Teaming police with parole officers Common sense: Simple concept might reduce recidivism, make neighborhoods safer.

September 21, 1997

SOMETIMES PROBLEM-SOLVING only needs to involve simple steps long overlooked. For example, the state's "Hotspots" initiative to fight crime is placing greater emphasis on monitoring convicts out on parole. Could anything be simpler?

People in neighborhoods beset by crime have long complained of repeat felons who never seem to spend enough time in prison. Without strict supervision, they resort to old habits. That's always been the case with criminals; some are rehabilitated, many are not.

Exacerbating the problem are probation and parole systems that have fallen into some bad habits. Parole officers overwhelmed with heavy caseloads haven't worked with police. The result is parolees who never fear being caught violating the rule that they shun criminal elements.

But under the "Hotspots" program, probation officers won't be sitting in an office waiting for clients to report to them. They will be out on the street with police officers, seeing for themselves who is hanging out on drug corners.

Parolees and probationers will soon learn that the terms of their release really do have to be met or they will end up back behind bars. In neighborhoods where a large percentage of the young adult male population is under court supervision, the closer scrutiny could make a big difference in reducing crime.

Street-based monitoring has been tried in Boston and in Prince George's County. It will be expanded to 35 Maryland communities designated under the federally funded "Hotspots" program. Boston police credit their project, dubbed "Operation Night Light," with a 10 percent reduction in the re-arrest of probationers. This type of program is especially effective with juveniles attracted to their former peers.

Police and probation officers have not talked enough to each other in the past. Now they will be working together to make sure that anyone loses the freedom they have been granted by the courts if they abuse it.

Increased monitoring may also be the incentive some parolees need to stay out of trouble. Either way, neighborhoods will be safer.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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