What parole, probation officers need to know about home placement investigations

A thorough investigation will set a positive tone for the probation or parole case


By Tyson Howard, P1 Contributor

Home placement investigations are a vital part of probation/parole work. Even with a straightforward placement investigation, numerous questions need to be answered before approving or denying the placement.

A thorough home placement investigation can set a positive tone for the probation or parole case. Placing an offender in a positive environment allows the offender to make changes to their lifestyle without negative influences. A bad placement can have the opposite effect. An offender going into a home where the current residents are abusing drugs or alcohol puts the offender in an environment that will work against everything they and the officer are trying to accomplish.

In this photo, an officer checks on one of his cases in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/R.J. Rico)
In this photo, an officer checks on one of his cases in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/R.J. Rico)

The offender might not be the only one you are trying to protect during a placement investigation. You may also be trying to protect the current residents the offender has requested to live with, such as a previous significant other who has been the victim of domestic violence, or a family member the offender has repeatedly taken advantage of.

Information gathering in the institution

The home placement investigation process begins in the institution with the counselor or re-entry coordinator who will provide an outline of what the probation/parole officer may find at the residence.

The re-entry coordinator begins the parole process with information gathering. This can include:
 

  • Checking if the offender has lived at the residence before and problems the offender may have faced while living there;
  • Names and ages of everyone living at the residence;
  • Relationships between the offender and everyone in the residence;
  • Any residents with criminal histories;
  • Any animals that could pose an officer safety problem.

Once this information is collected, the re-entry coordinator begins a background investigation into the residents. This starts with checking public online court records and prison databases to see if any of the residents have been incarcerated in the prison system or are currently or have previously been on probation or parole.

Next, the re-entry coordinator reviews police reports and minutes of testimony regarding the offender’s crime(s) and the pre-sentence investigations to ensure none of the residents are victims, witnesses or co-defendants.

Finally, the re-entry coordinator conducts an address search on an internet mapping system to verify the address exists or pulls property records to verify who owns the proposed residence.

If the residence is a rental unit, the re-entry coordinator checks with the property owner to see whether felons are allowed to reside on the property or if the current resident(s) are allowed to have additional people living there.

If the re-entry coordinator suspects they are not getting the full story from the offender and knows that the offender previously lived at the residence and had their probation or parole revoked during that time, they need to reach out to the offender’s previous probation/parole officer. The probation/parole officer may provide valuable information about the residence’s condition and the current residents. This allows the re-entry coordinator to determine whether to move forward with placement by submitting it to the probation/parole office. In some cases, the probation/parole officer may be able to tell the re-entry coordinator whether the placement will be approved before it is even submitted to their office.

The role of the probation/parole officer

Once the prep work is complete, the re-entry coordinator submits the home placement to the appropriate probation/parole office for the rest of the investigation to take place. A supervisor assigns the investigation out to a probation/parole officer.

At this point, the probation/parole officer starts reviewing the information provided to them in the home placement or transfer report. Additional tasks that can be done at this time include completing a more thorough background investigation of the current residents and checking with the local communications center for calls for service to the residence. This can reveal information like whether a search warrant was recently served at the residence for narcotics, a fugitive was arrested or if the police have responded to several quality of life calls in the past month.

Reaching out to local contacts from other agencies in the criminal justice field can provide valuable insight into the proposed residence. This is much easier for the probation/parole officer to do, because most of the time they are assigned to one or two counties and the relationships are already in place. Such networking might be difficult for a re-entry coordinator to complete. It could take a re-entry coordinator a few hours to reach out to the right person, but it might only take the probation/parole officer five minutes. Almost every professional working in the corrections system is carrying a large caseload and anything that saves time is valuable.

Priorities during a home visit

Every jurisdiction has different policies and procedures in place that govern the field portion of the home placement investigation. Regardless of how your agency conducts field work, officer safety is the priority.

Give yourself the advantage when you go out to the residence. Conduct a drive-by of the residence before you stop and approach. Look for security cameras, signs that may indicate the residents possess firearms or if there is a lot of foot traffic in and out of the residence. If the residence is in a city with its own police department, this may change the way the home placement visit is conducted versus one in a rural environment where assistance may be 20 minutes away.

Unannounced home placement investigations can be dangerous, as it’s not uncommon to find wanted subjects, firearms, narcotics and drug paraphernalia. If you are concerned or unsure about potential threats at the residence, reach out to local law enforcement to assist you in providing security at the scene. If the residents are uncooperative or refuse to answer questions or grant you access to the residence, leave and consider denying the placement.

Make sure the residents are okay with the offender coming to live with them. On occasion, a probation/parole officer learns the residents don’t want the offender living with them, but have told the offender it is okay. This could be for a number of reasons, but is generally due to the residents not wanting a confrontation with the offender, as the offender may seek revenge once released. Keep this information confidential and relay back to the re-entry coordinator why the placement was denied.

The perfect placement is rare. Probation/parole officers have to make judgment calls when approving or denying home placements. The probation/parole officer needs to feel they can effectively manage the offender in the residence and manage whatever officer safety risks are present.

Conclusion

Probation/parole officers don’t get to sit down and interview the offender while they are in prison and prep the home placement investigation. The re-entry coordinator is probably not going to know all the dynamics of the offender when they are not incarcerated. They also will not know what the probation/parole officer saw when they conducted the home placement investigation at the residence. Each side has an important role in the process and needs to make sure they are communicating. We may have completely different job descriptions, but our priorities are the same: public safety and officer safety.          


About the author
Tyson Howard is a probation/parole officer with the 4th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services in Iowa, assigned to the High Risk Unit. He is a current member and coordinator for the Iowa Law Enforcement Intelligence Network and a member of the Iowa Narcotics Officer Association. Previously, he held the rank of officer and then sergeant with the Centerville (IA) Police Department for 6½ years. In addition, he was assigned to the South Central Iowa Drug Task Force Special Operations Group for 5 years. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Buena Vista University. 

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