OP / ED PIECE FROM THE
NJ PROBATION OFFICERS ASSOC.
JERSEY’S PROBATION OFFICERS
By George Christie
July 11, 2005
In 1841, a Boston shoe cobbler named John Augustus convinced the
Boston Police Court to place an adult drunkard under his custody. He
served as a supervisor for the individual, who otherwise would have
been incarcerated, as was commonplace at that time.
Augustus, who is known
today as the “Father of Probation,” expanded his supervisory role in
later years to include overseeing children accused of stealing. With
each successful reformation of accused criminals, Augustus’ role as
the first unofficial probation officer flew in the face of police,
court clerks and turnkeys. These officers of the judicial system
objected to the concept of probation because they received monetary
compensation when offenders were incarcerated.
Soon states began to
recognize the beneficial role of probation officers. That led to
passage in 1878 of the first law creating an official state probation
system in Massachusetts, which included salaried probation officers.
By 1900, New Jersey followed suit along with a handful of other states
that recognized a probation program as a key component of the justice
New Jersey’s probation
system has played a significant role in safeguarding our communities
during the past decade in particular. The state’s probation officers
currently supervise approximately 130,000 adults and 20,000 juveniles
serving probation as a result of charges for murder, sexual assault,
gun possession, domestic violence, burglary, driving under the
influence, and other serious offenses.
Alarmingly, the number
of dangerous and repeat offenders sentenced to probation has continued
to rise despite a decrease in the state’s overall crime rate. This
translates into an average caseload of 187 probationers under each
During the week
beginning July 17, New Jersey will honor its more than 2,000 probation
officers, along with the state’s parole officers. The officers
represent and reflect the cross-section of New Jersey in every corner
of the state with one common mission: to make our communities a safer
place to live for our families.
These dedicated men and
women often place themselves in harm’s way to ensure the safety of our
communities. Probation officers are assaulted and physically
threatened in many instances, and unsafe conditions often preclude
them from locating probationers.
Threats to probation
officers in the community are ever increasing. Among the most
On Oct. 23, 2002,
while in a Salem County courtroom, a probationer threatened to shoot
his probation officer; and
During separate home
visits in 2002, two probation officers were attacked and injured by
dogs probationers unleashed on them. As are most probation officers,
these were unarmed and unable to defend themselves against such
During an April 2003
routine home visit in Newark, two Probation Officers came upon a
group of males involved in drug activity. One man pointed a hand gun
at the head of one of the officers threatening to shoot. The two
officers were then held at gunpoint until they were able to convince
the offender to release them.
Regardless of the
potential and real dangers, probation officers continue to place the
safety of our communities at a higher priority than their own personal
By serving as
supervisors, and oftentimes mentors, to adults and juveniles in the
justice system, probation officers strive to instill a sense of
responsibility in these individuals. In keeping with the legacy of the
“Father of Probation,” probation officers use the resources and
services available to them to continue to protect our families and
communities. Moreover, the average cost to New Jersey to supervise
each probationer is $200 per year as opposed to the estimated $30,000
cost of incarceration.
In honor of National Probation, Parole
and Community Supervision Week, it is imperative that we investigate
and strongly consider ways to improve the existing probation system.
Probation officers should be afforded the ability to protect
themselves against violent probationers. All too often, the safety of
our communities is placed in the hands of probation officers. Without
the probation system and probation officers who are its backbone, our
state’s judicial and corrections systems would falter.
George Christie is
president of the 101-year-old Probation Association of New Jersey (PANJ),
which represents more than 2,000 probation officers.
Monday, July 4, 3005 11:56 p.m.