Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 4: 
What Probation and Parole Officers Do 
with Gang Clientele

While visiting an alternative middle school in St. Louis' inner-city, I was handed a blank envelop containing a statement written by a gang member on June 17, 1997. He originally gave the statement to one of his teachers, a coordinator of after-school programs at his school. The coordinator wanted to share it with me. In his own words, this is what the gang member wrote.

I've Come To This

I am the decisive element in the out come of my life, my dreams, and my goals. It is my personal approach that creates my surrounding my do's and don'ts.  It is my daily mood from sun up to sun down that makes for a bad or a good day.  As a person I posses the tremendous power to make life miserable embarrable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.  I can humiliate or hurt, or comfort an embrace those in need.  In any given situation it is my response to the call that decides whether a cresies will escalate or de-escalate an I have come to this conclusion.  I am my own keeper know one can keep me from the wrong nor can I nor will I be deprived from the rights for know one can protect me better then me, I must know the difference from right and wrong an the final judgment will lie on know one but me.  I have come to this conclusion about me.  With a clear body soul and mind I can truely serve and protect me.

Field Note: A probation officer told me "If I see hope in a client I'll work especially hard to try and help. But where it's missing, there's little that I can do."
bulletThe Client Mix
bulletFormats for Delivery of Service to Gang Members
bulletWhich Format is Best?
bulletCommentary from the Field
bulletWhat Kinds of Services do Gang Clients Need?
bulletThe Ingredients Needed for Successful Treatment
bulletServices Offered Directly by Probation and Parole Officers
bulletHow successful are their efforts?


The probation and parole officers I interviewed shared certain perceptions of gangs and gang members. To some extent, their perceptions were determined by the location of their offices in their respective communities. The neighborhood in which an office was located determined where most of the gang members on their caseloads lived and, therefore, the officers' perception of the gang situation.

In one city, for example, there was a probation/parole office on the west side of town (Latino gang territory), another on the north side (Asian gang territory), and yet another in the central east side (African-American gang territory). Officers interviewed in each of the offices expressed views of the gang situation which reflected both their familiarity with the "local" gang situation and their lack of knowledge about the gang situation in other parts of the city.

Regardless of their location in the city, few probation/parole officers believed gang members came only from the poorest neighborhoods in a community. Rather, they felt gang members lived in every part of town, came from every social class, were of both genders, and represented practically all racial and ethnic groups in the city. However, when asked, most admitted gang members are more likely to come from the poorer parts of town.

The following is the answer I was given to the question "What characteristics do your gang clientele share in common?" While admittedly the view of only one probation and parole officer, it is representative of the answers given by many of the juvenile officers, probation and parole officers, and counselors I interviewed. This particular probation and parole officer had four years of experience working with gang clients in a city of 650,000 people. She said

They have anger control issues and they are beyond parental control - they're wild. They like taking risks and they walk away from commitments. If they are asked to do something from which they see no personal benefit, they are not likely to do it. They lack motivation to do things for which there is no clear personal benefit.

They are male and highly stressed. They are quiet bombs waiting to go off. They want to be recognized and known and they often act without thinking of the consequences of their actions. They're impulsive. 

Demographically speaking, they are in either one of two groups. One group are the ones who are 16 years of age or under. These are black males [in her caseload] who come from single parent families, from the lower economic strata of society and have no positive male role models in their lives. Instead, they have negative male role models - men who abandon them, don't work, they drink or do other drugs and are violent or lazy, and they don't care about other people. They seem to value nothing and have no conscience. They're cold hearted.

Then there are the 17 to 25 year olds. These gang members have discovered the differences between the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system and have learned to manipulate the process. As juveniles they were wilder and louder, now they have become cold. Either they don't care about things or they hide their feelings. When they do something that might be considered wrong, they rationalize their actions and accept no guilt. Gang members in these situations feel they are simply "teaching someone a lesson," much like the lessons they learned early in life.

They were usually abused as children, although they didn't think of the treatment as abuse. They simply saw being beaten as being taught a lesson. It was the way one person communicated displeasure to another person. They lack formal education but are very smart. They were likely kicked out of school for misbehaving, not for having poor grades. They are calculating and, when they choose to do something, will go to great pains to plan their strategy for achieving their goal. 

They find it hard to leave the gang, much as anyone would find it difficult to leave a loving family. As to visions of the future, they don't see one for themselves other than premature death or imprisonment.

