High intensity

Jeff, a fellow you would not want to arm wrestle.

Jeff is a fellow you would not want to arm wrestle. (The object in his hand is a remote controller. Ironic.))

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.

Officer Gahl had served with the United States Probation Office for the Southern District of Indiana for 11½ years. He had previously served with the Indiana Department of Correction, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was a US Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. Officer Gahl was survived by his wife, two young sons, brother and mother.

Officer Gahl had served with the United States Probation Office for the Southern District of Indiana for 11½ years. He had previously served with the Indiana Department of Correction, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was a US Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. Officer Gahl was survived by his wife, two young sons, brother and mother.

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).

4 responses

  1. I’m happy to see this post. I have a client (I had two) who is a probation supervisor here in Massachusetts. (In the Commonwealth, Probation supervises people who have not been sentenced to prison, except for violation of the conditions of their probation; we have a separate Parole department.) Probation and parole officers don’t make a great deal of money, and they don’t have the prestige of, say, police or the FBI. The public thinks about them mainly when they screw up. On TV crime shows, they are often depicted as bumblers or ineffectual bureaucrats. But my client created a program for mothers who are defendants that has united a number of them with children whose custody they had lost. She has had people who were her probationers wave to her on the street . She’s had some of her former “clients” point her out to friends or family and say, “That’s Ms. Brown. She was my probation officer.” It’s that kind of experience that makes the job worthwhile. I suspect that the probation officers you mention are like that. True public servants.

    (I might add that my client has been through eight years of litigation with her department, which included obtaining a $500,000 award of punitive damages for retaliation after she complained of sex discrimination–an award that was reduced to $108,000 (that’s 23% of the original, if you’re counting) by the trial court.)

  2. Judge:
    Your blogging efforts will not have been in vain if you do nothing else but occasionally showcase the lives and careers of dedicated public servants such as this gentleman (and I get the impression that he is, literally, a gentle man).

  3. Congratulations to Jeff, a/k/a High Intensity. This is an excellent discussion by Judge Kopf about the importance of the probation officers. Their job requires a variety of skills – including physical, social and intellectual abilities. Jeff certainly is qualified for all aspects of this vital assignment in the courts.

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