Probation Officers have dedicated themselves to the task of rehabilitating criminals into functioning members of society. That task is never more pressing than when it relates to a unique subset of the criminal justice system – juvenile justice.
Many troubled and orphaned kids are placed under the watch of a social worker responsible for their well being. Some kids instead find themselves under the watchful eye of a probation officer after committing crimes and proving themselves to be potentially dangerous to the communities in which they live.
The Los Angeles Times tells the story of Jesse Opela, a member of the foster system in California. For a variety of reasons, Opela has spent his teen years bouncing from home to home and has had trouble making it work in any one place for very long. Opela claims that he was abused and mistreated in one of his foster homes, and has committed several crimes while in the foster system, which has made it difficult to place him.
Opela recently sought adoption by a Chaplain that he had bonded with, but after an incident with his girlfriend that led Opela to run away from the juvenile facility he currently resides in, the adoption may fall through.
Opela’s case is filled with difficult incidents that paint a picture of a troubled youth, and he is not alone. There are 808 other members of the probationary foster system that are also watched over by probation officers. Their cases present a unique challenge to probation officers as they help to oversee the development of these young people into functioning adults, potentially lifting the children out of what otherwise could have been a lifetime of crime and dysfunction.
Opela still has a long way to go, but when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he said a probation officer. It is the guiding influence of probation officers that see these kids not as future criminals but as people in need of help, that can make the difference.