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Probation Officers Partner with Community to Help ‘People Change Their Lives’

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Probation and pretrial services officers play a public safety role, monitoring individuals under supervision and ensuring they follow court orders. But unlike traditional law enforcement officers, they also focus on rehabilitation, a job that requires constant collaboration with non-profit organizations, local businesses, and government agencies.

“It takes more than just the probation office,” said Chief Probation Officer Kito J. Bess for the District of Minnesota. “We’re working with community members because, as the old saying goes, it does take a village.”

Highlighting how these offices and their community partners are stronger together is the goal of this year’s National Pretrial, Probation, and Parole Supervision Week, which is being observed from July 16-22 this year.

The probation office in Minnesota partners with a trucking school connecting people under supervision to training that can help them earn a commercial driver’s license.

The goal of probation officers is to help individuals who have been convicted of federal crimes to fully reintegrate themselves into society. Many face a wide range of needs, including employment, mental health treatment and even getting a driver’s license after spending time in incarceration.

Bess said community partnerships start with identifying, sharing, and building on resources that are already available and can help people under supervision.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Bess said. “There are a lot of resources out in the community, and we need to be able to tap into them.”

Working with community partners, the Minnesota district’s probation office connects individuals to peer-to-peer mentoring, substance use treatment, psychological care, and job training.

“We’re being part of the change process, not just supervising a defendant,” Bess said. “People under supervision are getting the support that they were lacking before, and that can make all the difference in the world.”

In Massachusetts, probation and pretrial services officers aim to ensure that people under supervision reenter their communities with a foundation for success. And from affordable housing to reliable transportation and a steady income, community partners help shore up that foundation.

“On a day-to-day basis, we’re helping people change their lives,” said Chief Probation Officer Ricardo R. Carter of the District of Massachusetts. “That really depends on the communities in which people under supervision live.”

People under supervision in Massachusetts go fishing with their children as part of the federal probation office’s Fatherhood Program, which teaches parenting techniques.

The district’s partnerships with local cities and towns, nonprofit organizations and other groups have led to programs for people under supervision including job coaching, cognitive behavioral therapy, parenting resources, and affordable cars. These services better the lives and communities of people under supervision, an effect that Carter said can lead to more collaboration.

“When you’re out in the community and you’re celebrating some successes with cases, other people want to get involved,” Carter said.

Despite their focus on rehabilitation, the perception of probation and pretrial services offices as law enforcement agencies can make some community members reluctant to share resources. Carter said he hopes to correct that perception through forming more partnerships, talking to the community, and building buy-in from the public.

Whether they stem from the initiative of individual officers or office-wide outreach, community partnerships have been and continue to be essential to successful supervision.

“There are agencies out there that are doing amazing work,” Carter said. “Reach out – it’s a win-win for both of us.”

Related Topics: Probation and Pretrial Services

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