Note: All articles in this edition refer to the Guest Editor’s column found here.
Stefan’s court order reflects he is granted felony-supervised probation for the child abuse offense committed against his 5 year old son. He has three years to complete the necessary terms of probation, which includes various fines and fees, restitution to the victim, a 52-week parenting class, and counseling as directed by his probation officer. He is sentenced to 180 days on electronic monitoring in lieu of custody, as he was able to establish himself as a permanent resident of the county, who has ties to his family, the community, and who has been independently and gainfully employed for some time. Additionally, he is expected to obey all laws, report to and adhere to the directives of his probation officer, report detentions or arrests within five days, report to his probation officer within five days of release, and use his true identity at all times. He is also subject to a warrantless arrest at any time and he is prohibited from possessing weapons.
Stefan has been placed on electronic monitoring, and he reports to probation shortly after sentencing, as expected. During his first appointment with the assigned probation officer, he appears anxious, confused and frustrated. The terms of probation are reviewed in detail, so some clarity is gained, but Stefan indicates he is overwhelmed with responsibility, and he is hoping “to move on with his life.” This grant of probation is the result of his first conviction, and while he would like to be successful on probation, and certainly stay out of jail, the reality of his busy work schedule and problematic home life, leave little time for classes and appointments during business hours, and he finds reporting his every movement on the electronic monitor to the sheriff degrading. In addition, he is expected to comply with a Family Maintenance Plan implemented by Children and Family Services, as a result of the incident involving his son.
A risk and needs assessment is conducted by the probation officer, which consists of a series of questions about the offense, and all other social aspects of Stefan’s life. Stefan’s statements about his culture, upbringing and family make it clear that he is a hardworking, family man, who very much regrets his actions, but feels as if the situation could have been handled without police involvement. Despite his frustrations, he commits to completing the terms of probation so he can move on.
Stefan’s responses during the assessment and the facts of his case suggest his recidivism risk is low. He does not have many of the high risk factors, such as a lengthy criminal history that involves theft related crimes, or that started at a young age, he does not have issues with substance abuse or regular associations with those criminally inclined, he does not lead a transient lifestyle and he is not unemployed. In fact, Stefan is relatively stable in many areas, and is relieved to learn he will not be required to report to the probation officer more than monthly should he maintain compliance, stability and sobriety.
Following the assessment and upon reviewing the details of the offense, the probation officer finds Stefan’s highest area of need to be counseling. Stefan needs to address the offense itself, by attending weekly parenting classes for 52 weeks to learn how to parent his child safely, even in spite of anger and frustration. The probation officer wonders if marital issues, given the arguments that ensued beforehand, or financial issues, given the reference to delayed renovations, played a part in Stefan’s anger that day, and suggests he contact an individual therapist to begin addressing those concerns. Stefan was intoxicated when he committed the offense, so he is directed to contact an alcohol abuse treatment provider to obtain a substance abuse assessment. Should the provider recommend treatment, Stefan will be directed to comply with alcohol treatment as well.
The probation officer is concerned about Stefan’s children, and wants to ensure they have the same rights afforded to any victim of violence, so the victim and the sibling witness are referred to the Victim/Witness Program. Violence that occurs within in the family and results in damages to the victim, whether it is monetary or emotional, is often difficult for probation to address. Family sometimes looks at the incident as a “family issue” and declines to pursue restitution. Restitution is ordered in this case, and the probation officer hopes counseling will be pursued, so Stefan’s wife is contacted and encouraged to facilitate treatment for the children to help repair the damage caused by the offense, and hopefully mend the family. Additionally, the probation officer makes contact with the social worker assigned to supervise the Family Maintenance Plan, so that all parties are working cohesively in rehabilitating Stefan and ensuring the children’s safety going forward.
Even with all of the Court’s orders and the probation officer’s plans in place, ultimately, as with any other case, Stefan’s success does not rest upon the probation officer’s diligence alone. Unlike many cases, Stefan already has many of the strengths needed to be successful, and his success depends almost entirely on his own effort and determination, as well as the importance he places on becoming a better family man and an overall productive member of society.