07/21/04 — DART-Cherry probation officers have unique job

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DART-Cherry probation officers have unique job

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on July 21, 2004 1:59 PM

Wayne County has more than 40 probation and parole officers, but three who have unusual jobs are assigned to the Drug and Alcohol Treatment center at Cherry Hospital, the only such facility in the state.

Steve Roman, Matt Winslow and Lisa Vail supervise up to 300 offenders at any one time and may see more than 1,000 during the year.

"The people who come here are desperate," Roman said. "They are very sick."

For the officers' service, the American Probation-Parole Association has proclaimed this as Probation, Parole and Community Supervision Officers' Week. At the same time, Gov. Mike Easley also issued a similar proclamation.

Stephanie Rose, the chief probation and parole officer at DART-Cherry, said the offenders have drug and alcohol addiction problems. Many have not been incarcerated but have been put on probation. They have been assigned to her agency to ease the overcrowding of state prisons.

The offenders are ordered by a judge to DART-Cherry and then assessed by a mental health professional before being admitted to either a 28-day or 90-day program.

Ms. Rose explained that there were two parts of the program -- treatment and the "muscle" that her officers provide to keep the offenders in line.

"Without the officers, the program would not be successful," Ms. Rose said. "Someone has to be here."

If a defendant does walk off, then the officer would have to get a warrant for his arrest. Once arrested, the defendant would get a hearing in front of a judge who would determine his fate.

The offenders are not locked up, but they are kept in a dormitory. The accommodations are not luxurious, with 10 people sleeping in a room. They can watch television only for short periods at night or on weekends. Visits by family members on weekends are encouraged, the officers said.

The probationers have a very structured day, starting at 5:30 a.m. After cleaning the site and breakfast, they have classes from 7:15 a.m. to 8 p.m.

One class is the cognitive behavior intervention program -- called "thinking for a change" -- on how to deal with anger. They also can earn a high school diploma.

They must undergo random drug tests and warrant-less searches. At the end of each session, a graduation is held at Wayne Community College.

But graduation does not end the offenders' involvement with the probation system. They receive an after-care program of meeting with mental health providers, getting a high school diploma and attending Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Ms. Rose said she did not know the recidivism rate for those who return to drugs and alcohol. She said that once an offender leaves the program, he is returned to a field probation officer.

What makes the officers' jobs rewarding are phone calls and even e-mails from previous defendants.

"Definitely, it's working," Roman said of the treatment program. "A guy had left the program two-and-a-half years ago and called me to let me know how he was doing. ƒ That's real encouraging, even if they messed up and then got back on track. We encourage them. It's working."