The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective.

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Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective. At our microphones today, David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, known elsewhere as a Parole and Probation Agent, and Keith Cromer, again, a Community Supervision Officer, again, known elsewhere throughout the country as a Parole and Probation Agent. Our agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, David and Keith, welcome to DC Public Safety.

David: Thank you very much.

Keith: Good afternoon.

David: [crosstalk 00:00:39] to be here.

Leonard: Gentlemen, what a tough job. We’re here to talk about the challenge of parole and probation agents, again, what we call community supervision officers in the nation’s capital. I cannot think of a more challenging job. I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 45 years. I’ve been a cop, I’ve been a spokesperson, I’ve ran group decades ago, within the prison system. I did Job Corps, where the judge said to the young individuals, “Go to jail and go to Job Corps.” I’ve done a lot of what it is that you guys do, but it’s a long time ago. I found that being a cop was simple, being a parole and probation agent was a thousand times harder than being a police officer. Am I right or wrong?

David: I would definitely agree with that. Our job is unique in a sense that we’ve got multiple roles in it. We have a client/offender/person under supervision come to our office, and we are given all of these resources to provide them. We’re encouraged to provide motivation and counseling, and we should, that should be part of our role, but at the same time, there’s another side to what we do, which is, if the supervision, if what is expected of the person is not occurring, if they’re not responding to the resources and directives we’re giving them, then there’s this side of our job, which we end up in court.

We write a violation report, and we can find ourselves in front of a judge recommending that the person’s freedom be taken away, the very same person sometimes where maybe even a few weeks earlier, you were sitting down and talking with them about really powerful reasons why they fell into a life of crime and you were trying to counsel them. Sometime, I know for myself, it can seem a sudden switch, and I’m sure for the clients as well, it can be like, “Wait a minute, you were just encouraging me and counseling me and now you just requested that my freedom be taken away.” It’s a hard balance.

Leonard: When I ran group, I was told not to tell anybody I was an ex-cop, ran group in the prison system and doing a cognitive-behavioral therapy group session. I did end up telling people that I was a former cop, and the people who were part of the group said, “I wish you hadn’t told us that, because now we don’t trust you.” Keith, most of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are not trusting human beings. How do you break through that barrier when you’re there to get into their heads, help them deal with their lives in a pro-social way, but at the same time, you hold the authority to send them back to prison if necessary?

Keith: It takes a lot of time. It takes effort to get to know the individual on a one-on-one basis. They’re not willing to come forth all the information that you might need in the first couple of meetings, so you got to keep pushing towards to know exactly what their needs are in order for them to trust you. You want to try to get to know their families, their kids, their needs for employment, their needs for education. At that point in time, they start trying to break down barriers and allowing them to know you, to allow them to know who you are.

Leonard: The whole idea is … Our successful case completions keep going up and up and up, so we’re doing something right. We’re well above the national average in terms of successful case completions, so we’re doing something right. We’re helping men and women overcome extraordinary barriers. When I say extraordinary barriers, we’re talking about massive substance abuse, we’re talking about mental health issues. The substance abuse, 80% of our population, the mental health can go, in terms of self-reported, mental health can go as high as 50% according to some surveys, so we have problems.

When individuals come to us, they come to us with not much of a work history, not much of an educational history. Women who come out of prison, they have higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of mental health, their backgrounds typically involve being sexually abused by somebody they knew when they were children, and they have children themselves. There’s a certain point where the deck is so stacked against the individuals, not necessarily just in the District of Columbia, but throughout the country. I’ve had offenders sit there and tell me, “Leonard, what you’re asking me to do is impossible. I can’t deal with all of the ills of my past life.” That’s why so many individuals were revoked in years past, because they came to us with immense difficulties. David?

David: What was on my mind as you were saying all of that is, and maybe I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I think because the clients can come and often do come to supervision with such an enormous array of issues, I don’t think we can solve all of their problems. Sometimes they come to supervision, they’ve got these special conditions, we’re supposed to help them do their anger management class, drug test, get treatment if they need it, but sometimes I just think that maybe what we need to be focusing on is, by the time that somebody gets done with supervision, have we assisted them ,in whatever way that looks like, but have we assisted them to have the confidence that they can, moving forward, have control over their lives.

I was talking to Cromer on the way here, I got a call from a gentleman just released from incarceration about a week ago crying on the phone because he’s telling me, “I don’t have family, I don’t have food, I don’t have housing, and I’m expected to meet all of these requirements [inaudible 00:06:17] probation and parole. I have no idea how I’m going to do it.” On one hand, I think our job is to look at him and say, “Come into the office, let’s get you connected to our resources,” but I think there’s fundamentally something else going on there that he’s saying, “I don’t feel like I have control.”

