The Butler County Area Court judges say a new probation department will stop “absconders” from skirting their responsibilities, free up jail space, and boost revenues.
Saying the Butler County Common Pleas Court probation department wasn’t responsive to their needs, the Area Court judges explained to commissioners this week during budget hearings why they opened their own department.
“Not to be critical of them but we were not their primary focus. Through the years with budget cuts and so forth, seemed to affect us first…,” Administrative Judge Rob Lyons said. “Not having the personnel that we needed in the courtroom from the county’s probation department, we finally took the initiative and started our own.”
Court Administrator Linda Lovelace told the Journal-News the new department began operations Aug. 1 with three parole officers. Their proposed budget for 2019 is $292,946, including salaries, benefits and operating costs. She said one person is being paid out of the general fund and the other two from the special projects fund. Probationers will now be paying the $250 annual supervision fee to the court, which will offset some of the cost.
The Area Courts handle misdemeanor criminal, traffic violations and some civil cases for the unincorporated areas of the county. They have locations in Hamilton, Oxford and West Chester Twp.
The court’s new Chief Probation Officer Jeannette Bullard, who was a common pleas probation staffer, said it was critical to get probation officers at each location.
“The need also was based upon the absconder rate that was increasing astronomically, lots of warrants being issued for absconders because the officers weren’t in the respective courts,” she said.
Having probation officers in court means offenders are read and sign the rules of supervision, and the court can get their information and set up schedules. If they don’t sign the rules, they can’t be charged with probation violations.
“With all those absconders out there it’s greatly affecting the community…,” Bullard said. “We hope to cut down on that rate because we hope to not lose those offenders… It’s going to save on jail space, we’re not going to have people getting arrested because we’re going to reduce that amount, it’ll cut down on that cost.”
Lovelace said of the 763 people now on probation under their department’s supervision, 228 were absconders.
Area II Court Judge Kevin McDonough said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” happened in his court when the county probation department asked him to send an offender to their offices for a drug test, rather than them sending an officer to the Historic Courthouse.
“I couldn’t get a probation officer to our court, when I thought somebody was using and would be testing dirty, and she was pregnant and her mother standing behind her saying don’t let her walk out of this building,” McDonough said. “I called probation — specific example — saying can you send someone over to test her. Sorry we don’t have anybody available.”
The Common Pleas Court Administrator Wayne Gilkison told the Journal-News they had two people assigned to the area courts and those positions have been cut from the 2019 budget.
“We had two people assigned doing the job and we thought it was fair not to fill positions this year, when we knew that they were going to be starting their own department,” Gilkison said. “We just didn’t fill positions because we didn’t think it would be fair to the county and the taxpayers.”
Gilkison said the Area Courts never officially told him why they created their own department. He said the only issue they discussed with him was that they wanted parole officers on duty in each of their courts. He said they don’t have officers in the seven common pleas courts all the time either.
“We do not do that for the general division judges and I told them that we can’t do it for their court, because we have so many cases and we have to be supervising them in the community,” Gilkison said. “The community expects us to supervise them. And if we’re dedicating 20 to 25 percent of a person’s schedule just sitting in a courtroom not doing anything probation related, we’re not supervising people.”