What’s It Like To Be A Probation Officer, And Good Character Judge


Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen tells what working life really is like for probation officers. There has been much said and written of late about problems with the Probation Department in Massachusetts, Cullen says, but the problems are not the creation of probation officers like Trina Higgins and Galvin Leggett. They work hard, defy burnout, go into places you couldn't pay most people to go into, and very often lock up people too dumb to appreciate the break they got when they got probation instead of jail. “Whatever you say to them at court, it sinks in when you show up at their house,'' Higgins says. “So we show up at their house.''

Higgins and Leggett carry a caseload of about 100 people each. They are not desk jockeys. They are not paper pushers. They are in the field, every day. Leggett was a youth services department worker for 15 years before he joined probation two years ago. He sees the same faces, only a little older. “You become a good judge of character in this job,'' he said. “You figure out who can make it with a little bit of help. Or who needs a lot of help. And who needs to go to jail.'' They are professors of the human condition. They've heard every lie, excuse, fantabulous tale you can think of. And they are not afraid to get people locked up.

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