Agents talk to students about parole, probation
— People often think of parole and probation officers as tough, authoritarian figures who are eager to send people back to prison. The reality is more complex.
“As probation officers, many people think we’re strict, mean, want to throw people in jail. But we’re actually part social workers,” said Kari Weichel, a senior agent with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ Division of Parole and Probation. “When people come in, we want to get down to the root of their issues, we don’t just want to throw them back in jail.”
Weichel and two of her coworkers, Lindsay Jones, also a senior agent, and Matt Eder, a drinking and driving monitor, visited seven freshmen government classes at Rising Sun High School on Tuesday to talk about their jobs and dispel some common myths about parole and probation.
The trio works out of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation’s Elkton field office and was at RSHS as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correc-
tional Services. The talk was part of the department’s outreach efforts and they hope to make it out to more county high schools in the future, he added.
After discussing the stereotypes surrounding parole and probation officers, Eder talked about the criminal justice process that occurs after someone is arrested. Many people who are arrested for smaller crimes receive suspended sentences, which means they serve probation and if they violate their probation, they can end up back in jail, Eder said.
Once an individual is put on probation, agents do a background check and a risk assessment, which takes into consideration factors such as age, the nature and number of offenses, arrests, gang affiliation and drug or alcohol addiction to determine how likely it is that someone could end up back in jail, Eder said. Depending on a person’s risk level they might have to check in with their probation officer a few times a week or just once a month, he added.
“It’s very important to understand that your actions now or in the future can impact your life indefinitely,” Eder told the students. “Speaking of a theft charge, it can be really hard to get employment if you have a theft conviction.”
One of the biggest obstacles the agents have to deal with is the many people under their supervision who have drug addictions. Cecil County has one of the highest per capita rates of drug overdoses in Maryland and Jones said that out of the about 120 people she supervises, she can only name about 15 who don’t have drug issues.
Though her job doesn’t require it, Jones got certified in the use of the overdosereversing drug naloxone through the health department and said she’s had people come to their probation check-ins high. Eder noted he’s had four people he supervises die from overdoses in the last 12 months.
But all three agents agreed that seeing people successfully complete their probation or parole and get their lives back on track is the most rewarding part of their jobs.
“Sometimes you’re the only person that they have to talk to. You end up being like a therapist. You might be the only person that isn’t high all the time that they talk to or wants to actually listen them,” Weichel said. “Some of them have never had that their entire lives. So sometimes they kind of look up to us as an example or a mentor.”