-month training program delivered in two phases and designed for people from different leadership positions – from direct supervisors to executive staff. Phase one includes six months of learning modules where leaders gather for live virtual learning sessions but also work on applying what they’re learning immediately between modules. Phase two tasks leaders with applying their new knowledge to a larger capstone project about enhancing staff culture. At the end of the 12-months, leaders gather to discuss their capstone project and celebrate the impact of their work.

NIC launched the CSLLL August 2022 with 62-leaders from Brazoria County Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Michigan Department of Corrections, and Kansas Parole Services. The success of the Community Supervision Leadership Learning Lab continues with a new cohort of student leaders selected by the National Institute of Corrections. This new cohort includes North Dakota Corrections and Rehabilitation, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and three sites from the US probation and Pretrial Services – Alaska probation, New Hampshire probation, and Illinois pre-trial.

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