My goal is, man, if we can help the men and women who come to us feel that when they leave supervision that they can have an impact, a positive impact on their life, that they can affect positive things in it, I think that would be a positive thing, but meeting every single need they have, I think that’s where, if we don’t realize we can’t meet every need, that’s where burnout can come in. [inaudible 00:06:57].

Leonard: Keith, I’m going to throw this question to you. I’ve interviewed lots of people under supervision by these microphones, hundreds over the course of years, and when I ran public affairs for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, interviewing them there as well. Oftentimes they were telling me that their parole and probation agent, again, in this case, in Washington, D.C., community supervision officer, they would say that their officer was the key, in many senses, of them crossing that bridge from law-breaking behavior to law-abiding behavior, from drugs to no drugs. They would give the credit, in many cases, to the parole and probation agent/community supervision officer as being the person who helped them make that transformation. Is that true? Do community supervision officers here in the District of Columbia, can they make that degree of change in a person’s life?

Keith: Yeah, I believe they can. Actually, one of my offenders in the past has, he crossed over tremendously. He had a plan when he came out and I helped him work his plan together. He wrote his own books, we helped him get it published. He started his own security company. He’s doing really well. I think that we can help out, as long as we continue to help them with their plan. We have to find out exactly what their needs are. As soon as we find out their needs, we can just help them out with moving forward in their lives.

Leonard: You can break through the barriers that they bring to you. I always say, I use the example, the chip on their shoulder the size of Montana. They don’t trust anybody. People listening to this program need to understand that people caught up in the criminal justice system, they may trust their mother, they might trust their mother, they don’t trust you, they don’t trust anybody. They don’t trust the religious leaders, they don’t trust the Governor, they don’t trust the President. They don’t care who it is, they’re not trusting individuals, yet you’ve got to break through those barriers to help that person, right, David?

David: Yeah, we do. I’m thinking, I’m not 100% convinced that … I think the clients know how to trust. I think it’s difficult for them, I think they’re hesitant, but what I found is that whether it’s working here in probation and parole or in [inaudible 00:09:19] Covenant House, working with homeless young adults, I think there’s hesitancy, but as soon as the client sees that this person is willing to listen to where I’ve been, as soon as I see that this person is not assuming that they’ve figured me out, to me, I’ve seen that’s a huge one, don’t assume that we know them. Once they see that willingness to hear who they are, hear where they’ve been, and that we’re willing to listen to maybe where they want to go as we try to develop that plan with them, I’ve found that the trust does come.

Then in my mind it becomes the issue of, okay, so they learn to trust you, then, though, all of their issues are still there, and so how, once you have their trust, how do you keep it, because I think it can be lost very easily, because they’ve been disappointed before, whether by family, the system, themselves, how do you keep that trust, and again, as I was saying earlier, especially in a position where on one hand we can counsel and motivate them, but if things build up where their supervision isn’t going a good direction, we got to take them to court. I feel like I’ve actually lost the trust, and I’m sad to say this, but I think I’ve lost the trust of clients before when I had to take them to court, and my hands were tied, I had to.

Leonard: I do want to explain that, but first of all, a piece of context for people listening throughout the country, our ratios, supervision ratios, are the best in the United States. We have one community supervision officer for 50 people under supervision. I know of states where it’s one to 150. I know of counties where it’s one to 250. I have seen data from jurisdictions where it’s one to 300.

We’re a federal agency, and because we’re a federal agency, we have funding. We do provide substance abuse, very comprehensive substance abuse therapy to 25% of our population who needs it. We have a mental health team, we have learning labs. We have a ton of resources that the average parole and probation agency doesn’t have, but still, even though you’ve got the best circumstances within parole and probation probably within the United States, when I talk to community supervision officers, they remind me that it’s the hardest job that they’ve ever had. That true?

Keith: Yeah, that’s true. Even though we have all those resources, if the individual doesn’t want to take advantage of those resources, it’s not even needed. It’s just we’re sending them to waste their time and waste everybody else’s time, wasting money, because it’s on the individual to really want to move forward in his life and to change and get away from that substance. No matter how much resources that we have, it can go out the door in a heartbeat by just going outside the front door and seeing what’s going on in the community.

Leonard: It’s our job to break through those barriers. It’s our job to convince a person who doesn’t want to participate. It’s our job, with a person who is struggling to participate, to successfully enter his world, her world, and help that person out. How do you help a person out who doesn’t want to be helped out?

