He graduated from high school in North Platte, NE., a railroad town about half between Denver and Omaha. Rumor has it that you didn’t mess with him as a teenager. He got his college degree at UNL and then took a job with the Nebraska Department of Corrections working at the Nebraska Center for Women in York, Nebraska. After that, a stint at the Omaha Correctional Center followed, and then on to manage “death row” for Nebraska’s prisons. (Can you imagine spending your day on “death row”?)
Jeff came to the US Probation Office at our court* with great experience working with, talking to and understanding hard-core offenders of all types. After working as a USPO for 14 years, Jeff is doing “high intensity” supervision. That is, he supervises the toughest of offenders who are released from federal prison and thereafter may be doing 5, 10 or more years on post-prison supervision. Jeff knows what it is like to supervise an offender who killed a man while on supervision with one mighty punch, perhaps in self-defense.
High intensity supervision is dangerous both to the USPO and to the offender. If you don’t believe me, consider the following. Before USPOs were allowed to carry guns, USPO Thomas Eric Gahl was shot three times with a shotgun and killed when he entered an offender’s home who had recently been released from prison. The man was suspected of taking drugs while suffering from mental illness. The offender fled, killed two other people, engaged in several other kidnappings and then committed suicide. See here for more. The Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1996, Title I., Sec. 101 (October 19, 1996) amended federal law (18 U.S.C. § 3603(9) to provide federal statutory authority for United States pretrial and probation officers to carry firearms.
The offenders who are subject to frequent contact with high intensity supervisors are marked as the toughest to supervise and those offenders know about and often resent the increased supervision. The supervision takes the officer out into roughest places and neighborhoods at all times of the night and day to have contact with the offender. A high intensity supervisor cannot “talk-the-talk” with these offenders, he or she must have the unique ability to “walk-the-walk” when the pressure is really on. Those interactions can be tense and fraught with an almost palpable smell of violence. The officer is often alone.
While men and women like Jeff have arrest and other limited law enforcement powers** and carry guns, their mindsets are (or should be) completely different than that of a cop. Their job is to help the offender become productive. And that’s what makes their jobs so awfully hard. I have known Jeff for a long time now. He is the happiest when one of his offenders completes supervision successfully. He does not enjoy “bagging” an offender. On the other hand, Jeff is tough. He is not afraid to get very aggressive if public safety and the law requires it.
Late at night, an employee of the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, a USPO, is probably risking his or her life to do good both for the public and offenders who most of society have written off long ago. In Nebraska, that person might be a powerfully built but inwardly caring guy whose name is Jeff. I like the idea of probation officer as humanist. Jeff is such a person.
*US Probation Officers are employees of the judiciary. Each United States Probation Office is a unit of the United States District Court for a particular district and is subject to control by the judges of that court. See here for our United States Probation Office.
**U.S. Probation Officers may with the approval of the court conduct warrantless searches of offenders and their property. The U.S. Supreme Court (Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868 (1987) (supervision of probationers is a “special need” of the State that may justify departures from the usual warrant and probable cause requirements. Supervision is necessary to ensure that probation restrictions are in fact observed, that the probation serves as a genuine rehabilitation period, and that the community is not harmed by the probationer’s being at large) and several federal courts have held that warrantless searches are permitted under certain circumstances. See also 18 U.S.C. §§ 3563(b)(23) and 3583(d). They have authority to make arrests as well. 18 U.S.C. § 3606(b)(23) and 18 U.S. Code § 3583(b).