A Probation Officer Should Be A Client’s Best Friend

by Jamison Koehler on March 15, 2010

It is amazing to me how many clients spend more time in custody than they need to.  The sad fact is, violating the terms of probation is frequently a major cause of people going back to jail when they could be serving the remainder of their sentence on the street.

There are many reasons people violate the terms of probation.  I can understand, for example, when drug-addicted clients find themselves back in jail when they could be sitting at home.  Drug addiction, obviously, poses many challenges, and it is sad but understandable when a client relapses, provides dirty urine during a routine drug test, and then ends up back in custody.  Courts understand this, and will frequently work out some type of treatment program to keep the client out of prison over the longer term.

What I cannot understand is when a client ends up back in custody for no other reason than for a consistent failure to report to the client’s probation officer.  Yes, people have jobs, families, other responsibilities.  Yes, probation officers can sometimes be difficult to deal with.  But there is no reason not to report.  There is no reason not to show up for a drug test, even if you know you will test positive.  Court will be more forgiving if you show up and provide a positive test than if you fail to show up at all.  This is one of those areas in life in which you do get credit for trying.

While it is galling to many people that a lower level law enforcement official can have so much influence, the simple fact of the matter is that judges will often defer to that very individual. If you are taken back in front of your sentencing judge for violating the terms of your court-ordered supervision, you can bet that your lawyer will be saying good things about you and that the prosecution will be telling the judge why you need to go back to jail.  To whom will the judge look?  Probation officers are, after all, on the front lines, dealing directly with the people for whom the court has ordered supervision.  Their recommendation will usually hold tremendous sway with the court.

This means that you need to foster that relationship.  Cultivate it, no matter how you may feel about it privately.  Your probation officer should be the first person to find out when you change your address or telephone number.  If you are struggling to maintain steady employment or to fulfill some other condition of your release, let your probation officer know. Maybe he or she can help.  If not, he or she should at least appreciate your effort. If you don’t like your probation officer, bite your tongue if you need to.  A little deference goes a long way.

Because, like it or not, your liberty may well depend on it.

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