Keith: First and foremost, I think they have to establish trust. Once they start trusting who you are, actually think that you have the best need for them, then they’ll start realizing and saying, “Okay, I’m going to go ahead and give this a opportunity and get my substance abuse worked out, get my employment worked out.” Those are the factors that may be having a barrier in their lives. I think this basically boils down to trust.

David: I definitely, yeah, I was shaking my head yes as Keith Cromer was talking, that it’s once the trust is there, then I think someone else too can come into it, that you can help the person experience exposure is what I’m thinking. Oftentimes I think a lot of clients come to parole and probation, at least from my experience in D.C., they come to parole and probation, and their lives have been focused around a specific neighborhood for many, many years, the resources they’re looking to are within that specific neighborhood.

I think there’s some goodness to that, that they feel like they know where they’re from and they can access those resources, but there are so many things in Washington, D.C., and so many opportunities, that once they trust us, that we can encourage them to take advantage of, “Maybe don’t apply for the job right down on your block, why don’t you go downtown and apply for a job?” or, “Don’t go to that GED program down the street, but why don’t you go to the one Uptown?” For those that don’t live here, Uptown’s a different part of D.C. from where Cromer and I work. I think exposure is important, and it can take away some fear to try new things. I think exposure can maybe help clients not stay and keep repeating the same things over and over again.

Leonard: Keith, go ahead. You want to jump in?

Keith: Oh yeah, I was, just get them out of a box. I think a lot of times they’re boxed in and they think they have no way of getting out. I think the opportunities that are around them, a lot of these guys know where these resources are, but they don’t take the opportunity, because I think a lot of times it’s self-doubt, negative-

Leonard: They’re frightened by it.

Keith: Yeah, they’re frightened by it, by the chance.

Leonard: Somebody, a person under supervision, an offender, one time told me, scariest thing that he’s ever done in his life is go through substance abuse treatment, because he had to confront his entire life and the reason why he was so desperately in need of drugs every single day, and that was the scariest thing he’s ever done, because he had to relive everything that propelled him towards substance abuse. Is he right?

David: I would lean towards yes. I was thinking that a lot of the older guys that I have on my caseload, maybe guys in their 50s and 60s, what I’ve found is that they’re more, not all of them, but for the most part, they’re more willing and able to look back on where they’ve been and what they’ve been through, and to demonstrate insight on how it’s affected them. I’ve found that is extremely helpful in their ability to stay out of the system, whereas the younger guys, it’s like Cromer was saying, or like we’ve been saying, that it’s almost too frightening, because if they look at it and accept what’s happened to them, accept what they’ve done, accept what they’ve been through, it could almost paralyze them.

Leonard: We’re halfway through the program, I do want to reintroduce everybody. The Challenge of Parole and Probation from an Officer’s Perspective is a program that I’ve looked forward to doing for quite some time, because I do think the role of parole and probation agents is probably one of the most difficult jobs that you can possibly imagine. David Mauldin, he is a Community Supervision Officer, Keith Cromer, Community Supervision Officer, both with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency,

Gentlemen, I have two questions. Number one, you’re talking to a national audience, so first of all, what do you want somebody in Des Moines or somebody in Hawaii, 20% of our audience is international, somebody from Europe to know about what it is to be a parole and probation agent?hen the second question after that is, when do we have to revoke and send that person back to prison because of transgressions, problems, new crimes? First of all, in terms of, what do you want people throughout the country to know about being a parole and probation agent? Cromer? Easy question, just simple.

Keith: To be a probation officer, a parole officer, you have to wear multiple hats. You have to b a counselor, a mentor, sometimes their father, their mother, their brother. You have to be a lot of things for them at certain times in their life, and you also have to be law enforcement as well. You have to be able to look them in the eye and tell them exactly what’s going on, and the right time, be on them, be hard on them, and then learn at the same time, break, fall back and say, “Tell me what’s going on. Allow me to cry for you, I’ll cry with you,” and then all at the same time, tell them how to, lift them up and show them how the ways to go to the next level in their lives.

Leonard: If you were dealing with an individual without problems, without substance abuse, without mental health, without educational deficiencies, who had a good job history, who doesn’t have an anger manage problem, who wasn’t abused as a child, if you’re doing that with the best possible person under the best possible circumstances, it would still be an extraordinarily difficult job.

Keith: That is correct. I have found that a lot of those guys have no other outlet, because a lot of people that are around them are negative as well, so they come to my office and speak to me friendlier than anyone, anybody else, so they dump a lot on us, what’s going on in their lives. We have to take that and process it and try and help them stay on a right, narrow path, because even though they’re doing everything correctly in their lives, a lot of times, that negative influence is still around them that they may want to go back to it.

