POLK COUNTY -- Budget constraints and an increasing number of criminal offenders needing post-prison supervision are forcing changes in the Polk County Community Corrections Department.
Community Corrections Director Marty Silbernagel said one probation officer has been laid off indefinitely starting today (Sept. 1) and he anticipates future budget cuts will have more impact on personnel.
A smaller staff -- the department now has 10 officers to serve nearly 800 offenders -- will require reduced supervision of individuals who pose the lowest risk to the community.
Silbernagel said he is reluctant to reduce supervision. Polk County currently has regular contact with all offenders, no matter their risk level.
"This is a huge change," he said. "We are not going to be providing direct supervision for all offenders."
The changes will go into affect Friday, Oct. 1.
Polk County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Propes said the changes are the best the department can do with the resources it has.
"A lot of Oregon counties (use similar plans)," Propes said. "We are now having to go to these methods, too."
Propes said the county has made direct supervision a priority since taking over the program for the state and is one of just a few counties that continues to do so.
"We really felt if we can do it, we wanted to do it that way. But with budget cuts there is no way," Propes said.
Under the change, low and limited risk felony offenders -- excluding those convicted of a sex offense -- will be placed on "mail-in" status after six months. Those who were convicted of misdemeanors -- also excluding sex offenders -- will be placed on mail-in status after completing all court-imposed conditions. "Mail-in" status allows offenders to mail in confirmation of their continuing compliance with the terms of their supervision instead of having face-to-face contact with an officer.
Home visits will still occur -- just on a less frequent basis.
"We still will be holding people accountable," Silbernagel said. "If they are not complying, they will be sanctioned. They will go to jail."
The department supervises about 800 adults and about 200 will be impacted by these changes, he said.
In another change, starting in October all those on supervision will be required to complete the ADJUST program, an 8-week, 15-session life skills program.
While the changes may actually allow officers more time to work with higher risk individuals, Silbernagel said he would rather have all people on probation be under direct supervision.
"I don't like doing this," Silbernagel said. "I hate doing this, but with cutbacks and limitations we can only do so much with what we have."