Probation Officer Duties

Probation officer duties can range from being in charge of some of the most violent criminal offenders to simply ensuring that juvenile delinquents do not violate their parole.  There is a delicate balance in the criminal justice system between criminal prosecution and the probation that is offered when a judge is being lenient, the understanding being that a probation officer will ensure the offender follows the court-appointed rules.  However, probation officers in general came under strict scrutiny recently with the revelation that the people who kept a young girl hostage in their backyard for 18 years had frequent visits from parole officers who did not notice anything out of place.

Philip Garrido is the California man who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard and kept her in his backyard for 18 years, despite a prior rape and kidnapping conviction, a sentence which was still carried out by visits from probation officers several times a month.  The question on everyone’s mind after the story broke (besides how he managed to keep her for so long), was how the probation officers did not notice the young girl in his backyard.  Apparently, most probation officers speak to every member of the family and do a walk-through of the house.  The thoroughness with which they do the walk-through, however, is up to the probation officer and the rules of the court or state.  If the walk-through triggers any concern, the probation officer is required to follow up with a more thorough walk-through or call police officers to the scene. 

Other officers additionally do follow-up interviews with the parolee’s family and neighbors when they are not home, being careful not to worry anyone and prevent their re-integration into society.  Additionally, in cases like Garrido’s, probation officers typically ensure that children have not been seen around the house.  If there is any violation in any of the tests or visits the officer conducts, the parolee will be carefully monitored and the parole has an option of being revoked.  However, someone Garrido’s file slipped through the cracks, as his probation officer did not notice anything amiss at his residence during the 18 years of probation when Jaycee was in the backyard.  Most probation officers carry an average of 70 cases at a time, according to California sources, although some can have anywhere from 30-200 cases, causing many to slip through the cracks. 

While probation officers serve an important role in our criminal justice system, it is evident that some states do not employ enough officers to appropriately cover the amount of parolees in the state.  Once every parolee is covered by an officer, the criminal justice system will be able to relax and note that their citizens’ probation sentences are accurately covered.  However, until this point, many states will continue to monitor the accuracy of their probation officers and the behavior of the parolees.