A male probation and parole officer in a large mid-west city told me he believed gang youths have little hope about experiencing a positive future. I asked him why he thought they believed that and he said "It's their family history. They don't see any pattern of success at home. And there are no positive role models at home and few in their neighborhood. It's about the nature of the inner-city - you know, high unemployment, underemployment, poor housing. It breeds desperation. They're desperate." I asked him what he thought probation/parole officers could do to counter this desperation and hopelessness. "Get them busy working on their education," he said. If they're older, "Get them job training. Keep them around positive influences." If the gang situation permeates the neighborhood, "Then we need more neighborhood involvement" to save these kids.

I asked a seasoned probation/parole officer to describe the environment from which his gang clientele come. He said "People are living on top of one another and there is a lot of displaced hostility. They are angry and there are always new people moving into the neighborhood."

The Client Mix

Not all probationers and parolees are alike in the kinds of offenses they commit. Among them are murderers, people who commit assault, sex offenders, gangsters, the psychologically disturbed, and others. Larger probation and parole offices are designed to meet the demands and needs of these various categories of offenders by having their officers specialize. Smaller, sometimes rural, offices are not specialized and individual officers must each learn to deal with a wide variety of offender types.

Gang member offenders are, in the words of one probation and parole officer, "a breed apart." The nature of their offending distinguishes them from non-gang offenders. Gang members have a cadre of fellow gangsters who encourage and support their criminality. If helping a non-gang offender change his or her life to break away from criminality is difficult, it is even more difficult to accomplish the same end with clients whose associates discourage change and demand continued criminality.

Formats for Delivery of Service to Gang Members

From what I observed, there are at least three ways in which a probation/parole office may configure the use of its personnel in order to deal with gang member clients.  

bulletRandom Assignment: Randomly assign gang member clients across all officers. Depending upon how many officers and gang members there are, all officers will have one or more gang members on their caseloads.

bulletCase Emphasis Assignment: Assign most gang members to some of the officers but no officer has a gang-only caseload.

bulletGang Caseload Specialization: Assign all gang members to one or more officers as needed. No officer has a mixed caseload - some have gang members only, others have no gang members.

The format used by each department I observed seemed to reflect the politics of admitting whether or not there were gangs in the community or the number of gang members on probation or parole. It also reflected an apparent concern on the part of administrators for the safety of their officers.

Field Note: An administrator of a large probation and parole office with a gang specialist officer told me he is "concerned about her safety. We know she's had a death threat - one of her parolees made it to her face."

A probation and parole officer in the same office suggested "The philosophy of upper administration [in the department of corrections], as it filters down through the probation and parole structure, determines the approach taken by our officers. That philosophy, right now, is to not create specialized case loads of gang members or recognize any special treatment needs for gang clients."

This community of 448,000 residents has, according to police, over 5,000 documented gang members in some 116 known gangs. It is rumored that there are as many as 1,000 gang members on probation or parole in this city. There is only one officer with a gang caseload. It consists of 130 gang members. 

Spergel and his associates (Spergel, et al., 1994) found that organizing a probation and parole office to address the local youth gang situation was the exception rather than the rule.

Most probation departments and parole units have not given special attention to the gang problem, particularly through special units and procedural arrangements. However, innovative approaches have been developed, for example, in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and Orange County in California. The specialized programs emphasize suppression in collaboration with law enforcement, and to a lesser extent, close coordination with community-based youth service agencies. These programs may involve vertical case management and intensive supervision.

A few probation and parole units have experimented with combinations of individual and group counseling, remedial education and alternative school arrangements, employment training, job placement, and residential care. (Spergel, et al., 1994, p. 9)

Which Format is Best?

There are arguments on both sides of the issue as to whether one or the other format for assigning gang clientele should be used. Favoring specialized case loads are the arguments that officers with only gang clients develop a greater understanding of their clients' social environment, gang, their clients' role in the gang, and the nature of the people with whom clients associate. According to this premise, given the unique culture of a gang, a better understanding of it should facilitate the process of helping clients help themselves.

Arguments against specialization include the heightened danger to which affected probation or parole officers may be exposed, the amount of stress that dealing with gang members may produce in the officers, and the resulting labeling of clients as gang members due to whom their cases were assigned (dealing with them as gang members first rather than as individuals).   

Field Note: The administrator of the Office of Probation and Parole expressed his concern with having officers specializing in gangs. He said "Given the steady movement of officers from one office to the next, resignations, and replacements, it's difficult to expect to build up expertise on the gang problem in any one officer and have that mean anything over time."

