Agents talk to stu­dents about pa­role, pro­ba­tion

Cecil Whig - - & - By JES­SICA IANNETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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-

RIS­ING SUN

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.”

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