I got a letter about 3 weeks ago from a fella who is considering a career change. He wants me to give him the straight story on what it's like to be a Parole Officer. Well, wanting to be fair, I have to tell you, I LEFT Parole and didn't let the door hit my ass on the way out in November '91. So my personal experience is not exactly up-to-date.
However, a few months ago I exchanged email with a current Sex Offender P.O. and I spent several hours reading web page propaganda on the TDCJ site. I also spent a few years working for TDHS [TX Dept. of Human Services]. That's your first lesson, class. When you go to work for Uncle Sam or Uncle Sam Houston, be prepared to start learning a different language, the language of abbreviations.
I used to drive my kids and Mother NUTS talking in abbreviations. They hated that. I still lapse back in to that letter-speak from time to time. My Daughter, the English major, gets all uppity and makes snide remarks about wasting my education and fine vocabulary. I just smile inwardly, and bide my time. When she becomes a teacher she'll have her very own secret language from TEA and PTA et al.
Next on my list of warnings... it all depends on the Unit Supervisor you draw. The person who supervises you on a day to day basis can determine whether you have a successful or a shitty career. As can your ability to keep your head down and out of office politics. Listen very carefully to my next: ALL State Agencies, by their very existence and dependence upon the Lege for funding and their bureaucratic structure always have been and always will be political. Unless you can stay out of the politics, or you are an EXPERT political animal or you can survive having your ass handed to you by someone who IS a Political Predator...reconsider going to work for a State Agency. Or, try it for a year, and if things are working out, then you can try it for another year...but please don't start planning a career until you've lasted at least 5 years. If you have not risen to P.O. III, or Hearing Officer after five years...consider switching to Probation or the Feds.
The beginning salary and what you can expect after 2 years and then 5 years can be found by navigating through the link I gave you above. I will say it's more than what I was making when I left, 17 yrs ago, but that's to be expected after all this time, what with COLAs and the fact that they were literally bleeding new P.O.s for awhile. They had to increase salaries in an effort to keep them.
They induce the Type A P.O.s to take on the specialized caseloads that I discussed back in September [I think, maybe it was October] by appealing to their egos. "Oh, not just any P.O. can handle a caseload like this." "It takes a SPECIAL officer to handle the challenges of a caseload made up of these kinds of releasees." Do NOT fall for this trap!! I can't even believe they are still gettin' away with using that crap!
In 1988 I was one of the first Sex Offender Parole Officer Texas had. I was one of their guinea pigs. We went to Austin for a week in the Spring. Then in December we went to Padre Island for a week and that was what they called training. Of course we started seeing sex offender parolees right after we got back in the Spring. There wasn't then and isn't now a distinction made between Rapists and Pedophiles. However there is a world of difference in the way to approach those offenders, both because of the way their minds work and for officer safety reasons. BAD JuJu, very bad JuJu!
But the 'crats at the top of the heap at TDCJ-PPD have been gettin' away with connin' the best officers into workin' these high stress caseloads because they choose the officers who love a frickin' challenge. Oh, yes we do. [do I sound bitter? I get that way when my soul is sucked dry and the husk thrown away. I'm touchy about that.]
The workloads? Oh, lets see they are about 1/2 again as much as normal humans can handle during a 40 hour work-week. Of course there IS no such thing as OT when you work for the State. We used to be able to accumulate "Comp" time which we had to use in the same week we earned it. In other words, if you worked late on Tuesday because you had to do home visits, then you had to take the same number of hours off before 5 p.m. Friday or you just gave the State your time. However, if you got stuck with Friday as a "Duty Day" and had to be in the office that day and a bunch of parolees got released on Thursday and reported on Friday and their P.O.s were out and you had to see them instead as well as your own parolees who were there for their monthly report and you wound up working until 6 or 7 pm, well the entire TDCJ appreciated the donation of your time. I don't imagine that has changed either, but YMMV.[your mileage may vary]
I hope by now that they have switched to computerized records, but I doubt it. It is after all a State Bureaucracy. When I left, they were just getting computers. By now I'm sure every P.O. has a desktop and some may even have laptops for field use. BUT, and I hope I'm wrong, but I'd bet you $5 that officers, at a minimum, have to print off a copy of everything they put in the E-file and maintain a paper file, too. That's the bureaucratic mindset. If it's not on paper, it's not real.
In any case, every contact with or in connection with a releasee MUST be documented. Every phone call, every office, home and job site visit must be written in the case file. If the parolee goes to counselling, the documentation he brings in to prove to you he has attended and paid for his counselling must be noted and a copy placed in the file. His documentation for AA/NA must also be written in your notes and a copy placed in the file.
When I was still with Parole they were experimenting with having P.O.s collect and test urine samples from parolees. We had three different test kits so we could test for opiates, cocaine and marijuana. [BTW, you would have to eat a ridiculous amount of poppy seed hamburger buns, the BIG ones before your urine would test + for opiates, same for being in the same room where other people were smokin' dope and that's why you tested + for MaryJane. What? Were they super chargin' you? Go peddle that story somewhere else, cause I ain't senile so I'm not buyin' it.] Now when you submit your application for employment to the Human Resources folks, they don't warn you about this kind of stuff. My degree is in Social Work, not biology or chemistry. I most definitely did NOT sign on to carry some felon's hot pee around in a plastic cup and then run 3 tests on it, AFTER work hours when I should have been home with my kids or going out to dinner with that long, tall, gorgeous, hunk of man who is now my Dearly Beloved. So, you up for that, Pilgrim?
If I had been able to get OUT of my District Parole Office and become a hearing officer or get a transfer to Institutional Parole Officer, I probably would have stayed with Parole until retirement. Two things worked against me. Well, maybe more like three.
First, I have a big mouth and I seem to be unable to keep it shut, even when it would be politic to do so.
Second, I went to one little State Employees Union Meeting in Austin, talked to some legislators, on my OWN time and the Regional Supv was so paranoid after that... every time he called the office or my Unit Supv called him for something, he asked where I was. If I wasn't in the office, he assumed I was out doing "Union Business." I had to start bringing in Proof of where I had been, when I took comp time. A receipt from the Library, a local restaurant, a note from my kids, a copy of my travel sheet for the home visits, anything to prove I hadn't "snuck" down to Ft.Worth and the Union Office.
Third, my Unit Supervisor was a Bitch on Wheels. If I could have had the good luck to have kept the first Unit Sup I had...but that's water under the bridge. One evaluation from this woman would be glowing, the next would be awful, six months later...glowing...six months later...shit... This went on for FOUR years.
I had started volunteering with a non-profit about a year before I left Parole. They finally got a grant they had applied for and offered me a job. I jumped at the chance to get paid to do something I enjoyed and that I'd been doing for free. The fact that I'd be making the same money, working with co-workers who VALUED me and a client base who APPRECIATED me was as good, if not better than not having to take a salary cut.
I realize I have probably scared you away from Parole work. So I'll try to write a blog tomorrow telling you the things I LIKED about it. Believe it or not, there WERE some things I liked about being a Parole Officer.