He also expressed his concern regarding the labeling some clients as gang members. He said "You have to realize that there any many neighborhood youths who dress and move like gang members to simply protect themselves They are not gang members. So determining who should go on an officer's gang case load is sometimes unclear."

My own observations of officers in all three formats suggest there should be officers who specialize in working with gang members even if their tenure in that position is for only a few years. The following are among my reasons I favor specialization.

bulletIn order to better understand a gang-member client, a probation/parole officer must have an understanding of the gang situation in the community. In order to do that, they must be tuned in to it daily as the situation on the street is always changing. 

Among those situations are: knowing which gangs and gang members are at one another's throats; who the gang members, associates, and wannabes are; where they hang out; where their crimes are committed; what kinds of crimes they commit and with whom; and whether their parents are involved in a gang. Non-gang-specialized officers do not possess this level of familiarity with their local gang members.

bulletSpecialized probation/parole officers should become an integral part of the community's task force on gangs and youth violence (if available) and play an important role as educators for the entire community.  

Included are educating school administrators, teachers, and students about gangs and being available to make presentations to area business- and faith organizations and others interested in knowing more about gangs. Non-gang specialized officers do not possess enough information to provide this needed service.

bulletProbation/parole officers who work with gang members need to have a good working relationship with the local police gang unit/officer and the gang-assigned prosecutors, where they exist. An information flow among these parties is necessary in order to get a handle on the gang situation and, by doing so, a handle on one's clients' needs.

For a community with a police gang unit/officer and a gang-assigned prosecutor, it only makes sense to have both juvenile officers and probation and parole officers who specialize in gang clientele. Communication among all of these parties is enhanced by gang specialization and clients, too, may benefit from such an alignment.

For example, if a police gang unit member happens upon someone new who is associating with a document gang member, the officer would know there are gang specialist juvenile officers (if the new person is a juvenile) and probation and parole officers (if the new person is an adult) to whom he can forward the newly acquired information. Information can be a powerful ally in getting help to those who need it.

Commentary from the Field

I asked several probation/parole officers whether they thought having a specialized gang caseload was a good idea or not. What follows are the responses of two officers, both of which reflect the larger group interviewed. One of the officers had a gang specialized caseload, the other had a gang emphasis in her caseload (some of her clients are not gang members). Here's how they answered the question.  

Joan, the gang specialist officer, in an email received in July of 2001, wrote 

If an officer truly is interested in assisting gang members to overcome this lifestyle, a specialized caseload would help them become more familiar with ways to get out of a gang, where to send someone for tattoo removal, where to send gang members for counseling, etc.

Having a specialized gang caseload affords the officer the opportunity to personally know the gang members in the community. At times, I have asked the assistance of other gang members in locating clients (other gang members), and in encouraging these clients to report. If a gang member was having serious problems, I have had ex-gang members assist in providing pro-social support. 

Finally, I was able to begin new programs to assist gang members and their families, i.e., "How to Gang-Proof Your Child"- through a local treatment agency, educating elementary, middle school, and high school students with the assistance of ex-gang members, the "Stress Management Program" at the Probation and Parole Office where a massage therapy program was used to help reduce assaultive behavior, the late night basketball program between cops and gang members, and a public art project that involved at-risk kids that could be or were already attracted to gangs.

Suzanne, the other officer, wrote

I think they should be specialized. Gang members are a breed apart. With the ones I have worked with, if you gain a form of trust and respect up front, they will turn their lives around. If they bounce from officer to officer, like a normal caseload does, then there is no trust and respect. 

Many of them are lacking something in their childhood that they think they get from the gang. One of those things is stability.   I provided this [to one of my gang clients] from the beginning.  His mom took off and he didn't know where she went but I was there. He went to jail, had different employers, brothers and sister came and went, friends came and went, girlfriends came and went ... but I was there. 

I noticed if I got clients from an officer that didn't like gang members or didn't really 'care' about them, then I can't develop the kind of relationship I need to get them to succeed on their probation. That is also why an officer that doesn't want to work with gang members shouldn't. 

A drug user uses because of an addiction or to escape reality or because the enjoy the buzz. No matter what relationship you have with them, they will not stop until they want to, no matter what support you offer them. Sex offenders are assigned to specialized officers for the same reason. You have to develop a relationship with them in order to understand them and get that trust. 

