By Paula Redmann
Allison, Karrie, and Bobby work with people who have broken the law — not theft or driving under the influence kind of laws — they spend time with and get to know men and women who have been charged and/or convicted of federal crimes against the United States; things like high-level drug offenses and sexual offenses.
Allison, Karrie, and Bobby are U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Officers in the district of North Dakota. They, and their counterparts across the state, are a unique combination of law enforcement officers and social workers. (For security and anonymity purposes, only their first names and the city they work in are being used.
ALLISON FROM MINOT
Little did Allison know that her degrees in criminal justice and forensic science would take her to the main streets and back roads of northwestern North Dakota. She travels through the Minot, Williston, and Watford City areas, checking in on “persons under supervision,” which Allison explains is “an updated and much better term than ‘offender.’”
It’s like this: if a person commits a federal crime, and is out on bond, Allison makes sure he or she is abiding by a set of conditions — following the rules — until the time of trial. Allison is also responsible for monitoring people on the other end of the probation system, folks who have been released, perhaps served time in a half-way house, and need a transition plan to re-enter society.
“How often I see these folks depends on the risk level associated with their crime. We have a rating system of high, moderate, low moderate, and low. Their risk level determines the frequency of how often I need to check on them. If it’s a high risk, like a sex offense, it may be once a week. A lower risk level is once a month.
“My goal is two-fold,” Allison explains, “I need to promote community safety and reduce this person’s chance of committing another crime. I make it very clear that I work for the court, not for an attorney or for the police. It’s also very important that I see this person as a person, not as their offense. This is someone’s brother or sister. I need to be both respectful and realistic — to be firm but fair.”
KARRIE FROM BELCOURT
Karrie’s piece of the probation system is in the all-important middle section of the puzzle.
“Let’s say,” she explains, “that someone has pled guilty to a crime. My job is to now put together a pre-sentence investigation for the court.”
This report is made up of an extensive interview that includes criminal history, employment, education, living situation, financial structure, social activities, mental health, and any history of abuse or neglect.
“I interview family and friends, as well. It’s important to provide a detailed background, a look at the total person, in order to report to the judge. This report helps provide the background for an appropriate sentence,” Karrie explains.
Karrie’s 10 years of experience, her law degree and her MBA provide the “hard” skills for her work. She believes, too, that since she is from Belcourt, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, and has worked in the court system in Indian Country, that she has the background and “soft” skills for her position.
“I know the people, the land, and the culture,” Karrie says.
“I’d like the people I work with to see me as someone who is here to help. I don’t want to be intimidating. It’s my job to ask hard questions so they can improve upon themselves and learn new behaviors. I stress that I don’t want to see them in the justice system again. I want them to stay in their community with their family,” Karrie says.
BOBBY FROM BISMARCK
A degree in social work, combined with an internship and eventual employment at Centre, Inc., a half-way house, led Bobby to her current position. Having both a soft heart and thick skin is what she says it takes to be in her profession.
“My clients have made mistakes, and they need to be accountable for the charges against them. I need to have some compassion and empathy, but I also need to keep them accountable, and for them to understand that there are consequences to their actions,” Bobby says.
The connections that Bobby makes with her clients can be lasting.
“Things can get backed up in the court system. I may end up working with a person for up to two years before they are sentenced or go to trial. I want to know their story. I want to know them and their family. Parents are shocked at what might have happened, so I can explain all the next steps to them and how they can support their child in the process,” Bobby says.
Allison, Karrie, and Bobby hear the worst and see the best in people in their line of work. Traumatic stories, unhealthy relationships, abuse, and addiction are common, but success stories of early releases, transformed lives, and new beginnings keep them going. In the long run, they want all persons under supervision to be just like anyone else — positive, happy, and healthy.