The Changing Relationship Between Ex-Criminals and Their Parole Officers

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Governing on 10/2015 by J.B. Wogan

Officer Andrew Skidmore meets with Aaron, a 24-year-old who has been under supervision for more than two years.

Officer Andrew Skidmore meets with Aaron, a 24-year-old who has been under supervision for more than two years.

Rather than acting as former offenders’ enemies, parole and probation officers are now working to be their mentors. Can it reduce recidivism?

As a parole and probation officer in Multnomah County, Ore., Andrew Skidmore can be tough when he has to be. He is trained in hand-to-hand combat. He likes guns enough to have a detailed schematic of his Glock tacked to a wall in his downtown Portland office. He also keeps a black tactical vest with handcuffs, a baton and pepper spray. If he needs to make a forcible arrest of someone breaking the rules of community supervision, he can do it, no problem.

But Skidmore is trying a different method. Officers in Multnomah County don’t want former criminal offenders to think of their “POs” as adversaries. Skidmore sees himself as a mentor and role model. Today, he is meeting with Aaron, a 24-year-old who has been under supervision for more than two years for selling meth and possessing heroin. For much of that time, Aaron has been either homeless or in jail.

On home visits, Skidmore has to wear his vest with a gold star emblem and “PAROLE” in large white font. Here, he’s in jeans with an untucked button-down shirt. In any given situation, Skidmore can choose whether to play the part of enforcer or counselor. When Aaron misses appointments or fails drug tests, Skidmore responds with mandatory community service, jail time or other sanctions. But when Aaron does what he’s asked, Skidmore peppers him with compliments.