Leonard: Both of you are out in the community, seeing them in the community, seeing them in their homes, going into their homes, talking to their parents, talking to their wives, talking to their children, talking to their grandmothers, right?

Keith: Correct.

Leonard: You’re out in the community, both at that person’s job, in their home, seeing this person in the community on an announced and unannounced basis, correct?

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: You roll up on a guy and the guy is standing on the street corner. The guy was fine and everything’s compliant and he’s doing fairly well and he’s getting his GED and he’s getting his plumbing certificate and he’s going to Narcotics Anonymous, and you roll up and he’s smoking a joint sitting on his front porch step with his friends. Now we get around to this issue of revocations. Look, a parole and probation agent from the state of Maryland told me that if you revoked everybody under supervision for smoking a joint on his front porch, there would be no sense in parole and probation, you would just automatically send them back to prison after a day.

David: Yeah. The clients on our caseloads, they’re on drug testing regiments, so we get notifications daily on the results of their drug test.

Leonard: Intensive drug tests.

David: Intensive drug tests. Many of them are on twice a week. If we had to respond with strong, immediate sanctions, taking them back to court every positive drug test, the jails, the prisons, would have even more people in them than they do now.

Leonard: We’d have to build four to five times the amount of prisons-

David: We would.

Leonard: … than we currently have now.

David: Absolutely. The thing is, the way I think about it is, is something becoming a pattern. I had a guy when I first started, he tested positive for cocaine. He had been clean as a whistle prior to that for several months, and then boom, positive for cocaine. Of course, we call him into the office and I sit down with him and I show him the positive and we have a conversation about, first of all, the surprise of it, “You’ve been doing well. Are there any triggers that have come up recently that hadn’t been there for a while?” We try to provide support. He no longer tested positive after that, but if that had become a pattern where it’s cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, cocaine, then we go to treatment. If that didn’t work, then we …

After treatment doesn’t work, I think that’s when you come back and take a look and say, “Okay, what else can we do?” If all options have been exhausted, I think then, yes, you can go to court and request revocation. I would just want to make sure that before I requested somebody’s freedom be taken away, that I have truly tried every single thing and given that person every opportunity to turn things around.

Leonard: I do want to emphasize, anywhere from the Department of Justice to [PU 00:21:31] to the National Council of State Governments to the American Probation and Parole Association, and I could go down the list and name 15 more, they want us to remediate, to the best of our ability, I’m saying “we,” I’m talking about parole and probation throughout the country, to try intermediate sanctions, to try to hold the person accountable, provide those sanctions, and provide those resources to help that person. Every organization out there is telling us to do exactly that, so now becomes the key issue, when do you maintain, when do you try to remediate, when do you try to provide these intermediate sanctions, and when do you revoke? Is there a magic formula?

Keith: I think it’s on a individual basis. There’s no such thing as a magic formula. I think every individual comes in front of you is different and you have to treat them differently. To revoke somebody for using cocaine one time would not be a great decision for that individual, because everybody makes mistakes.

Leonard: It’s not going to be one time. Let’s be honest.

Keith: That’s true.

Leonard: Our folks screw up on a regular basis.

Keith: A regular basis, right.

Leonard: Yet at the same time, 69% successfully complete supervision, so obviously, the community supervision officers are working with that individual, with their parents, with their families, with their treatment providers, to try to provide some sense of stability so that person can safely complete supervision, but nobody does it without screw-ups.

David: Very true.

Keith: That’s correct, that’s correct. Then the more they screw up, the more they dig a hole for themselves, and eventually, no matter how much you try to do as far as intervention for them, revocation is on the way. You either tell them that you are doing this for them, you’re trying to help them out, trying to find a cause of what’s going on behind it, treatment, modality, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, it doesn’t matter, at one point in time, revocation is inevitable. You can talk to them as much as you can, but some people, no matter what you do, they’re still going to want to, they’re not going to follow the rules and regulations of supervision, so they’re going to go back.

David: I want to throw this out there too, to consider too. Sometimes when we think about revocation, it is a hard thing to think about, taking somebody’s freedom, but I had a few clients actually that have said to me before, after they’ve been released, that they feel, and it’s a touchy subject, it’s something for debate, but they said that they feel like their time in jail saved them.

Keith: That’s true.

