Parole, probation officers have their week

By Ed Brock

It's not just the dangers of his job, like crawling into an attic to make an arrest, which make it hard for Clayton County Parole Officer Patrick Holsey.

It's trying to help his parolees so he won't have to arrest them.

"You get frustrated sometimes," Holsey said. "No matter what you do some of them don't want to do what they have to do."

This is the week to recognize people like Holsey. It's national Probation, Parole and Community Supervisors Week.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has also signed a proclamation to the same effect and on Thursday Clayton County's Chief Parole Officer Joe Morris and the county's Chief Probation Officer Joel Mayo will receive a proclamation from Clayton Cunty Commission Chairman Crandle Bray.

"Times are tough with the high case load and cutbacks in the state budget," Mayo said. "It's good for these people to be recognized."

Probation is a court ordered sentence that allows the convicted person to remain in the community whereas parole is early, supervised release from prison granted by a state board. However, about 42 percent of the people Mayo's office handles have been to prison, usually as part of a split sentence.

Morris' 10 parole officers, like Holsey, must keep track of 675 parolees in Clayton County. They have the training and authority to make arrests, but that's usually a last resort.

"We take those parolees and we try to re-integrate them into the community," Morris said.

That means programs in job placement, substance abuse and education, among other things. Changing the parolees cognitive patterns is also very important, and Holsey is a certified cognitive skills instructor.

As part of the instruction he gives to the parolees Holsey identifies thought patterns that can lead them to break their parole.

"These thought patterns are usually that the alternatives aren't there, their alternatives that would keep them out of trouble," Holsey said.

Holsey teaches them to slow down and avoid the quick decisions that often land them back in jail.

Sometimes it's just a matter of keeping them busy.

"I haven't got time to do anything bad," said Mickey James Waldrop, a parolee who lives in Forest Park.

Waldrop said Morris and the other parole officers have helped him out with substance abuse classes and other assistance.

Substance abuse of one form or another is a major problem among parolees.

Georgia parole officers are required to have a four-year college degree. They undergo an eight-week training course when they are hired and must be retrained at least every two years.

The parole and probation systems are needed for several reasons, Morris said. It's more cost effective for one thing, with the state's prison system already crammed with 50,000 prisoners and thousands more transferring over from county jails every month.

And Morris said that most prisoners who are released early into supervised freedom are less likely to go back to jail than those who serve the full length of their sentence and are simply let go on their own.

Officers are experiencing heavy caseloads all around the state due to budget cuts and a hiring freeze. They handle an average of 75 offenders each and up to 100 each in large cities.

The purpose of dedicating this week to the state's probation and parole officers is to increase public awareness of what they do.

"The truth is, parole officers play a critical role in the safety of Georgia communities," Georgia's Parole Board Chairman Milton E. Nix Jr. said in a statement.