Probation officers address change

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Eighteen-year-old Vincent stood before a group of Blair County workers, including adult and juvenile parole and probation officers, and talked about how his life had changed in the last two years, a transition from someone who committed theft to, as he put it, “a better man.”

Those early teen years represented a rough time in his life. He did not come from a close family. He didn’t care much about school. He eventually got caught stealing and was put on probation through the Blair County Juvenile Court because he was only 16 at that time.

Reflecting on his past, he said, “I definitely regret the things I did, but I don’t regret getting caught.”

Getting caught meant adult guidance through probation officer Mike Wieland, who, he said, tells him when he isn’t doing right. It also meant getting a job.

When he began to work at what he called “a real job,” he sensed that he was changing. Now, he said, “I work a lot.”

Vincent talked about his life and his turn from trouble to being a productive citizen while answering questions posed by Blair County Juvenile Probation Supervisor Molly Wink during the annual meeting of Blair County’s parole and probation departments on Wednesday.

The justice system statewide is undergoing dramatic change and, as state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, said after Tuesday’s meeting, the change is going to mean a lot more work for parole and probation officers.

Eichelberger, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Probation, said efforts are underway to reduce the prison population, placing nonviolent offenders on probation rather than incarcerating them.

He is predicting “better outcomes” through the use of probation and parole.

Vincent, who got in trouble as a juvenile, is an example of how the parole and probation system can make a difference. When Wink asked him where he thought he would be had he not be placed on probation, he answered, “I would be in jail. If it wasn’t for probation … I wouldn’t be anywhere today.”

Cory Seymour, the deputy chief of the adult parole and probation office, gave a couple of other examples of how effective probation can be.

A young woman who was supposed to speak to the officers Wednesday was in the hospital giving birth. Seymour emphasized she was the mother of a “drug-free” baby. Without guidance, he said, “She would not be having a drug-free baby today.”

He spoke of another probationer, Dustin, who is a drug addict. He took a course in cognitive thinking – examining why he did things that got him in trouble – taught by probation officers. He too has a job.

“There are so many more stories we have in th office,” Seymour said.

“We feel we’ve changed the lives of some and helped in some way,” he said.

Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who oversees the Juvenile Drug Court, said the officers are committed to “providing opportunities for positive change.”

“A small group of caring people can change the world,” Doyle said.

Commissioner Ted Beam urged the officers “to be the change in your community.”

And Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner said that those who work in probation and parole are the “most compassionate people” she has seen.

“Sometimes you are the only ones who offer a lifeline to people. You should truly celebrate this afternoon” Aigner said.

One of the major changes from a year ago has been the opening of a downtown Altoona branch of the Adult Parole and Probation Department, said Ed Garlena, the department’s data specialist.

More than 1,000 individuals on probation or parole have received services through the Altoona office since it opened in February.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.