Probation and Prison Activity
You could have been in the same situation yourself. Instead, it is Mary Lee Smith, one of your probationers, who is about to stand before the judge in a probation revocation hearing.
When you and your husband split 10 years ago, you had two children and eventually had to declare bankruptcy and accept food stamps to be able to pay the rent. After seven years working as a secretary at the nearby state juvenile corrections center, receiving constant encouragement from Mrs. Jones, the superintendent, and taking advantage of a criminal justice scholarship program, you finished a degree in administration of justice and qualified for an entry-level position with the community resources division of the state department of corrections. You advanced as the system grew, and now, three years later, you are a probation supervisor in Judge Longworth’s court.
In a way, Mary Lee is as much a victim as she is an offender. Married at seventeen, she quit high school and moved west with her husband who was in the army. By the time she was twenty, she had two children and was divorced. With babysitters to pay and skills that would command no more than minimum wage, Mary Lee turned to such income supplements as shoplifting, bad check writing, and occasionally prostitution. Her check-passing skills developed rapidly, and it was not long before she had amassed a series of convictions, not to mention several lesser offenses for petty larceny that were disposed of by the prosecutor’s declaration of nolle prosequi. To date, Mary Lee has not served a day in prison. Judge Longworth has used admonition, restitution, suspended sentence, and probation to rehabilitate Mary Lee. However, Mary Lee’s criminal conduct has persisted, as has her inability to stretch her food stamps, welfare payments, and part-time minimum-wage employment into a satisfactory existence for herself and her children. To complicate the matter, the welfare safety net that had helped keep Mary Lee and her children afloat would cease to exist for her within 24 months.
Judge Longworth has called you into his chambers before the hearing. He read your violation report with interest. You pointed out Mary Lee’s family obligations and the imminent possibility that the children would have to be placed in foster homes if she were confined. You also pointed out that she has been faithful in making restitution and that she maintains a steady church relationship and a good home environment for her children. Although your report is fair and accurate, you realize that the judge has sensed your misgivings and uncertainty concerning Mary Lee.
Judge Longworth looks up from your report and comes directly to the point. “Do you really believe this woman deserves to go back into the community? You certainly seem to have found some redeeming features in her conduct that I don’t,” he says. “Unfortunately, it appears to me that the only way she is going to learn to respect other people’s property is to be deprived of her own freedom. I think the community is getting pretty tired of this kind of repetitive criminal conduct.” Judge Longworth looks to you expectantly for an answer.
You are on the spot. You know your answer might put Mary Lee in the penitentiary or give her another chance on probation. The judge will make up his own mind, but you know he values your opinion.
Should Mary Lee be sent to prison or allowed to remain on probation?
Is there anything else you can do as a probation officer to help Mary Lee make a more successful adjustment regarding living within the limits of the law?
Is it enough for the courts or society to tell someone like Mary Lee not to commit petty larceny, or does our system have a moral duty to provide her with support services that could increase her chance of success?
Probation and Prison Activity
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