Legislators Praise Staff for Diligence and Dedication
FONDA - Montgomery County's Probation Department has one major goal - to make people who committed crimes self-sufficient and law-abiding, according to Probation Director Lucille Sitterly. On Tuesday, Probation Department staff was recognized by the Montgomery County Legislature for their hard work, professional manner and dedication to the community.
"We monitor them [people on probation] in the community so the community is safe," Sitterly said.
There are 16 employees within the department which works directly with local city, town and Village Criminal Courts, the Montgomery County Court, and the Montgomery County Family Court in the preparation of pre-plea, pre-sentence, and pre-dispositional reports. The department also handles the supervision of adult offenders, juvenile delinquents, and Persons in Need of Supervision. The Probation Department is an active participant in the Montgomery County Drug Court, Montgomery County Family Court, Integrated Domestic Violence Court and the Mental Health Court. They also manage a Community Service Program for Adults and Juveniles and supervise pre-trial releases.
Roles within the department include: director, two supervisors, one senior probation officer, six probation officers, a probation assistant, one full-time and one part-time community service program coordinator, senior account clerk typist, principal account clerk typist and part- time records management clerk.
"There are 450 people on probation at any given time," Sitterly said. "A total of 425 adults, while the rest are juveniles."
The juvenile population consists of adjudicated Juvenile Delinquents and Persons in Need of Supervision and Juvenile Delinquent Intakes who have not had judicial intervention. Efforts are made with all of these youth to manage their behavior at home, in school and in the community so that they can become functioning adults. They are supervised by a probation officer, must perform community service and are referred for appropriate services to meet their needs.
Individuals on probation could have committed offenses involving felony level crimes such as burglary, grand larceny and DWI which carry a five year term of probation, to lesser misdemeanor offenses like petit larceny, criminal mischief and misdemeanor DWI that involve a two to three year probation term. The department also works with individuals convicted of sex offenses who can be on supervision for as long as 10 years for a felony level offense.
Prior to being sentenced to probation, the majority of defendants go through a lengthy process following their conviction when the probation officer must prepare an investigation for the sentencing court. Probation officers obtain the legal history of each offender, their family and educational background, employment history, physical and mental health, substance abuse issues and other information that helps determine if that individual will be successful on the program and what services are needed to help insure that success. Should there be a victim in a particular offense, contact is made with that individual to determine monetary loss or other damages that the defendant will be required to restore and arrangements are put into place to achieve that goal. The report then makes a recommendation to the Court for an appropriate sentence that will both protect the community and help the defendant achieve a law abiding lifestyle.
Not all defendants are given a term of probation for their offenses. Some are sentenced to incarceration in either a state facility for a felony offense or local jail in the case of a misdemeanor and sometimes the lower level felonies are given a combination of jail and probation. Probation officers carry a caseload of 50 to 60 individuals sentenced to a term of supervision at any given time and it is the officer's responsibility to ascertain that the offender is following the conditions of their sentence and refer for appropriate services to maintain that law abiding lifestyle. The offender's failure to comply can result in a revocation of probation and a term of incarceration.
"There are lots of successes and some dismal failures," Sitterly said. "We are not always aware of the struggles that any given defendant may be facing or the trauma that they have experienced that precipitated their choices. And even if we do know, there's not always a "fix" that can change their behavior. All of us need positive support in our lives and for many of our clients, that element is seriously lacking among their families and peer associates," she said.
Tabitha L. Thesier who has been a probation officer in the county for 11 years said the most important part of her job is ensuring the safety of the community and individuals.
"The most rewarding part of my job is when an individual thanks me or a family member thanks me for taking the time to do my job, help the individual on my caseload, help the victim (if there is one) and being professional," she said.
Thesier said working for the Probation Department has taught her to never judge a person before getting to know them and their circumstances.
"While this might seem like common sense I have seen others (outside of my department) judge someone based on appearance or the way they talk or the way they approach solving a problem," Thesier said. "That is something that is not conducive to the work my department does."
The principal account clerk typist, senior account clerk typist and part-time records management clerk are other positions within the Probation Department. Their roles help keep order of the files within the department. The principal account clerk typist distributes calls within the office, manages the budgetary process and accounts and assists with department statistics. The senior account clerk typist manages the collection and disbursement of restitution payments and assists with the Laserfiche project with the part-time records management clerk.
The probation assistant and the full time community service program coordinator monitor the Community Service Program. The Community Service Program allows the 18 courts in Montgomery County to assign convicted offenders who would otherwise be facing a period of incarceration in the Montgomery County jail to perform tasks for municipalities and non- profit agencies. The judge sets the number of hours to be worked and the timeframe in which the hours must be completed. Staff who manage the Community Service Program assigns offenders to work locations and tracks the hours completed. They also maintain close communication with the courts and if deemed necessary, will notify the court of violations to the sentencing order.
Shelbi Lewis, who has been a probation officer in Montgomery County four months now, said she chose this line of work because she wanted to help people better themselves and become productive members of society. Lewis said seeing people achieve their goals is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.
"However big or small they [the goals] may be," Lewis said. "Success is sometimes measured in baby steps."
Charles Beekman Jr. has worked as a probation officer in Montgomery County for two years. He said the most rewarding aspect of his job is the interaction with the client/probationer and when they realize they have potential to do better in their life and in the life of others.
"I work with great people and it starts at the top with Lucille," Beekman said. "She set-up a great work environment and we all work as team to ensure the job gets done."
Supervisor Wayne Marotta, who has worked in the Probation Department for 22 years, said one of the most important aspects of his job is helping protect the community.
"This is accomplished by working closely with our population and networking with many different agencies including federal, state and local police departments," Marotta said. "Also important is assisting our probationers in gaining the skills necessary to lead legally and socially acceptable lifestyles. The rewarding aspect of the job is when you identify those individuals who pose a threat to the community and you take the necessary steps to insure community safety and when probationers make a successful adjustment and go on to lead a productive, successful lifestyle."
Marotta said his job allows him to learn something new every day.
"This job and the people I work with (probationers) have helped to shape my life and for that I'm grateful," he said. "I have gained a better understanding of the struggles people go through and the skills needed to help when I can," he continued. "I have also gained an incredible understanding of the workings of the legal system having the good fortune to work closely with County Court for many years. I have also had the good fortune to learn from and have the support of my superiors and fellow staff members at the probation department."
Sitterly said poverty and trauma are being recognized as primary catalysts in the commission of crimes and these factors impact many of our probationers who fall into alcohol and substance abuse, violent behavior, larceny, criminal mischief and other antisocial acts that impact themselves, their families and society in general.
"These are two factors that impact peoples' lives," Sitterly said. "Did you grow up in a culture where you didn't have the things you needed? Did your mom die at a young age? How did it affect your life," Sitterly said.
She explained that staff espouses the mantra that they could be anyone of the individuals they are working with if they had a different upbringing, exposure to trauma and/or suffered other deficiencies that they were unable to overcome.
"Anyone can commit a crime," Sitterly said. "People make mistakes, some more serious than others and most everyone can change their behavior if they have a will and the tools to do so."
She said one of the draws of working in the Probation Department is that it's very interesting and different every day.
"I think people stay [working within the Probation Department] because it's interesting and gives you a sense of accomplishment," Sitterly said. "Good things do happen."