Sam Houston Shines in Angelina County

Angelina County Probation participated in the 2011 Criminal Justice Job Fair. Director Rodney Thompson (r) speaks to a prospective employee.
Angelina County Probation participated in the 2011 Criminal Justice Job Fair. Director Rodney Thompson (r) speaks to a prospective employee.

In Angelina County, Texas, Sam Houston State University graduates make up one-quarter of the probation officers at the Community Supervision and Correction Department.

Dain Smith (’87) is in charge of the mental health caseload, a unique program where probation works side-by-side with a case worker from the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation to make sure defendants are getting the treatment services they need. Bonita Barlow (’87) specializes in youth offenders, who range in age from 17 to 21. Still others are assigned as general probation officers, who supervise defendants who have been released into the community.

"We look both at rehabilitation of the defendant and at the protection of the community," said Rodney Thompson, Director of Angelina County Community Supervision. "We want to assist defendants to make changes in their lives, but we also want to promote public safety in the community."

Probation, which is a sentence ordered by a judge, is the supervision of a defendant in the community. It includes a set of conditions that must be met to remain out of jail. Among some of these requirements may be reporting to a probation officer; drug testing; various classes covering such issues as anger management, theft, and shoplifting; drug or mental health counseling; and employment.

"I enjoy it," said Smith, a 19-year veteran of the agency. "It can be frustrating, but overall it can be rewarding. The rewards are when you think you’ve accomplished keeping someone out of jail that doesn’t belong there or working with other law enforcement agencies to put people in jail who need to be there."

Angelina County, a mid-size agency based in Lufkin, has implemented several innovative programs to deal with its probationers, which average about 1,700 cases at any given time. In addition to a general caseload of about 100 misdemeanor and felony cases per officer, there are specialized caseloads, including an average of 60 defendants for progressive sanctions, 40 for sex offenders and 40 for mental health cases for each officer.

"We are more rehabilitative, while some counties are more punitive," said Barlow. "I always wanted to help individuals and give them a second chance and to point their lives in the right direction."

Angelina County has adopted several programs to deal with its specialized defendant populations, as well as courts to target drug offenders, repeat felony drug offenders and first time domestic abuse cases.

In addition to having joint caseloads with MHMR for mental health defendants, the county also keeps close tabs on its sex offenders. While defendants must attend treatment programs as part of their probation, they are also subject to search and seizure teams who can search their homes or computers at any time for evidence of pornography. If any is discovered, they are subject to additional sanctions, Thompson said.

The county has developed courts to deal with specific offenses, using teams of court, probation, and treatment services to monitor defendants on a weekly basis. The team for drug court includes the judge, court coordinator, district attorney, defense attorney, police officer, probation officer and treatment counselor. The defendant also is subject to urinanalysis twice week.

"These are the kinds of things that work," Thompson said.

For some felony drug cases that required in-patient treatment, or where defendants have difficulty maintaining sobriety, there is the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Treatment Program. In addition to a six month in-patient program, select defendants are monitored by similar teams and services as the drug court once they are released.

Finally, Angelina County offers a Family Violence Court for first time misdemeanor offenses. It, too, includes teams to monitor the cases, including the judge, county attorney, victim services, and probation, and mandates counseling both for the victim and the offender.

"They try to effect change and treatment before the cycle gets too far," Thompson said.

Several Sam Houston graduates have gotten jobs with Angelina County Probation following internships with the agency. “Eighty percent of the people who are hired have done so through internships,” said Thompson. “It gives a chance for our interns to show what they can do. We know their progress.”

Barlow said her internship with the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, which helped disadvantaged youth to get jobs, was a valuable experience in preparing for her the position in Angelina County. Smith praised the good education he received at SHSU.

“There are a lot of people who graduated from SHSU who are in this field,” Smith said.

Sam Houston State University is a good fit for Angelina County because of the quality of the program it delivers, Thompson said. Students from the College of Criminal Justice are on the cutting edge of developments in criminal justice and already know about evidence-based practices, monitoring technology and innovations like drug courts.

"It brings the quality of education," said Thompson. "We know they are going to be on the cutting edge."

In addition to the College, Angelina County also takes advantage of programs offered by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) located on SHSU’s campus. It offers professional training for corrections personnel, and many new officer and new managers are trained there annually.

"Sam Houston is a big part of what we do here," said Thompson.

Member of The Texas State University System