Sen. Gratwick’s bill would review effectiveness of probation officers

Posted: May 12, 2017 | Senator Gratwick

AUGUSTA — A bill by Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, would establish a working group to increase the effectiveness of probation officers within the Maine Department of Corrections.

The bill — LD 589, “Resolve, To Establish a Working Group to Review the Function and Mission of Probation Officers and Establish a Licensing Procedure” — received a public hearing Monday before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Probation officers are responsible for ensuring that offenders successfully reintegrate in the community, and have a crucial role to play in preventing their clients from re-offending. Incarceration is costly to taxpayers, county jails are overcrowded and recidivism rates in Maine are still too high.

The legislation would create a working group to review the mission and function of probation officers within the department, and to make recommendations to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee by January of 2018.

“Probation officers have a vital and often underappreciated role in making our criminal justice system work,” said Sen. Gratwick. “Society’s goal cannot be simple to lock up those who have done wrong doing; we must also reintegrate them back into our society as productive, tax paying citizens.”

Gratwick submitted the bill after working on this issue with the Reverend Stan Moody of Bangor. Moody, who also testified before the committee, cited the lack of oversight and transparency in the hiring of probation officers as a reason for case overload and an inclination to drop difficult cases.

“There is a great need for transparency and independent oversight,” said Moody. “We need to have an independent ombudsman to whom probationers can turn if they run into problems.”

Moody is  a senior pastor at the Columbia Street Baptist Church in Bangor and was a chaplain at the Maine State Prison. He is a former state legislator and the founder and director of the Columbia Street Project, a resource center dedicated to helping families and individuals who have been involved with the criminal justice system.

LD 589 faces further action in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee, and votes in the House and Senate.