Probation and parole officers help navigate the formerly-incarcerated toward better lives

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jan 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-21 18:14:24-05

MISSOULA – It’s an important element to law enforcement: the officers who help supervise those on probation or on parole.

It’s a high-stakes job with gear and guns, and what they do protects the public and guides the formerly-convicted toward a better life.

“It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s meaningful, it’s important,” said Supervisor Kathleen Beccari. “These people that we service had been in trouble and they need to be supervised but they have needs as well. What we do is use our skills and our community resources to help them with whatever is going on in their lives that’s a barrier to being successful.”

There are 28 officers at Missoula’s adult Probation and Parole Office, supervising 1,400 people who are either on parole or on probation. These are the officers who help them not just abide by what the courts require of them as a condition of their release, but find a way to move forward.

“What I tell them, the goal is happy, and happy doesn’t look the same for everybody,” said Parole Officer Nate Martin. “Are you sober or do you have a safe place to live, or money? And having people you trust and things you like to do is a big part of that. If you’re just isolated all the time, you’re kind of waiting for disaster.”

Most of the officers are what is called Traditional Parole Officers, who have a caseload of about 85 people. Some specialize in supervising mental health clients or sex offenders or in what’s called ISP: intensive supervision for those now free after committing the most serious crimes.

Sometimes managing freedom isn’t easy.

Amy Rehbein serves in the Intensive Supervision Program:

“It’s kind of designed to help them gain some control over their time, control over their decisions, control over who they let into their lives,” said Amy Rehbein, who serves in the Intensive Supervision Program. “So they learn to get boundaries. Some have been locked up for a long time, so it’s hard to go from 24/7 of someone telling them when they are going to bed, when they are going to eat, when they get out. They suddenly have a world full of choices and they don’t know what to do. It’s overwhelming.”

The officers teach their clients the logistics of getting a day planned out to help them stay in control of their lives. What’s a challenge, these officers say, is finding affordable housing or employers willing to hire someone with a criminal record so they can start to rebuild their lives after incarceration.

“Some people really need someone to really care and point them in the right direction and come up with services,” said Jen Taverra with Probation and Parole. “We have such lack of resource for people who have chemical dependency problems and also being able to meet people’s basic needs, with housing and employment, so if you don’t have your basic needs met, nothing else is going to go well.”

The job does come with its dangers. Each officer works with a partner when they check on their probationers, but each say it’s worth it to help protect and serve everyone.

Funding to hire more officers to ease the heavy case load is something that would have to come from the state legislature.

Reporting by Jill Valley for MTN News