Often sex offenders will let you know when they are going to re-offend if they feel they have respect and trust with you.  (Email, July, 2001)

The command personnel I interviewed in police departments with gang units expressed the opinion that organizing to deal with the gang situation was more effective than not organizing for it. That is, police departments with a unit that specialized in gangs were viewed as more effective in dealing with the local gang phenomenon than departments which did not specialize. Likewise, prosecutors expressed the same belief and have, in many jurisdictions, assigned one or more of their deputy prosecutors to specialize in gang cases. 

This trend toward specializing at the law enforcement and prosecutorial levels begs the question Why shouldn't juvenile and adult probation and parole officers specialize in the same manner? The knowledge each gathers is enhanced by specialization and has the potential for facilitating communication among all parties.

What Kinds of Services do Gang Clients Need?

Like many non-gang clientele, gang clientele often require a wide range of services in order to be helped out of the situation in which probation/parole officers find them. The services required run the gamut from needing a substitute family to job training and legitimate employment opportunities, as noted in the discussion of why gangs form.

Observations in the field suggest the most needed services are for anger management (being able to resolve conflicts without resorting to physical violence), substance abuse intervention, individual counseling to deal with the impact of the client's home life on their current situation (i.e., abusive and/or drug dependent parents), academic preparation (i.e., learning to write and read, completing a high school or equivalent education), and job training and placement. Helping replace gang associates with non-gang friends is a must and a challenge to accomplish.

Field Note: In regards to the differing needs of non-gang-member clients and gang-member-clients, a juvenile officer with nine years of experience working with gang members said "The level of supervision is definitely different. There needs to be more field work since a large portion of their problem is being in the gang itself, so you need to ensure they are steering clear of those associates and activities. Also, the safety factor [for the officers] is an issue. 

"There needs to be a significant amount of gang knowledge on the part of the officer to deal with these people, not just basic stuff. A huge need is for counselors that are familiar with gangs and who specialize in dealing with them, what they are going through, and their frame of mind. 

"Substance abuse issues will always be there with gang members. Employment training is also needed to provide a legitimate means of income and usually alternative education since they have been kicked out of school, dropped out, or habitually truant -  at least to get them back into the swing of things."

The Ingredients Needed for Successful Treatment

At least five ingredients are needed in order for the treatment of gang- and non-gang members on probation or parole to be successful. First, the community must be sufficiently concerned about juvenile delinquents and criminals to provide treatment services for them. Without services, there are no alternatives to incarceration. 

Second, probation and parole officers must know about the services that are available. This requires a willingness on the part of the officers to learn what programs are out there and to participate in on-going training (i.e., to learn about new services, new technologies).

Third, judges must know about and be willing to recommend alternative sentences (i.e., to community-based services).

Fourth, offenders must be motivated to change their own behavior. The absence of any of these criteria will negatively impact the outcome of the probation/parole process.

Finally, employers and landlords must be willing to extend job training, jobs, housing and other basic elements of social life to those who are on probation/parole or who have successfully completed their probation/parole.

Field Note: A parole officer said  "A person has to be ready or motivated to change his or her behavior. It isn't a matter of what I can do. It's what my client can do for him- or herself. I can be a positive, supportive, and motivating partner ... but that's all."

Services Offered Directly by Probation and Parole Officers

"Being There"

Sharing observations, insights, and simply listening to and caring about clients has a positive impact on certain gang members. Several officers told me they felt this was more likely to occur with very young offenders and much older ones. Some of the young ones, they felt, could be diverted from further immersion into a gang by providing a positive alternative because they are not yet committed to the gang life. Older gang clients - 24 or 25 years of age or older in the officers' experience - are sometimes willing to listen to advice and participate in treatment because they are tired of the gang life, suffered enough pain, are getting married and/or becoming parents, or for any combination of these or other reasons.

The probation and parole officers I observed tried to provide their clients with structure and discipline, particularly their gang clientele. Chaiken found that 

A growing number of researchers and policy analysts agree that the decline [in juvenile violence in many US cities] is largely attributable to concerted community efforts to bring adolescents under the control of adults who have the authority to make and make known clear and specific rules for behavior ... and fair sanctions [punishments] for breaking these rules. (Chaiken, 2000, p. 12)

In-House Programs

I observed a variety of in-house probation/parole programs in which gang- and non-gang clients participated. The content of the programs emphasized the development of self-esteem and learning how to work cooperatively with others. An example of one such program was Day Report. While neither intended nor designed specifically for gang clientele, gang members are sometimes sent to a Day Report Center for treatment. The program, supervised by probation and parole staff, typically requires participants to be involved for periods of from one to several months and for several hours every week day.  

