Practical Advice on Designing Probation and Parole Offices

By Smith, Albert G. | Corrections Today, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Practical Advice on Designing Probation and Parole Offices


Smith, Albert G., Corrections Today


Much has been written about the design, construction and operation of prisons and jails. Many private companies do nothing but design and construct correctional facilities. This is certainly not the case for the design, construction and operation of probation and parole offices.

Probation and parole office design hasn't received very much attention because these offices are not 24-hour facilities and because historically they have been viewed as little more than way stations for officers between home visits. However, four recent trends have generated some concern about the safety and efficiency of correctional field offices.

* Due to a combination of larger caseloads, more violent offenders and a reduced emphasis on home and work visits, officers are spending considerably more time in the office and more offenders are being required to go there for supervision contacts.

* More communities are objecting to the placement of probation and parole offices in their neighborhoods. In California, for example, a number of cities have strenuously protested placement of offices within their boundaries, fearing an increase in crime and a decrease in property values and commerce in the immediate vicinity. As a result, many cities and towns have passed restrictive laws that take into account proximity to residential areas, schools, playgrounds, daycare centers and even school bus stops.

* There have been a number of widely publicized incidents in which irate citizens have entered offices housing government services and attempted to harm employees. While these incidents are not limited to probation or parole offices, given the offenders these offices serve, they are certainly high-risk targets.

* More enforcement functions are being done in probation and parole offices than in the past. Substance abuse tests, arrests and other high-risk functions are now fairly common. Agencies need to design offices to accommodate such activities safely and efficiently.

These trends make this an opportune time to explore guidelines for selecting an office location, designing it with a primary focus on employee safety, and establishing procedures for preventing and managing critical incidents.

Site Selection

Even if your state does not have office location restrictions like those in California, you should be careful to choose a location that will meet with minimal community resistance. The following steps should not significantly slow down the site search but can generate goodwill in the community and minimize potential problems.

1. Consult the local planning commission to determine written and unwritten zoning restrictions and ordinances. Notify local officials of your intent to locate an office in their community and seek their advice regarding appropriate locations. When you have selected a site, notify the council member or commissioner for that area of your decision and the basis for making it.

2. Be sensitive to the proximity of the potential office to schools, playgrounds, daycare centers and residences. It may not be possible to avoid all of them, but documenting your search can pay tremendous dividends later if an incident occurs at one of these locations.

3. Advertise your needs. All potential landlords should have a chance to show their properties. I am aware of several occasions in which a site selection was held up for months because of the protests of a landlord who was never made aware of an agency's need for office space.

It is tempting to try to locate a new office as quietly and discretely as possible. While this approach probably worked in the past, in this day and age, when public fear of crime is great and economic fears are high, sensitivity to the public and public officials will pay dividends and may prevent passage of restrictive statutes similar to those in California.

I do not mean to suggest that you should allow others to ultimately determine whether or not you should locate an office in a particular community.

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