Franklin County to eliminate current juvenile probation jobs; employees will have to reapply for new roles

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Dispatch News on 10/3/2019 by Rita Price

About 64 Franklin County Juvenile Court probation department employees will be affected next year when their jobs are eliminated and and they have to seek positions with vastly different, more complex responsibilities as part of a plan to transform the way juveniles are supervised. The new Community Restoration Services Department will operate under the idea that juveniles fare better and the community stays safer when support is emphasized over incarceration.

All jobs in the Franklin County Juvenile Court probation department will be eliminated next year as part of a plan to transform the way youths are supervised, judges said Thursday.

Current employees who want positions in the new Community Restoration Services Department will have to apply for them.

“The job is going to change dramatically,” Juvenile Court Judge Kim Browne said after a meeting with the probation department staff at Blacklick Woods Metro Park. “We’re moving to a model that is more individual-specific. The responsibilities are different.”

About 64 court employees will be affected, including probation officers, supervisors, clerical workers and others.

Browne, the court’s administrative judge, said the court has been moving toward the shift for several years and has spent more than $200,000 on training. “It’s time to take that next step,” she said.

Judges want a department focused less on cookie-cutter probation plans and rigid compliance, and more on customized supervision and support. Current approaches make compliance a matter of “either you did or you didn’t,” Browne said, with too many juveniles sent back to court or detention for violations that could be addressed in other ways.

Probation employees who went to the information meeting said they just learned of the jobs plan on Monday. Though several spoke with The Dispatch on their way in our out of the park lodge, none wanted their names printed because they are fearful they won’t be rehired.

“We’re just pretty blindsided,” one said. “I’m not gonna lie; I’m worried about what might happen.”

Another employee cried as she walked to her car.

“I think it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “You put your heart into something for so many years — there’s a person who is just months away from retiring — and he doesn’t know if he’ll make it. Nobody saw this coming.”

In an email sent to employees, Browne said the court intends to post all positions in the new Community Restoration Services Department early next year, and fill them by mid-March. All current probation department positions are to be eliminated effective March 27.

Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Gill said officials know employees feel uneasy.

“Understandably, folks came in pretty anxious,” Gill said after the meeting. But, she said, many wound up volunteering to be a part of the transition committee.

Neither she nor Browne would say whether some of the current employees won’t be considered good candidates for the new jobs. Browne said the positions are so different that employees “deserve a chance” to decide whether they want them. She also said assistance is available if some employees need additional training or instruction.

The new department will embrace the latest science and studies, which Browne and Gill say clearly conclude that juveniles fare better and the community stays safer when support is emphasized over incarceration. The judges also acknowledge that likely will make probation jobs more complex.

“Traditional probation rules criminalize typical teenage behavior,” Gill said, adding that too many youths receive violations for missteps such as skipping class.

Others might return to court or detention for alcohol or drug use, which is common in the recovery process. Juveniles with GPS monitors also can get into trouble if the person driving them home from school stops at a store or drive-thru, Browne said.

“Wholesale locking up kids in cages is unproductive. And it flat out doesn’t work,” she said. “All they do is learn to be better criminals.”