Among the activities in which they participate are small group discussions focusing upon values and ethics, high school equivalency (G.E.D.) classes, meetings with social workers and psychologists, and group activities which build trust and confidence. Job training may be offered by outside professionals and presentations may be made on how to search for a job, complete a job application and other contracts, manage one's own finances, and where and how to shop for bargains.

Field Note: Describing her clients, a probation/parole officer said "Most are unemployed or are frequently employed - skipping from job to job. Many of them lack social skills and have been unsuccessful when placed under less supervision than required of the Day Report Center (DRC) program.

"The DRC program requires attendance every week day from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. In all, the program runs for ninety days. As a level of supervision, it's the highest of all - much higher than Intensive Supervision. Clients experience three 'Phases' in the program and are expected, by Phase III, to have found full time employment.

"In order to graduate, the client also has to be drug free throughout Phase III - for 30 days. Throughout Phases I and II the client learns about the social skills needed to live a full life in the community. Most of the workshops on budget management, conflict resolution, community awareness, chemical dependency, group therapy, victim empathy, job skills, learning how to behave during a job interview, and others are offered by professional trainers, not by probation and parole officers.

"Day Report is an integrative program - it tries to integrate clients back into the community with a job, better social skills, a sense of self-worth, and a willingness to work with others. While they're in the program, clients do community service. They have adopted about a mile of [a busy commercial street in town]. They volunteer regularly to serve food at [a residential hotel for homeless families] and have helped put wood chips on the local rail-to-trail path."  

I asked about how the program seems to effect the clients. She said "It keeps them busy all day and off the streets. It gets them up in the morning and gets them motivated. I've seen it."

Among the criteria for admission into a Day Report Center I observed were that the offender had performed poorly in a less restrictive supervision level, that he or she had two or more special need categories, and was within one year of being released from probation or parole.

Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring of clients is a method of "treatment" offered by some probation and parole departments. The purpose of electronic monitoring is to provide cost effective monitoring and supervision of low-risk clients which allows continued schooling or employment and assures some level of safety for the community.

Clients who are thought to be appropriate candidates for this form of supervision are fitted with a device which wraps around one ankle and transmits remotely their whereabouts through a telephone line.

An Ankle-Worn Transmitter
for electronic monitoring.
Picture printed with permission.

Arrangements can be made to allow those being monitored to leave their residences to go to school, work, doctor's appointments, shopping, etc.  Monitored by the probation and parole office, clients who abscond (go missing without permission) are reported to the police.

Home Visits

Home visits used to be part and parcel of what a probation and parole officer did. Today, they are a luxury. Not only are home visits time consuming (i.e., drive time, the client may not be home or may have moved), they can also be dangerous. I asked a gang specialist probation/parole officer if home visits made any sense today. She said 

I think they do. I can determine if the address the client gave on their original papers is accurate or phony. I sometimes can determine who my client associates with by the cars parked in his driveway or in front of his house or apartment. Sometimes I have an opportunity to speak with a client's relatives or spouse and that has value. Graffiti or other indicators on or around my clients' property suggests gang membership or some kind of affiliation and it reveals which gang they may belong to and who my clients' are associating with.

Field Note: I escorted a probation and parole officer during home visits today. There was one client she hasn't been able to locate for several months. After the first month she submitted a report to the court indicating he had absconded. As we drove through one neighborhood she noticed graffiti sprayed on two intersecting streets and on the adjoining sidewalk in front of an apartment house at the corner. Several different gangs were represented and there was a tagger who had written his name several times - "KILR" (killer).  

We got out of the car and the officer began looking through all the graffiti and suddenly turned to me and shouted "Amazing! I've been looking for this guy for months! He must live here - this is new stuff." The graffiti was still fresh - it hadn't been worn down by traffic as yet. She knocked on an apartment door and the person who answered, upon being asked, knew the individual the officer was looking for. She left her calling card and wrote "Paid a home visit ... call me," on the back of it.

Additional Restrictions

Several of the probation and parole officers interviewed said they impose the following guidelines upon certain of their gang clientele: 

bulletlimiting their associations with known gang members and associates;

bulletrestricting where they may be at any time (not on certain corners, buildings, parks, or where ever else gangs may gather);

bulletimposing curfews;

bulletnot permitting the wearing of colors;

bulletnot permitting the carrying of cell phones or beepers (used for drug dealing); and

bulletimposing restrictions on attending gang-related funerals.

