Field Trip to Community Corrections

This morning Jamie Markham and I loaded a passenger van with a group of district court judges who had come to the SOG for a week-long orientation course. We hauled them (through the snow) over to the offices of Community Corrections on Yonkers Road in Raleigh. Jamie lectured while I drove.

We took the judges over to probation headquarters so that in addition to learning about the law of probation from the expert (Jamie, obvi), they could meet, hear from, and question the people who set, write, and administer probation policy and who supervise probationers. The experience was amazing.

Senior Policy Administrator Chad Owens and Justice Reinvestment Administrator George Pettigrew told the judges how Community Corrections (probation) carries out the directives of Justice Reinvestment and probation law generally, from the big-picture (risk assessment) to the granular (routine drug screening). They answered questions about how probation officers respond to probation violations of various types and explained mechanics such as how a defendant ordered to complete treatment at DART-Cherry is assessed for substance dependency and how the defendant actually gets to the facility. And the list goes on.

Jessica Bullock, Chief Probation Parole Officer from District 10, passed around an electronic monitoring bracelet and described its features. Fun fact:  The bracelets can talk to the wearer, telling them to, for example, to immediately contact their probation officer. She talked about how electronic monitoring might work for a defendant without a permanent address. And she engaged in a mock dialogue with a judge to demonstrate how she would inform a probationer of a violation report. The best part of the day was when one of the judges asked Jessica what she would like judges to know. Jessica said she wanted judges to know that probation officers were dedicated to helping probationers emerge from probation better off than they had been before. She explained that probation officers are trained to consider the circumstances in a probationer’s life, to identify challenges that prevent probationers from successfully completing probation and to look for potential solutions—all of this while keeping the safety of public in mind. Jessica said she became a probation officer because she cared about people. And she said that she felt as though she had helped defendants, even those who had failed on probation before, make choices that made for a better life.

Tim Moose, Deputy Secretary of Operations for NC Public Safety, Tracy Lee, Director of Community Corrections, Chris Oxendine, Deputy Director of Community Corrections, and Angela Brewer, Assistant Judicial District Manager for District 10, rounded out our group. Each added perspective about probation operations that could never be gleaned from a book of statutes (or even the internet).

We ended our time at Community Corrections with a trip to the Correction Enterprises showroom. You can read more about that operation here. Like any good chaperone, I limited my charges to 10 minutes in what I called the “probation gift shop.”  I had to drag them out of there. Fortunately, no one had time to buy a fire pit to load in the van for the ride back to Chapel Hill.

At the end of the day. It was inspiring to see a group of dedicated people gather to learn from others—and each other—about the laws and procedures that play such a central role in the administration of justice. There are days when the work I do is rewarding beyond measure because it affords me a bird’s eye view of the commitment our state’s public servants have to improving lives and communities in North Carolina. Today was one of those days.