Using a Therapeutic Probation Approach, Rather Than a Punitive One


Connecting state and local government leaders

San Diego County’s Trauma Responsive Unit presents traumatized kids in custody with conflict resolution options.

The San Diego County Probation Department opened a 20-bed Trauma Responsive Unit it says is the first of its kind in a custody setting in California.

Emphasizing a therapeutic rather than punitive approach to juvenile justice, the program aims to help youth cope with trauma in their home or community.

The department noticed highly-reactive kids weren’t responding well in other units because they required grief intervention and treatment.

“We’re actually focusing in on kids who are showing a lot of problematic behavior as a direct result of their problematic experiences,” Sean Scott, San Diego County Institutional Services supervising probation officer, told the California State Association of Counties in this video.

Education specialists, teachers, behavioral health providers, front-line probation officers and councillors are all taught the same treatment approach, which has led to significant behavioral changes in the youth involved and decreased violence in the system.

Sessions allow officers to engage the kids, allow them to vent and talk and discuss multiple conflict resolutions—allowing the youth to pick the best option for them personally.

Knowing Probation Department personnel want the youth to succeed provides a sense of safety and an “intrinsic motivator,” Scott said.

“If we don’t help them here, what’s going to happen to them when they’re 18?” asks Martha Jordan, TRU Unit teacher.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: Here’s Where Children Rely Most on Medicaid