Stepping into the Shoes of a Juvenile Probation Officer

Interns Iveth Salinas (l) and Jocelyn Garmendez (r) pose with their supervisor at Harris County Juvenile Probation.
Interns Iveth Salinas (l) and Jocelyn Garmendez (r) pose with their supervisor at Harris County Juvenile Probation.

As interns, Iveth Salinas and Jocelyn Garmendez learned the ropes of being a juvenile probation officer in Harris County this summer and were given the chance to climb even higher by suggesting improvements to programs to executive staff of the agency.

Iveth Salinas accompanied juvenile probation officers on home visits to ensure juveniles were following court orders. She also attended the (P)roper Self Image (A)cademics, (C)Character and (E)mployment or PACE Program, which offers educational training, individual counseling, employment readiness, and parent training to adjudicated youth and their families.

Bully Free Zone written in chalk on a blackboardAs part of the program, juveniles were asked to research and share information with their peers on important issues. Salinas’ group decided on a PowerPoint on Bullying, and they presented a skit on a basketball court where the bullying was stopped before it even got started.

“They stopped the aggression,” said Salinas. “They said they were on probation and that it wasn’t worth the fight.”

In a meeting with deputy directors of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Salinas suggested that juveniles in the program need more structure, such as deadlines and goals to achieve every week, to get the job done.

“We were given the chance to suggest ways to modify or add to agency programs,” said Salinas. “We might see something that probation officers don’t after spending years with the same program. They might get stuck in the old way of doing things.”

Juvenile leans against a wall with grafetti.Garmendez also served with field probation officers in Community Unit Probation Service (CUPS) 8, located in West Houston, as well as pre-adjudication services in courts. She said the experience helped her understand the criminal justice system for juveniles and how it differs from the adult population.

“I see how everything flows together through the court system,” Garmendez aid. “It taught me how to do court probation. You call the families for information and put it in a report for the judge. You talk about what’s going on at home and at school and what needs improvement.”

Visiting juveniles in the field also opened her eyes. For the youth at CUPS 8, she saw the need for more, easily accessible education programs to help them maintain their grades. The program could be modeled after a volunteer program at the center with the University of Houston, which provides free glasses and eye exams right on site, Garmendez told probation leaders.

A teenaged girl is tutored by an adult“A lot of juveniles have to maintain a C average as part of their probation, but the tutoring program is one-on-one and you have to make an appointment,” Garmendez said. “By using volunteers, like with the eyeglasses program, juveniles can just come in when they need help with homework.”

Garmendez also saw the need to mentor interns to help them better understand the offices where they are assigned. Both she and Salinas said the internship open their eyes to the reality of probation work and gave them confidence.

“You truly do learn a lot more beyond a book,” said Salinas. “A book is black and white, but an internship adds more colors and adds a broader perspective.”

Garmendez said she learned how different – and brazen – today’s youth are with authority, even compared to her own peers. Her internship helped her come out of her own shell.

“I was laid back and shy,” said Garmendez. “Now I can ask a lot of questions and I am very confident.”

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