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Probation program offers officer his toughest challenge.

In April 1990, the New York City Department of Probation established a special needs unit in Brooklyn to address the problems of probationers whose offenses relate to domestic violence, sexual assault or driving while intoxicated. I would like to offer some observations about what it's like to work with these offenders and share some good news about this program.

The Unit's History

The special needs unit in Brooklyn has seven officers and handles about 700 offenders at any given time. From the beginning, we built up the unit by taking only offenders who were newly placed on probation by the court. We did not take transfer cases already on probation with other officers.

The most important requirement imposed in the unit is that all probationers must be evaluated by an outpatient specialist and placed in an appropriate treatment program. In New York City, private mental health clinics and agencies have specific programs for domestic violence and sex offenders, while state-certified alcohol treatment clinics handle DWI offenders. We place all our offenders in programs, whether or not the court has written in a special condition for treatment.

Additionally, we establish a regular telephone contact with a responsible adult member of the offender's household. In all domestic violence and sexual assault cases where the probationer and the victim appear to have lived together or to have children, we contact the victim to determine if any new problems have arisen. We also ask victims if they have gone for counseling and refer them to appropriate agencies if they have not.

Developing Rapport

A critical element in supervising these offenders is establishing a good rapport with each probationer, one that communicates respect and concern while remaining clearly focused on the probation sentence conditions. In an office where many general supervision caseloads exceed 175 and the daily operation is severely crowded and at times frenetic, developing a professional relationship with an offender is not easy.

Many of our probationers are shocked when they learn that the probation department - not the court - is imposing a requirement for treatment. The shock is compounded when they learn they will have to pay for the treatment themselves if they don't have medical insurance or don't qualify for Medicaid. It is critical, therefore, for officers to conduct an initial interview in which they not only explain the mechanical details of probation but also develop a good rapport with the offender.

At some point in this interview, I tell probationers the department's goal - and my goal as an officer - is to keep them out of jail. I tell them that we "win" when we get offenders early discharges because they have done well and that we "lose" when we have to file violation actions in court. I say that I genuinely wish them well and that probation is not out to get them or to trip them up so we can file violations. I also explain the benefits of professional treatment programs.

Making Referrals

To make effective referrals after the initial interview, we must understand exactly how these treatment programs work. For example, we need to know whether they have evening hours, whether they have Spanish speaking therapists and what their fee arrangements are. We have found that the most successful programs have a limited orientation period in which they work with individuals who deny or rationalize their offense before requiring them to take responsibility for their offense or face expulsion from the program.

Due to budget cuts, we have lost access to some treatment programs and others have had to scale back services. Specialized services for domestic violence batterers and sex offenders are severely limited. We have more options in the area of alcohol treatment.

Domestic violence offenders present the most challenging cases. New assault charges frequently are made, either by the original complainant or by a new spouse or companion. These cases are marked by a unique quality of anger and desperation. In certain cases, we have contacted the police to help expedite arrests. When the police have not made an arrest, we have expedited probation violation actions based on affidavits of complaint from the victim.

Domestic violence cases also are the most upsetting on a personal level. Some of the offenders have been convicted of truly horrendous and heartrending acts of child abuse. In reading some of the pre-sentence investigations, one quite naturally questions how these circumstances could have reasonably led to a plea bargain with a sentence of probation.

I have been asked repeatedly by officers in other units, "How can you work with these people?" However, I have trained myself to maintain a professional demeanor and not reveal any trace of personal loathing. It is a learned skill.

The delinquency rate - cases in which violation actions have been filed and subsequently sustained by the court - has been significantly higher for the domestic violence cases than for the sex offense or DWI cases. This is explained by the much higher rate of technical violations brought in domestic violence cases for refusing to go to treatment programs and failing to report.

Positive Results

As a 13-year veteran, I have been amazed at the probationers' very low rearrest rate and their excellent record in reporting to our office and attending required treatment programs. In an attempt to measure my own productivity, in April 1993 I reviewed my records on all 195 special needs cases I had supervised since the unit was established in April 1990. Of these, I had 65 domestic violence cases, 60 sex offenders and 70 DWI offenders.

During this period, delinquencies occurred on 32 cases. This represents a delinquency rate of 16 percent for the caseload. Ten of the offenders (5 percent) were rearrested, while 22 (11 percent) had technical violations.

The delinquency rate for the domestic violence cases was 25 per-cent-all but one had only technical violations. The delinquency rate for the sex offense cases was 15 percent - these were roughly even between rearrest and technical violations. The delinquency rate for the DWI cases was a surprisingly low 9 percent - there were twice as many rearrests as technical violations.

Most offenders in the three groups do very well. Many appear genuinely motivated to stabilize their lives and eliminate the behavior that has caused them and their families so much pain. The dialogue and rapport that I and the treatment program therapists have developed with these individuals has been an essential element in their positive adjustment. We have required a real involvement and commitment on their part, and it shows in their very low delinquency rates.

The intensity of the work's challenge, along with the surprisingly positive response of so many of the probationers, has made it my most rewarding experience as a probation officer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Hudson, Arthur
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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