The most difficult task for many probation officers is providing individual attention to their charges while also dealing with an overwhelming workload. Many probation programs are understaffed, and this means that officers will often have more probation cases assigned to them than they are able to manage effectively.
This can lead to major issues for both the officers and their charges. Douglas Bruce, a former prisoner on probation in the Denver, Colorado Adult Probation Department, is a perfect example. Bruce was placed under strict economic probation. Economic probation requires that Bruce report to his probation officer whenever he takes on any kind of financial obligation or debt alongside a variety of other restrictions.
However, the overworked Denver probation department, which was severely understaffed with 7 fewer officers than needed, was unable to keep proper tabs on Bruce. Bruce was found to have violated his probation repeatedly, buying at least two dozen properties and racking up 63,000 in unpaid property taxes, fines, and liens. All of these would have been things he needed to report to his probation officer and could have been warning signs that Bruce needed to be reigned in. Instead, these violations have led to another jail sentence.
Dealing with someone like Bruce can be difficult even with an appropriately staffed department. Instead, officers are left balancing emergency cases like his with a stream of lower risk individuals and trying to find ways to meet the needs of both. If an officer focuses on someone like Bruce and gives them the attention they need, they risk missing warning signs from their other charges that could one day develop into full-blown criminal activity.
For probation programs to remain impactful, it is absolutely crucial that new POs continue to enter the field.