Other Concerns

Among other tactics used by some probation and parole officers are unannounced home and place of employment visits. Due to the risks involved, this doesn't seem to be a very popular tactic, but it may be an effective one. Among other things, a surprise visit may reveal who clients are associating with, whether they are using illegal drugs, and if they are going to work (or school, or a mandated treatment program) or not.

Scheduling office visits can be a tricky matter if clients from rival gangs arrive in the waiting room at the same time. This occurred in one of the research cities just days before I arrived. Holes in the walls of the Waiting Room from chairs being thrown were visible evidence of the mayhem that resulted.

Field Note: A probation and parole gang specialist officer told me "When gang clients report to my office I sometimes ask them to empty their pockets on to my desk. If I find a pager or cell phone I use it to find out what phone numbers the client has been getting calls from or is calling." She then checks those names with the names of persons the client is not allowed to associate with according to his or her conditions of probation or parole.

Some probation and parole officers use gang databases created by law enforcement agencies in their jurisdictions. The databases are valued for several reasons, among them their ability to provide information needed prior to a home visit (knowing if there may be a safety concern) and their use in keeping conflicting gang members from coming into contact with one another during office visits to the probation and parole office.

There may be other tactics used with gang members, but most of the tactics used are also used with non-gang member clients since, other than their gang status, they share much in common with them (i.e., a need for structure, discipline, and schooling, a relationship with a caring adult, a positive role mode, guidance, assistance in finding a job or job training, housing, marital/relationship counseling, and food).

Extending Oneself

A parole officer with a specialized case load of dangerous felons expressed her belief that one of the solutions to the gang situation is better parenting. She believed this so completely that she signed up for and received special training on effective parenting so she could offer it to clients who needed it.

Upon completing the course she gathered related information to share with all of her nearly 100 fellow probation and parole officers and sent an announcement asking them to send her clients they thought would profit from the training. "A few weeks later," she said, "no one replied and no one has sent me a client. I think the reason for that is it would require additional conversation with their clients during appointments and consume too much of the officers' time."  

Like several other probation and parole officers I interviewed, she believes many of her colleagues simply follow the conditions of probation/parole as handed down by the court and don't add anything - even if it would help the client.  

Field Note: The probation officer told me that "To do other than what is specified in the conditions [of probation] is to take time away from doing something else that I need to do. There are just too many people on my caseload to spend time talking with clients and determining what their needs really are."  

This is the same officer I observed with a client who was so high he could hardly open his blood-shot eyes. At the end of the visit, after the client left, I asked the probation/parole officer "Did you notice he was high on something." "Sure," he replied. "I don't have time for that. I'd have to drop him [give him a urine test], analyze the sample, and write up a report. I don't have time for that!"  

I learned later that it was the sixth consecutive visit with this client during which he was high. This circumstance was not unique to this officer.

In another community, three female probation/parole officers were offering a Positive Solutions program (see the link below to another Positive Solutions program) to their clients, which included a few gang members. The problem was that all three were volunteers because their administrator didn't have resources available to hire trained personnel to run the program. The three well-intended but incompetent officers struggled through something about which they knew very little, but they were determined to try and help.

Some probation and parole officers do much more than their jobs require. They volunteer for community-wide efforts of all kinds including those that focus on improving the life of children and families. One of the officers I observed won the city's "Volunteer of the Year Award." But these, and similar efforts, have a negative impact both on the amount of time spent with clients and on the general stress level of the officers.  

How successful are their efforts?

The officers I interviewed thought that, if success in their work meant their clients didn't get arrested again, they had a 20% to 40% success rate. None of them knew with any certainty whether they had been successful or not. There is no formal mechanism for obtaining feedback on whether a client ever reoffended or not.

Other officers defined success as "breaking the law less often," "only getting high once in a while instead of all the time," or "holding a job for 2 months instead of just 2 days." No probation/parole office had statistics on the recidivism rate of their clients.

Nor was information available on whether one type of program worked better than another in reducing participation in gang activity among gang clients. Everything presented to me was either hearsay or conjecture. I wonder how much of it was wishful thinking.

This brief overview of some of the forms of treatment provided by probation and parole officers may serve as a backdrop against which we can explore our next topic - a "typical" morning of office visits from gang clients.


Additional Resources: At the following sites you can learn more about electronic monitoring in Canada and read about an example of a Day Report program as practiced in the Sacramento County (CA) Probation Department.

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.