New division assists court system

New division assists court system
(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - There is a new division working to help both the court and those who find themselves on probation.

The Court Services Division has been in operation for six months in Jonesboro.

Captain Scott Roper with Special Operations at the Jonesboro Police Department said this new division began with an idea from two judges.

"When Judge Boling and Judge Fowler were elected," Roper said. "They felt like there was a need to have a division set up that would oversee probationers. Which they felt would fit a category they could use to oversee individuals. Similar to a probation officer."

Work on the program started in 2016 and is now a reality.

District Court Services Supervisor Michelle Odom said their cases are assigned to them by the court.

"We do misdemeanor probation cases that are assigned to us out of the District Court," Odom said. "They're supervision anywhere from one month to one year. We supervise mainly victim-oriented cases are the main ones they're looking at. A lot of the non-payment cases."

Odom said they want to help and guide people to better lives.

"We're supervising approximately 460 people right now," Odom said. "We make sure they're complying with all the conditions of their supervisions. So, we are monitoring domestic violence classes, whether or not they're getting their AA meetings in. We monitor all public service, fine payments, probation fee payments and if they're in treatment. Whether that be outpatient or residential. We keep in contact with those providers. You need someone that kind of oversees and can encourage them to be law biding. So, when we meet with them we try to build a repour and get them to focus on positive aspects of supervision because they all have negative aspects of it when they come into our office. So, you want them to comply and become productive members of society. Because they wouldn't be here if they didn't make bad choices to begin with. So, we just try to encourage better choices."

Craighead County District Court Clerk Lisa Lawrence said the new division has been a big help.

"It's a lot of people to try and keep track of," Lawrence said. "And the court has a lot of functions outside of trying to keep track of individuals or keep track of people making payments. And so, it's helpful to the court to alleviate some of the burden that has in the past fallen on the court."

Odom said things seem to be headed in a positive direction.

"I think things are going really well," Odom said. "We've got a good team together. We work hard. We're averaging anywhere between 85% to 90% compliance so it's doing pretty good right now for the number of people that we have. I don't think anyone dreads coming into the office because we work with them and work hard with them."

"It's been good," Lawrence said. "Because there's a close relationship between the court and probation. Court Services. We share a lot of information. We depend on Court Services to have that extra contact with probationers that the court is not able to do just because of the volume of people coming through. So, they've given a closer contact to be able to keep people motivated to pay their fines to the court and to probation. And do public service work. And some people do need that extra help."

Odom said it's rewarding to see people succeed.

"I've always enjoyed working with people," Odom said. "I've been doing it for 16 or 17 years now. So, I enjoy that part of it. Even the challenges. I love it. I always want people to do better in their lives. I have a social work degree. So, that's where I come from. I want people to make better choices and have better lives. And see that following the rules is something everyone has to do. Fines are just like bills and payments for the rest of us. You've got to teach them budgeting a little bit and talk to them about regular life skills. It's a challenge, but it's fun."

However, if someone fails to meet requirements, then action must be taken.

"We do what's called a petition," Odom said. "We submit that to the prosecuting attorney's office who then turns it in and a warrant will be issued. We try to work with people as best we can to keep that from happening."

The fee is $30 a month and this includes everything.

There is no extra fee for community service, drug testing or programming.

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