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Helping to stay on the straight and narrow; A different kind of house call.

Byline: George Barnes

WORCESTER -- Louis Rosado has a long road ahead of him on probation, but he welcomes visits to his home aimed at helping him keep with the program.

"It's helpful,'' he said. "It makes sure you stay out of trouble.''

Mr. Rosado, who lives on James Street, is on probation for the first time and has two years to serve before he completes his obligation to Worcester District Court. He was visited recently by two probation officers and two Worcester police officers who are part of a special program to make announced and unannounced visits to homes to make sure probationers live up to their terms and conditions.

The program focuses on high-risk people convicted of domestic violence and sex offenses and serving probation terms. Mr. Rosado, who is on probation for domestic assault and battery, was interviewed by probation officer John Fitzgibbons.

Mr. Fitzgibbons wanted to make sure Mr. Rosado was not in contact with the victim in his case; to see how his part-time job was going; and to find out what steps he had taken to get himself settled into probation.

The interview went well, and Mr. Rosado said that along with just being reminded of his obligations, if there are issues he needs help with, the probation officers are there for him. Mr. Fitzgibbons told Mr. Rosado he was pleased with his efforts so far.

"Keep up the good work, Louis,'' he said before leaving the house.

Mr. Fitzgibbons went out on compliance checks with probation officer Jen McMillan, Worcester police Sgt. Vincent F. Gorgoglione and Officer Mark Tivnan, a detective in the Worcester Police Department.

"Probation visits in the courthouse are only for a short duration,'' Mr. Fitzgibbons said. "It's nice to see them in their home and make sure things are going well.''

The program is not aimed at finding problems, but to encourage compliance by serving as a reminder that conditions of probation must be met.

Among the things the probation officers look for is making sure the victim is not at the probationer's home. Mr. Fitzgibbons said in most domestic abuse cases, the judge sets as a condition that the person on probation have no contact with the victim.

They also look to see if there is alcohol present if the person is supposed to be alcohol-free.

Mr. Fitzgibbons said they make unannounced home visits only to look for issues that are part of the person's probation. Sometimes they discover probationers are no longer living where they said they were.

"That, in and of itself, is a violation,'' he said.

In one house they visited, the person on probation was coming up on a court date for violation of probation.

He did not know the correct time to appear in court, thinking it was in the afternoon, rather than 9 a.m. It was fortunate the officers stopped by. If he missed the court date, he could be further in violation of his probation.

In 2013, Worcester County courts handled 696 cases in which a defendant was arraigned for violation of a restraining order. Statewide, the number was 6,449.

The home visits are an effort to prevent that problem before it happens.

They are a reminder that probationers are being monitored.

"They need to know they are not going to slip through the cracks,'' Sgt. Gorgoglione said.

Sgt. Gorgoglione said Worcester police have been working with the Probation Department since November 2010, beginning with Superior Court cases and now with District Court as well. The program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to combat violence against women.

"We started with sex offenders and expanded to domestic violence,'' the sergeant said.

By joining the probation officers on visits, police offer an extra set of eyes to ensure compliance and offer protection for the probation officers if a problem occurs.

"Based on the incidents they are on probation for, you have to assume some are very violent,'' Sgt. Gorgoglione said.

Ms. McMillan said it also adds another level of authority, encouraging compliance. She said when probation officers are out on compliance visits on their own, if they feel uncomfortable or concerned, they leave the building.

If police are with them and there is a problem, the police officers take over the situation.

During the four hours they dedicate to the visits, the teams normally get to 14 or 15 homes, depending on the weather. Sgt. Gorgoglione said they went out a couple of times in the snow, but were only able to visit a handful of places.

In one of two homes they visited Tuesday, the resident, who gave his name only as Peter, said he only had six more days to the end of his probation, but the time he has put in and the counseling he has received have made a huge difference for him.

"I've changed a lot over the past 18 months,'' he said. "I'm with the same girl and we're raising our son. It's really good.''

Peter was on probation after being convicted of domestic violence.

He said the counseling he received from New Hope, a program designed to help those who have been involved with domestic assault issues, changed how he deals with anger and arguments.

"It helps you rethink things before you get hot off the handle,'' he said.

Peter said a turning point for him was when his brother had a daughter and he began to think how he would feel if his niece were treated poorly.

"It was a real eye-opener,'' he said. "What I did was wrong. I admit it. I didn't have the tools I have now.''

Peter said he has learned that the best way to act if an argument breaks out is to leave the room, take time to cool off, and discuss the issue later.

He said it has made life better for him, and his son will not have to grow up in a family where the mother and father are always fighting.

The probation visit was not entirely comfortable for Peter. He said the visit caught him by surprise, even though he was one of three who were notified ahead of time.

"It can be overwhelming, but what are you going to do,'' he said. "You have to do the program.''

Coria Holland, a spokesman for the commissioner of probation, said the cooperative program between probation officers and Worcester police is the only one of its kind in the state. She said there are other probation initiatives in other counties, but this is the only one of its kind.

Contact George Barnes at Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Barnes, George
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 10, 2014
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