Probation focuses on community
Youth diversion program touted as
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
The Blaine County Probation Department
uses a lot of tools to help people get back on their feet following a journey
through the legal system, and one of them happens to be called The Velvet
"There are people out there who just donít
like me," said adult program manager Jodie Fuller, who bears the moniker. "I try
to be tough, and when they donít come through, the hammer comes down."
Itís a nickname Fuller wears with pride,
but she has a soft side, too. The probation department is there to help the
people who pass through its doors, she said.
"We really care about people. Thatís why
we do this job. Weíre not police officers," said Teresa Espedal, the probation
departmentís chief. "The way you effect change is through relationships."
The five-member Blaine County Probation
Department is the arm of the legal system that works with people convicted of
misdemeanor and juvenile offenses who have been ordered by a judge to seek its
services. More than half of its $250,000 budget comes from federal and state
grants, and it is on the cutting edge of the trade in Idaho.
Last year, Espedal was awarded the
Juvenile Administrator of the Year for Southeastern Idaho. The department has
also created a youth diversion program and board to deal with first-time youth
offenders. Between Oct. 1, 2002 and Sept. 30, 2003, the program diverted 73
youths from the formal court system.
Espedal and Fuller were particularly
sensitive to the perception that they are police officers. They are much more
than that, they said.
They work on rehabilitation, counseling
and prevention. They have the ability to turn their clients toward experts who
can help even more.
"You definitely want to give people the
chance to get back on the right road," Fuller said. "I like to ask them about
their goals and challenge them to achieve them and give them the right
The vast majority of the adults who pass
through the probation department have been convicted of driving under the
influence, Espedal said, adding that the vast majority are not repeat offenders.
"Thereís no failure, except in no longer
trying," Fuller said. "We really want to help people get better, get well and be
a productive community member."
As for the juvenile program, Espedal said
she believes strongly that it is more beneficial and cost-effective to work with
at-risk youths before they come in contact with the legal system. Thatís why the
department works closely with Youth Adult Connections, the After School Study
Club, the Youth Council Circles and other programs that focus on helping kids
before they get in trouble.
She also stressed that the diversion
program is working.
"We believe that our diversion program has
been a huge success and has diverted some juveniles from having further
involvement with the juvenile justice system," she said.
Of those who have passed through the
system, Espedal said she is excited with their progress and believes the entire
community benefits from their success.
Under Espedalís leadership, the probation
department is also continuing to turn its focus to "restorative and community
"This means that the emphasis of all the
work that we do with our clients is to repair the harm that was done to the
victim and the community," she said.
It also means focusing on the community so
that the offender has a connection and a stake in what happens within his or her
community, Espedal said.
To work in that direction, probation
officers are shifting the focus of some programs, conducting mediation between
victims and offenders and staffing cases on a regular basis to ensure that the
department is expanding its focus from the beginning of a case.
"We are excited and hopeful that this
shift will move our department from viewing offenders as recipients of services
and sometimes contributors to our community, to being contributors and stewards
within their community," she said.
Throughout an hour-long interview at the
departmentís new offices in Blaine Countyís new Courthouse Annex, Espedal and
Fuller threaded the discussion with the word, relationships. And that is why
they do what they do. It is about the people, they said.
"We definitely love it," Espedal said. "We
all love it."