Thursday, July 20, 2017

Intern Shadows Parole Officers in the Field

Photo of Kaitlin Ehrhart at the TDCJ Parole Office in Huntsville.

This summer, Kaitlin Ehrhart shadowed parole officers as they visited with clients returning from prison to their communities in Grimes, Leon, Madison, Polk, Trinity, Walker and parts of Houston counties in Texas.

“It is one of the career options I was looking at, but I didn’t know much about it,” said Ehrhart. “I knew the clients had to go see their parole officers, but I didn’t know much more. I found out they do a lot of paperwork, and they attend hearings. There is a lot more things involved.”

During her internship with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Parole Division in Huntsville, Ehrhart witnessed the life of parole officers first-hand by tagging along on office and home visits, attending hearings, answering calls in the office, and indexing records. She discovered that although each officer had his or her own way of handling the job, they all brought respect for their clients to the position.

“Every parole officer is different,” said Ehrhart. “Some are laid back, and some are more strict, but everyone had the same respect for the clients, addressed them “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” They usually don’t have many problems with their clients.”

Each caseload varies on the number of clients, which includes regular parolees, sex offenders, special needs offenders, those with electronic monitoring, super intensive parolees, those assigned to a therapeutic community and those with substance abuse issues. Each client had to follow his or her own parole conditions, which dictate how often they had to report, test for substance abuse, or attend required classes. During office visits, parole officers checked on compliance with those rules, such as whether clients had contact with police, whether they were using illegal substances, or how things were going at home.

Parole officers also visited clients at home to verify they were living at the approved residence. While at the residence, parole officers also kept a sharp eye on the surroundings to ensure there were no signs of drug or alcohol use and that the residence was in good general order. Parole officers also went to the home to install and activate electronic monitors, which are attached to a phone, and to explain to the client how to use it. Officers checked for violations daily, calling the clients if they failed to comply with curfews or conditions.

Ehrhart also attended parole violation hearings at the Walker County Jail. In a little room in the jail, separated from the client by a glass window, the hearing officer laid out the case, while the parole officer verified or discussed the charges.

After spending several weeks with parole officers, Ehrhart said she could see herself joining the team. “I really liked the people I worked with,” Ehrhart said. “It’s calm and quiet in the Huntsville office. I didn’t know what to expect, but I think I would like to work here.”

Ehrhart said that internships help “you put your foot in the door,” especially if you are starting a criminal justice career with little or no experience. Sam Houston State University offered classes that provided the background for careers in the field, but internships provided the professional experience to help you land a job.

“I really was unsure about doing an internship,” Ehrhart said. “If you don’t have any experience in the field, shadowing people is a good way to see if you would really want to do a job if you are unsure of it.”

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