Viewpoint: Caseloads full and duties aplenty for probation officersThe duties of a probation officer are numerous and important.
By: Judge Greg Galler, South Washington County Bulletin
A regular column reader asked that I describe what probation is all about. Washington County’s probation duties are handled by the Community Corrections department and can generally be divided into three time frames.
First, upon a person’s arrest, probation officers (known as “PO’s”) prepare a bail evaluation to provide information to the court about the person and the charged crime. Bail evaluations also recommend release conditions to insure the person’s return to court and to protect public safety. PO’s then monitor the case to make sure that the release conditions are followed.
If a conviction occurs, a PO will prepare a longer report, called a pre-sentence investigation. This “PSI” further examines the person and the case and recommends a sentence to the court. Following sentencing, a probation officer monitors the matter to make sure that the sentence is complied with.
Monitoring, whether during the case or after sentencing, can include drug /alcohol testing, conducting home/work visits, monitoring payment of fines and restitution, seeing if treatment has been completed, and examining records to insure that no new offenses have occurred.
Community Corrections has been a statewide leader in “evidence based practices.” This means they tailor their work to the offender, not just the offense. Those who pose the greatest risk to the public are supervised more closely than those of lesser risk. Risk does not always correspond with the level of the crime.
While the crime is considered, PO’s also administer a series of risk assessment tools to examine a person’s life including their work history, education and past criminal record. Other assessments look at psychological, chemical or anger issues. Inquiry is also made of the person’s family structure and who their friends are. Someone with felons as close friends is a higher risk than those whose friends are Eagle Scouts.
As these issues are explored, a better picture emerges of who the person is and how much supervision is needed. Those deemed the highest risk are assigned to the Intensive Supervision unit. There is also a Standard Risk unit and Lower Risk unit.
Probation officers are busy. Caseloads per officer average 400 offenders for those on the Lower Risk Unit, 65 on the Standard Unit and 20-25 for Intensive Supervision.
Probation must also deal with offenders who transfer their probation out of Washington County. Over half of the people who plead guilty here are not Washington County residents. Their sentences are monitored by PO’s in their home county. Before that can happen, our probation must make sure that the other county is aware of the case and equipped to take it on.
The duties of a probation officer are numerous and important. Those seeking to be probation officers need at least a college degree (master’s degrees are preferred). Also, PO’s need to be fair, firm and caring. They must primarily focus on protecting the community while also desiring to improve the offender so that he or she can become a valuable and contributing member of society.
Galler, who is chambered at the Washington County Courthouse in Stillwater, writes a column on legal issues.