Deanna Recchia showed up after hours to check on the living arrangements of one of the probationers she supervises during the pandemic and found drugs in plain sight, she said.
“He was with us and his mother was there,” Recchia, a probation officer, said. “There was a scale and a white powder substance. It led us to find weapons, a large amount of money and a large amount of drugs. There was a large amount of stuff including ammunition and his son was living with the mother as well. She was very concerned that this was going on in her home and she had no idea. We took several weapons off the street.”
When probation officers serve search warrants after hours and on weekends with police, they seize guns and drugs as part of an effort to provide more intense supervision of probationers as a way of reducing recidivism and crime, according to Gary Roberge who as the executive director of the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division oversees probation for juveniles and adults.
But the $2.5 million given for the program by Gov. Ned Lamont from federal COVID-19 relief funding to pay for the program has been spent and officials from the Judicial Branch are concerned that they could lose momentum.
“When we can do unannounced home visits or field visits, we can gather much more intelligence,” Roberge said. “When it’s outside of work hours, more people are home. We’re able to talk to family members and that helps us in our supervision of clients. We can develop relationships with family. We want them to know we’re out and paying attention.”
The efforts are focused on high risk juveniles and adults who are on probation, Roberge said. He doesn’t have any percentages on how the program has impacted recidivism. But he does know it works, he said.
“What we do know is, when we’re out in the community it does change our probationer’s behavior,” Roberge said.
The push for funding comes at a time when legislators and police are struggling with an uptick in some violent crimes and car thefts. Republicans have offered several plans to reduce crime that have drawn a cool response from Democrats.
Lamont announced on Feb. 7 that he was seeking a package of bills to reduce crime including money for a statewide task force to identify the source of illegal guns and funding to create a statewide community violence intervention program. But he didn’t recommend a second allocation for the probation officer supervision program.
The overtime program focused a lot on the 18 to 24 age group, which has a recidivism rate of 76% in the first 24 months of probation, Roberge said. For the Judicial Branch, an arrest while on probation no matter what the charge is considered recidivism, Roberge said.
The money that paid for night and weekend overtime for probation officers ran out on Dec. 31. The Judicial Branch asked for $3.2 million in fiscal year 2023 and $3.2 million in fiscal year 2024 from remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding to continue, but so far, the legislature and Lamont haven’t said whether they will pick up the tab.
The state Office of Policy and Management is working with the Judicial Branch to see if some of the money could be absorbed from the branch’s existing budget, according to OPM Undersecretary of Criminal Justice Marc Pelka.
The other possible source of funding – the legislature’s Appropriations Committee – wants hard facts on how well the program is working and what the branch intends, Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said.
“They’ll need to explain why we should be allocating the money,” Winfield said. “In Appropriations we’re going to have to look at what we’re doing. What I require is that people will have to make an argument on why they need this. I can’t have ‘this plan looks like what we’re doing,’ that’s not my style. I need to know what’s the expected benefit and I want to know what it is they are actually going to do.”
Roberge and the Judicial Branch will be before the Appropriations sub-committee Thursday to discuss in more detail what funding they’ll need for a variety of issues.
Since the money ran out in December, probation officers have reverted back to their original way of dealing with afterhours supervision when they would either flex their schedules by starting the day later or get comp time if they had to serve a warrant with police or make evening visits. Weekends usually aren’t part of the plan, Roberge said.
The afterhours work is tightly controlled with supervisors signing off on when a probation officer is allowed to see a client outside of the workday, Roberge said.
The night work gives probation officers and the families of those who are on probation a leg up, Recchia said. “When we are in their home, we can ask how they are doing on probation,” Recchia said. “Sometimes they say they need more assistance with opioid addiction and work with that to get them help. We’re with them, they feel more at ease with us, we know their family.”
It’s also integral to making sure people are operating within the bounds of their court-ordered probation since they are rarely home or appear to be compliant during normal working hours, said Michael Sullivan Jr., a probation officer in New London.
During one recent incident Sullivan and officers had to wait for a man on state and federal probation for the sale of drugs to travel to Hartford at 6 p.m. from the Norwich area before they could set up to intervene, he said.
When he arrived back in Norwich, Sullivan went running up to the man’s car and found drugs and a three-year-old in the vehicle, he said. “He had fentanyl and crack cocaine and a child in the back seat,” Sullivan said. “The ability for us to work late was the only reason we were able to get that guy,” he added.