David: Now you can look back in their histories and see PCP, cocaine, heroin, constant use, homelessness, no employment, so those are strong risk factors for possible recidivation, but sometimes I think our society as a whole looks at prison and jail and says, “It’s the worst thing ever. It’s the worst thing ever. It needs to change.” There are things that need to be adjusted, most definitely, but when I hear clients who have said that’s what saved their life, it really gives me pause to say, “You know what? There is a time when we have to go to the judge and say, ‘Take their freedom.'” I was going to throw that out there. I think one thing, can I go back for a second?

Leonard: Yeah, please do.

David: You asked the question about what would we recommend to people across the country listening and about our role as probation officers, and I think one thing too is that, remember that we are on the front line of behavior change, of trying to instill behavior change in a very, very, very difficult population, the people that you read about who have committed the armed robberies, the people that you have read about that are running through the streets high on cocaine and heroin. Those are the people we meet with. Those are the people who we get to know their grandmothers, their children, their spouses, and it is difficult. I think people need to remember that if a client messes up, even several times on supervision, it’s not just a cut and dry process. If it took 20 years for somebody to get involved with the criminal justice system and they’ve got a year on probation, we need to keep in mind what sort of issues. It takes a while.

Leonard: I go back to my experience in Maryland where the person said that if you’re going to revoke them for one, two, three, four, five drug positives, then just revoke them now, just revoke everybody. They come out of prison on a Tuesday and they’re back on a Wednesday, because what’s the sense? They’re not going to go to treatment or they’re going to be disruptive in treatment, they’re not going to get a job or they’re going to take too long to get a job, and they’re going to pay their fines in restitution, but not pay all of it.

There’s always problems with people under supervision. Your job is to break through the barriers, understand that person, understand their family, understand their circumstances, use cognitive-behavioral therapy, establish a relationship with that person, and at the same time, magically induce these individuals to participate in programs, encourage their successful participation in programs, and hold them accountable when they screw up.

David: Yeah, correct.

Leonard: That’s a huge, huge, huge task. People need to understand, people listening throughout the country, people need to understand that out of the correctional population, which is 7,000,000 individuals on any given day, 5,000,000 belong to us in parole and probation. The vast majority of people involved in the criminal justice system are not behind bars. The vast majority of the people in the criminal justice system are beholden or responsible or reporting to parole and probation agents.

Keith: That’s correct.

Leonard: Can I throw out a question to Cromer real quick?

David: Yeah, please.

Leonard: Keith, I have a question for you. We had talked about this earlier, but you said before you had had clients that on supervision were doing stellar, they were meeting all their special conditions, coming to the office visits, drug testing clean, working, but then something happened where everything just falls apart. You mentioned earlier the importance of helping the clients build a plan. Was it just that they didn’t have a plan that they fell apart or was there something … How does something go from this really positive trajectory and then it just evaporates?

Keith: Yes, either one, they have a plan or …

Leonard: Back in the mic. There we go.

Keith: One, they didn’t have a plan, or two, something in their lives that destroyed them. A lot of times they don’t know how to cope with issues that come up in their lives, so the first thing they do is go to drug use. The friends, the family, things happen, or death in the family, everybody goes out with everybody, but a lot of people [inaudible 00:28:07]] surroundings tend to cope with using drugs, marijuana, cocaine, whatever the case may be, or celebrating, the same direction. That’s the reason what you have to figure out is how to let them know that that’s not okay to celebrate or to go into mourning regarding using drugs regarding an issue. Then also a lot of times, they’re going well and then they sabotage themselves because they don’t know, “I’m doing so well, I don’t know how to-“

Leonard: “I don’t know what to do from here,” maybe.

Keith: “… [crosstalk 00:28:39] do from here,” so they do, the fear comes in, and so they use cocaine or whatever drug.

David: Because in my head I was thinking, that’s one of the most difficult parts for me as a supervision officer is when somebody’s doing fantastic, and so in your head you’re like, “Wow, this person, they’re going to have a great life. 20 years from now, they’re going to be great,” and then everything falls apart.

Leonard: I think that struggle is with every person out there. You’re going to have good days and bad days and some points where they’re doing well and some points where they’re not doing well, and somehow, some way, you’ve got to work your magic regardless of the circumstances. We got about 15 seconds left. Comments? Comments?

David: I was going to say, just remember that we’re on the front lines of behavior change with folks involved in the criminal justice system, not easy.

Leonard: Look, we have better results in the last couple years here at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, higher case closure rates, fewer arrests. Congratulations to you and everybody out there that chooses to be a community supervision officer, and a parole and probation agent, outside of the District of Columbia. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking to David Mauldin, CSO, Keith Cromer, CSO, with my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. This is D.C. Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a pleasant day.