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Although stress levels are high, there is no indication that probationers have been any less compliant with court-ordered terms during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Brian Mirasolo, deputy commissioner of field services for Massachusetts Probation Services.
“It’s pretty stable,” Mirasolo said. “There’s no more or less compliance, no difference really.”
Massachusetts Probation Services has taken a number of measures to accommodate probationers and probation officers during the current pandemic.
“There are definitely some differences, but the core function of our day-to-day hasn’t changed,” Mirasolo said. “We, just like everybody else, have had to adapt.”
Mirasolo said the differences probationers may experience now versus under normal circumstances depend on the “treatment programs” they are enrolled in during their probation.
“A big thing for us is a lot of our probationers are engaged in treatment programs across the state. A lot of places aren’t operating like they used to, some places are completely closed, some places Zoom, and other places are just completely open still,” Mirasolo said.
Probation officers have been directing probationers to virtual “telehealth” services whenever possible, but for some services, in-person interactions are absolutely necessary, such as when a probationer has to submit to a drug test.
“Obviously, there are more precautions,” Mirasolo said. “Our protocol is ramped up, making sure there is enough room (for those appearing in person for a test), and people are not queued up on top of each other.”
In total, Mirasolo said the “vast majority” of probation officer and probationer meetings are still “face-to-face,” but there is “more of a mix” and virtual meetings are also taking place.
Probationers are still expected to be in full compliance with court orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. If there are “technical issues” and a probationer can’t make a virtual meeting, probation officers will help rectify the situation.
Right now, courts have largely closed, and teleconferences are used sometimes if someone is in noncompliance, Mirasolo said. If it’s obvious someone is using drugs, probation officers will work to get them counseling and help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are no firm plans in place long-term, because the COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving situation for probation services, as it is with other industries. Mirasolo said probation services are in frequent contact with health authorities for consultation on the best practices during the pandemic, and the main goal is to “keep everyone as safe as possible, while still continuing our mission and duty.”
Two local probationers, Marco and John (they did not wish to be identified by their full names in The Item), said the main issue during the pandemic is getting in touch with probation officers when virtual contact is requested, because many probationers do not have email addresses and are used to meeting with probation officers in person.
It causes a “lot of anxiety, because obviously, if (we) break probation, there’s going to be a warrant for our arrest immediately,” Marco said. “It causes a lot of anguish.”
Other probationers do not speak English, and have found it difficult to work virtually with probation officers who do not speak Spanish. Under normal circumstances, non-English speakers rely on interpreters during interactions with probation officers. Without the face-to-face contact, the interpreting doesn’t happen the same way, and people are forced to leave messages with their probation officers in their native language, hoping it gets translated somehow, John said.