Supreme Court swears in new parole officers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - To keep up with the growing number of sex offenders being released from jail, the state Supreme Court swore in eight new officers charged with supervising the parolees.
Three new supervisory positions were created, and five vacated positions were filled during the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
Chief Justice Brent Benjamin swore the officers in. They are: Benjamin Ahmed, Monica Brown, James Conley, Jeffrey Carter, Javan Eary, Jennifer Lester, Brian Moore and Travis Roberts.
Five of the officers --- Brown, Conley, Eary, Moore and Roberts--- have worked for probation services since last year and are replacing officers who have resigned, said Caren Bills, deputy director of probation services. Ahmed, Carter and Lester are new to the program and are being placed in regions with growing populations of sex offenders.
They will work for the state Division of Probation Services' Intensive Supervision Unit.
The number of offenders being released from prison is on the rise as many of those who were sentenced for five- to 10-years in 2008 or 2009 are beginning to be released, said Bills, who oversees the unit.
The unit has more than 400 adult and juvenile sex offenders under its supervision. Judges assign offenders to the unit when they feel they need more supervision upon release.
Some will be under the unit's watch for 25 years, Bills said. The maximum is 50 years.
The unit began in 2008 and is allocated $2.7 million each year by the Child Protection Act of 2006. The unit has 35 intense supervision officers across the state. The state is broken up into six regions and each one has five or six supervision officers.
Officers work out of their vehicles because of the large coverage areas and the requirements of the program. They work long hours and holidays with the goal of making sure those under their watch are abiding by the rules set forth by the judge in their case.
"There's a lot of driving and they stay very busy," Bills said. "They're out there banging on doors at all hours of the day. Christmas Day, they're out there.
"You almost become a part of their family you see them so much. It's your job to stay all up in their business."
Each officer has 10 to 15 cases, much lower than general probation officers who can be responsible for as many as 85 cases. They visit their assigned offenders as much as four to five times a week at all hours of the day, Bills said.
The officers check in on the offenders at home and at work. They check the offenders' computers and phones to ensure they've been on the straight and narrow. If that person has a Facebook or other social media account, their supervision officer has the passwords, Bills said.
Offenders under intense supervision also are required to submit to a polygraph test two to three times per year.
The officers also work closely with State Police, who maintain the state sex offender registry, to ensure the offenders are up to date on their registration and that they don't commit any other crimes while under supervision, Bills said.
The surprise and frequent visits already have helped officers nab some of the offenders seemingly up to their old tricks. Bills said officers caught some who appeared to be "grooming" new victims, violating the terms of their probation.
"We like to keep them guessing and keep them on their toes," Bills said. "Our goal is to make them productive in society and protect society. They know what the rules are and need to abide by those rules."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.