Darrell Pridgen, a veteran Minnesota probation officer with a caseload of 97, and George Stephenson, a judge, meet with ex-convicts outside the confines of a courtroom or probation work, says St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. For nearly five years, on their own time, without fanfare or official sanction, Stephenson and Pridgen meet two nights a month with some of the most chronic “revolving door” offenders. The men are mostly in their 20s and 30s. A few, like the man at one session Rosario was allowed to attend, are older. Some are first-timers, but most are repeat offenders who remain endlessly entangled in the criminal justice system.
Stephenson and Pridgen understand that some colleagues don’t believe such unofficial interactions are a good idea. A few questioned the focus on African-Americans. Both men note that other judges and fellow probation officers have referred cases to the group. “A lot of judges don’t get that involved in the community,” said Stephenson. “I respect the fact that some judges don’t want to do that. I happen to be one who thinks that it’s a good idea, since we are presiding over cases involving people in the community.”