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NewsPlus - Operation Spotlight

February 26, 1998
(Page 2 of 3)

Two points are assigned to cases that require the greatest level of supervision. One point is given to medium-supervision cases and a half-point is assigned cases that require the lowest level of supervision.

One agent who was hired with hot spot grant money started a few weeks ago and another two will be hired this year. In June, another field supervisor will begin work in Washington County.

Middlekauff said that should help ease the burden, but until then, general supervision agents will have more cases.

Some have no one




At the Union Rescue Mission, McDonnell inspects a red mark that runs along the leg of one of her clients. James Thomas says he does not know what caused the discoloration.

When he was 19, Thomas broke into a 68-year-old woman's home in Baltimore County and raped her. Now 40, he has served 21 years of a 30-year sentence and will be under mandatory supervision until 2006.

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"He's institutional all the way," McDonnell says.

Thomas works at Goodwill Industries, but has little experience in the real world.

"He has no one," McDonnell says.

Individual attention




Theoretically, one of the goals of parole and probation is to help released inmates make the transition back into society. But agents say that can be extremely difficult.

Loaded down with growing caseloads, they say it is hard enough simply to make sure their clients do not break the terms of release.

Thanks to Operation Spotlight, McDonnell said she has the flexibility and time to deal with her clients individually.

In one case, Hagerstown City Police Sgt. Margaret Kline helped an offender get a job.

In another, she and Kline spent almost an hour counseling the girlfriend of one client, who had been charged with drug offenses. The woman's car was seized during the arrest.

Time to do such things is a luxury of a reduced caseload.

"We like to do more helping than locking up," she said.

Searching for work




Back at the YMCA, McDonnell checks in with a 40-year-old man who was convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and breaking into a construction site and stealing tools when Frostburg State University was building its Hagerstown campus in September 1987.

The top priority in his case is to help him find a job. He had been working for a telemarketing firm but quit when the company wanted him to come in on his day off, McDonnell says.

So he is unemployed again. He tells McDonnell that he filled out a few applications but has not received a call.

McDonnell gives him the name and number of the manager at Staples. She also suggests a temporary employment agency. There are problems. With no car, the man lives too far away from many jobs.

McDonnell says there are more basic problems. Several years ago, the man had a religious conversion - multiple conversions in fact. She said he was a Seventh-day Adventist on Saturdays and worshiped at Faith Chapel in Hagerstown on Sundays, living off the charity of the churches.

"I want you working," she tells him.

"So do I," he says.

Too many excuses




One of McDonnell's biggest challenges is motivating her clients to work.

Probationers and parolees who have jobs must turn in their pay stubs to McDonnell, who regularly calls employers to verify employment.

Many with severe substance abuse problems or mental disabilities cannot work. But about 25 percent of those who can, do not, she says.

"They're working hard at not working," she says.

Such attitudes often are barriers to a successful return to law-abiding society, McDonnell said. She pointed to Devone Baskin, who is on probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Baskin, 22, who lives on Mulberry Street, offered excuse after excuse.

"Are we working?" McDonnell asked him on a recent visit.

"Not yet, but almost," Baskin answered.

Baskin told McDonnell that he was close to lining up regular work, but he complained of transportation problems.

"I've got a car now, but everything's got a problem with it," he said.

Baskin also contrasted his present situation with his prior illegal employment.

"I'm used to making money fast," he said.

Living in limbo




A trip to the Union Rescue Mission brings McDonnell face-to-face with a child abuser originally from Delaware. These are among the most difficult cases, McDonnell says, because, unlike most other offenders, child abusers rarely admit their guilt.

Complicating this case is the fact that the 49-year-old man is stuck in limbo. Convicted in Cecil County, Md., of fondling a 9-year-old boy, the man served his sentence in Hagerstown.

Convicts who earn time off for good behavior must be supervised once they are released from prison. After getting out of prison, the man, who asked not to be identified, wanted to return home to Delaware. But officials there sent him back to Maryland, saying the Maryland Division of Correction did not notify them in advance of the man's return.

So he is stuck in Hagerstown for the next year while he completes the terms of his mandatory supervision.

Immediate risks




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