ICBA Criminal Law Section holds first meeting of the New Year

Thomas Halsted, Supervisor of Ingham County Probation, speaker

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), recognizing that prison is not working, is "looking to address the needs of the offender in the community. The MDOC realizes it needs to work on probation or parole to meet the offenders needs."

In light of the shift in philosophy, the role of the probation agent is changing. "It's not the nail 'em and jail 'em that it used to be," said Thomas Halsted, Supervisor, Ingham County Probation Department. "The agents are working with collaborative case management, with community partners, treatment providers, and family support systems. The families are probably the biggest area that is really changed. It used to be that we kept the families at a distance, now we are focused on bringing the family in to the whole picture and trying to work on the offender's needs through that support network."

Looking out at the members of the Ingham County Bar Association Criminal Law Section members gathered on January 12th at the Michael Franck Building in Lansing to lunch and learn, he said, "attorneys interact with probation agents when they conduct the Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) after a guilty plea or verdict or there is a Probation Violation (PV). As far as the PSI phase, our agents are juggling a lot so if you have to contact one of them, understand that they can be working on six or seven investigations at a time as well as supervising between 75 to 85 people."

"After the plea, the defense attorney brings their client downstairs to the probation office, which is located in the 'garden level' of Ingham County Courthouse. They provide any updated information at that time. An agent will be assigned to the file in one to two business days depending on how quickly the clerk sends the court note down to us."

"The agent will call and schedule the interview. We are required to do an in-person interview. Our agents have three weeks for a remand case and two weeks for a bond case to do a PSI. As a defense attorney if you have information that you want in the PSI, make sure you get the information within those time frames. Within two weeks after the plea or verdict, the PSI must be completed."

Copies of the PSI itself must come from the court. "We can't give them out without a specific direction from the court."

In answer to questions, Halsted said:

When I sent information to the office about my client, sometimes it didn't get in the report.

"It could be the time frame. We have a lot of new agents. I will take that back to them and we can discuss it.

What about the lawyer attending the pre-sentence interview?

"It happens so rarely. The agent wants to meet the offender and talk one on one. We don't have a policy, but if you want it, there is nothing that says you can't sit in on it."

How is the sentencing decision made?

"A lot of it is discretionary. We are really focusing more on the treatment aspects than we are on up-front jail. Agents are to identify the offender's needs in the PSI interview to determine what the offender needs. If you have an OUIL 3rd, there is an alcohol problem so we send them to treatment and if they fail, send them back again. We try to find support systems within the community."

There is a statewide focus on treatment. "We have lot of options for treatment in Ingham County. COMPAS is a 140-question quiz that they give to offenders. Then the agent will look at the offender's criminal history and score things accordingly. We on the probation side are not using COMPAS yet but eventually it will roll out to probation."

Criminogenic needs are those that have been associated with recidivism and can be changed. "COMPAS can identify those needs, which could be such things as associating with the wrong people, substance abuse, lack of education, or need for employment.

"COMPAS ranks that person's needs and allows the agent to supervise that offender and address the highest level need first. Obviously, if we are ordering an offender to make payments and they don't have a job or you're ordering them to get a job and they don't have an education. These are things that can be ranked. This is the shift in direction that the department of corrections is making."

How do you gage your effectiveness?

"In our office, completion of probation terms is success.

"Anecdotally, I think over-all, we have found that when you over-supervise somebody, they are more apt to fail. COMPAS assigns them a supervision level, which reduces the level for a lot of people. We want to create success for the offender--now minimum supervision is coming in every other month, rather than every month--the people that are minimum do best if left alone."

"If you have any questions whatsoever or problems or issues feel free to contact the probation agent or myself or Jessica Whaley--we are there to help out whenever we can," Halstead said.

The next ICBA Criminal Section meeting will be held at noon, Michael Franck Building in Lansing on February 16th.

Published: Thu, Jan 21, 2010

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