Watching over adult offenders

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Staff Writer

Melinda Heath is one of the 245 probation and parole officers working with offenders who live and work in communities across Alabama.

This week has been declared "Probation, Parole and Community Supervision Officers’ Week" as a way to honor and recognize the over 80,000 public servants in the United States who work with criminal offenders on a daily basis.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Heath has been the probation and parole officer in Pike County since July 1997. She undertook the job after years of working as a secretary for a probation and parole officer in Enterprise, who was planning to retire. Not knowing who she would be working for, she decided she would become the replacement.

Alabama probation and parole officers supervise over 36,000 offenders out of 54 offices statewide. Their mission is to enhance the safety of citizens by providing the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, circuit and district courts with investigation and supervision of adult felony offenders.

"They need somebody to watch over them," Heath said of the offenders under her supervision.

With a case load of 150, Heath can’t possibly watch them all the time, but that isn’t her responsibility.

Those who are on probation or out of prison on parole are responsible for checking in once a month, providing proof of employment and staying out of trouble.

"For the most part, they come in on report day like they’re supposed to," Heath said of the first Wednesday of each month, which is set aside for just that purpose.

Individuals on probation and parole are classified as to what type of supervised release they will have.

Those in Level I must have two personal contacts per week with Heath and verify employment once a week. They may have to report to Heath 15 times a month and, some also have a curfew.

Level VI is the least restrictive and those individuals are allowed to mail in their reports.

Most offenders, however, are in Level III, which means they have to check in with Heath once a month and have home visits every other month.

"Some people do fine as long as their under supervision," Heath said, adding she has seen offenders come off probation and parole and end up back in trouble a year later.

"It’s not my job to get them back in jail," Heath said. "My job is to try to help them stay out of jail.

"I try to make sure they follow the conditions of their probation or parole."

Although Heath does all of that, a large part of her job involves just listening.

"Most of my job is listening," Heath said of those who just need someone who will listen to their troubles.

If she can’t help, Heath refers them to counselors.

"I try to see they get the help they need," Heath said.

Probation and parole officers in Alabama must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, be certified law enforcement officers and have statewide arrest powers.