A recent article from the Miami Herald reported 66 probation officers lost their jobs last week as part of state budget cuts. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections was quoted as saying the cuts ''minimizes the impact to public safety."
Excuse me for being blunt, but I disagree and encourage Governor Crist to veto this matter.
Crime problems are often given to law enforcement to solve with the mistaken belief that arrests will make societal problems disappear. What many fail to realize is the important role the other partners of the criminal justice system play in our public safety system and efforts to improve the community's quality of life. Those other partners include the courts and corrections - and that includes probation officers.
Applying classical criminology theory to this discussion, offenders do not offend when they have a rational choice between punishment and avoiding punishment. The theory goes on to suggest people do not offend when the chance of getting caught is high (the role of the community and police), the chances are good of being convicted and having sanctions applied swiftly (the role of the courts), and then having to experience the consequences of those sanctions (the role of corrections). Any weakening of the entire system will have an affect on public safety.
To put it another way, who is going to ensure the offenders serving their sentence via probation comply with the terms and conditions of the sentence? If no one is going to watch over offenders who roam about our society without fear of repercussion for violating the terms of their probation, then can we really expect offenders to do the right thing?
People on probation do not always comply with the stipulations of their probationary status; in other words they sometimes reoffend and are rearrested because their probation officer held them accountable for following the rules. I question who will now hold these offenders accountable for obeying the law? The remaining probation officers already have heavy caseloads and can not just take on more cases without jeopardizing the quality of oversight. The end result will be more reoffending without proper supervision.
No one wants to make painful budget cuts to existing services, and certainly the decision to reduce the number of probation officers in our state was a difficult choice to make. As someone who has faced hard budgetary choices, I support the leadership who had to address this budget shortage. However, I disagree with the assertion that reducing the number of probation officers will have a minimal impact on public safety. In these challenging budget times, public safety needs to be a top priority and receive full funding.
It will be nice if time proves me to be wrong on this one, but I believe making such a suggestion ignores the vital role probation officers have in the entire public safety system. I am equally curious to hear what you think.
- Asst Chief Bill LePere