May report, Part 1: Probation: what it is and how it works

The meeting began at 6:38 PM.    Eight people attending. 

Our speaker this month is Holly Ihrke, Probation Officer in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.   Her caseload is Felony/High Risk clients.

Adult Probation/Parole

Adult Field Service (Probation) works with courts, community, victims and clients.   The goal of Probation or Parole is to offer clients the support and opportunities they need if they are to return as good neighbors in their community.

Probation Officers supervise clients in the community after they leave jail.  This is in contrast to Parole Officers who provide transitional services for clients leaving state prisons.

NOTE: Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, Adult Field Services includes Parole Officers as well as Probation Officers.   Parole Officers supervise Hennepin County residents returning to the community from prisons.   Other counties/jurisdictions rely on the State Dept. of Corrections to supervise parole for people coming out of prison

Ms Ihrke will describe the work of Adult Field Services from client intake through results:  

  • Probation order
  • Probation officer role
  • Client rehabilitation
  • Probation violations
  • Client’s transition to “Good Neighbors”

Probation order:  a probation order is a court order setting out the rules a prisoner must obey if they do not want to serve their full sentence in jail or prison.   Probation may be offered to people who qualify, based on state sentencing guidelines.The terms of probation may include directives to seek help with an addiction or behavior problem, to hold a job, or other directives.  The goal is to provide opportunities and support  for rehabilitation.

Before a defendant is released from jail, pretrial probation officers must evaluate them to write a recommended probation order.

  • Probation officers begin their evaluations by compiling a suspect’s criminal history, drawing data from local and national databases.  Each event – felony or misdemeanor — receives a score in points or half points.  Some felonies are one point, some are half a point; misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors are scored separately. 
  • Once the person is convicted of their offence, this tally is compared with sentencing guidelines, also called presumptive sentencing.  From this, the Office can estimate what an appropriate penalty might be for that person.  
  • When these guidelines are compared with the severity of the crime that was committed and the individual’s criminal history, counsel can determine the presumptive sentence.   Some of the presumptive sentences point to probation and some point to incarceration.   There is always a possibility of departure from the presumptive sentence and that can go upward or down.
  • “Standard Probation Conditions” are rules that apply to everyone on probation.  For example, a person on felony probation can only leave the state with a travel permit, must notify their P.O. if they change their address, get a new charge, have contact with law enforcement, and a number of other conditions. 
  • A person guilty of a misdemeanor will have a set of conditions appropriate to the level of their offense. 
  • There are also Special Conditions based on risk/needs

Probation Officer Role:   Agent of the Court.

  • They are the “Eyes and Ears” of the Court.
  • They are Agents of Change, trying to address their clients’ needs and the barriers that may hold those clients back from changing their lives.
  • They offer their clients support to achieve needed changes in their lives.  
  • If clients are lacking intrinsic motivation to make ordered changes and are disregarding the parameters set by the court, Parole Officers can use court directives to notify the court of noncompliance by filing a probation violation report.

Probation Officer Role:   Community support. 

          The other side of Parole Officers’ responsibility is to support the community by making sure their clients are following the parameters set by the Court.

Client Rehabilitation – The big part of the Parole Officer’s job.

  • Risk/Needs assessment:  When someone is convicted of a crime and after bail evaluation is complete, one of the first contacts with Adult Field Service is with a pre-sentence investigation Probation Officer.  
  • They participate in an interview about areas including chemical dependency, criminal history, adverse childhood experiences, and many other “Risk/Needs” areas.  Those are scored. 
  • If there is a significant chemical dependency issue, they’ll be put on random testing or complete chemical dependency evaluation.  
  • If there are mental health concerns, we will add a mental health concern.
  • They may be ordered to “Sentence to Service”, which is a county-run community service, in lieu of doing time, or as a stand-alone condition of probation which they must complete. 
  • Other clients may need domestic violence programming, DWI programming, and programs in other areas that are evidence-based needs.
  • Community Resources: the offices try to connect clients to needed services in their home communities as much as possible.   Programs in the Second Precinct include Eastside Neighborhood Services, Central Avenue Neighborhood Clinic, various other chemical dependency treatment programs.
  • Probation officers use evidence-based practices like Motivational Interviewing, Workforce Development, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy classes, and cognitive behavioral interventions.     These are strength-based communication and motivational techniques.
  • The program has specific Contact Standards that are reflective of the risks identified in the risk/needs assessment.  The score a client was assigned in the R/N assessment determines how often the client will meet with their P.O.    The range of scores is 1 to 36.   Each P.O. is assigned to a case load based on clients’ scores, as Low, Medium, or High risk of recidivism.

Probation violations:

  • Conditions-Based response – Failure to comply with court-ordered conditions.    If a person’s condition of release is to complete chemical dependency treatment, but they are continuing to use, we’ll report that person is not committed to sobriety.  If they get a new charge or conviction, we will recommend a new sanction.
  • New sanctions – sometimes includes time in custody.  A new sanction may include reporting to the workhouse for anything between 45 and 365 days.   If it is their second or third violation, their probation may be revoked and they will have to complete their sentence in a Dept. of Corrections State Prison.  
  • Inform the courts – Eyes and ears of the courts.    The primary duties of a Probation and Parole Officer are to keep the courts involved AND to help their clients overcome their barriers. 

Clients to “Good Neighbors” – The overarching goal of probation is to help folks transition into being good neighbors and community members.  

Creating foundations of support — Finding support for people to turn to when they need a boost over a barrier is the biggest thing.


Probation isn’t forever.

Emilie Quast, Board member

MPD Second Precinct Advisory Council (2-PAC)

Minneapolis MN 55418


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