Recognition of probation supervision is ‘proud badge of honor’

Published 1:46 pm Saturday, July 25, 2020

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Mary D. Mason says agency enhances public safety through helping offenders


Gov. Ralph Northam formally recognized Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week as July 19-25. Though not an occasion that immediately comes to most people’s minds, it’s an important recognition for the people involved in that work.

Mary D. Mason — Submitted

Mary D. Mason is the chief of District 42, which includes the city of Franklin and Southampton County. For her, the appreciation is, “a proud badge of honor, in that it reinforces/supports/recognizes our agency’s staffs’ dedication, tireless meaningful efforts, as well as the critical service/role that we play in enhancing public safety to the Commonwealth and all its citizens. It says “a job well done in the service of others!” It is why we celebrate Probation and Parole Officers Week to show appreciation to my staff for their hard work and dedication.”

In addition to Northam’s recognition, the Franklin Police Department acknowledged the observance and the local office’s work on its Facebook page. Mason named her crew: Deputy Chief Probation Parole Officer Angela Jeffries; Senior Probation Officer Sabrina Tann; five line staff Probation Officers – Grant Knight, Stephen Baker, Vonda Sessoms, Shirley Lashley, Dashel Wiggins; Surveillance Officer David Turner; and two clerical – Susan Cornwell, Office Services Specialist Susan Cornwell and front desk office Service Assistant, Sherry Leigh.

“We are a work family that is maintaining and growing together,” said the chief. “We are small in number but big in heart.”

She explained the role that P&P serves.

“Our state probation and parole officers enhance public safety by helping offenders lead more pro-social lives and assist those who have been incarcerated to transition back into society upon their release,” said Mason. “We use risks/needs assessments to formulate individualized and appropriate case plans tailored to offenders under supervision. Supervision provides clients with opportunities to participate in numerous programs designed to meet their needs, including academic, job training, cognitive classes and more.

Supervision of offenders is a collaborative effort, as it requires referrals to needed community resources. DOC has provided Probation and Parole with mental health clinicians, contracted substance abuse providers and/or and MOAs with our respective Community Services boards that work our probation and parole officers to provide the offenders, sometimes called returning citizens the best care and potential for success.”

The chief noted that discretionary parole was abolished in Virginia for felonies committed in 1995 or after. But some offenders are eligible for parole consideration if they meet certain criteria.

She continued. “Probation and parole officers provide dual supervision to offenders under obligations to both probation and parole. The Virginia Parole Board handles all parole decisions, policies and rulings. Pretrial Services, on the other hand, work with individuals at the local level in their respective jurisdictions providing oversight to clients/offenders having matters in the General District Courts.”

Mason’s responsibility as chief includes guiding district operations, making sure all practices adhere to local, state and federal mandates on specific DOC policies and procedures.

“I am responsible for modeling the way in having a healing environment for staff and offenders ensuring that all have the necessary training, equipment and supplies to get the job completed with successful outcomes,” she said. “We as officers provide casework management that fosters guidance, support and structure to probationers and parolees in the hopes of ‘making their lives better.’”

The district staff also uses specialized skill sets such as Effective Practices in Correctional Settings and motivational interviewing that can help the offenders toward leading law-abiding lifestyles.

Asked how the office deals with those probationers and parolees that don’t follow their supervision conditions, Mason said, “We make every effort to proactively address any known issues that would indicate an offender’s behavior is spiraling or they are in obvious non-compliance. We provide programming, treatment, sanctions prior to writing violations to the Court and or Virginia Parole board whenever circumstances allow the latitude to do so. We start with less restrictive and work our way up to the most serious sanctions.”

For the chief and her staff, there are many positive experiences when it comes to working with parolees. Asked if any have ever expressed their gratitude, Mason said, “This amazing feat happens more than you would think! Most offenders want to do the right thing and a lot of them do take responsibility when things go south with their supervision causing them to be violated. We do role model accountability. For those who do unfortunately return to my office for supervision, I let them know it is a new, fresh day and the success possibility is their choice. My staff and I are there to help!”