Paul V. Coates–Confidential File

June 18, 1957
Los Angeles

By oath and by tradition, policemen and probation officers are on the same side of the law.

Yet I know of no two groups so closely associated and so united in cause which are so diverse in opinion and belief.

After many years of association with both, I’m still awaiting the day
when I can find a policeman with complete respect for a probation

Or a probation officer with complete respect for a cop.

So far, I haven’t even come close.

And I have my own rather obvious suspicions as to why:

A cop is interested in the crime as such, and its solution. No more.

A probation officer’s interest lies in the man who committed the crime. And why.

There’s a difference. It’s a big difference, but an understandable one–one which should detract no stature from either.

Today I received a very interesting letter–from a probation officer.

His views on the subject of crime and punishment possibly won’t be
digested too well by the men whose job it is to enforce the law.

But many of his views, I think, are worth more than a casual glance.

"Neither I nor my co-workers are sob sisters or do-gooders," he writes.
"Some criminals are a menace to the health and safety of the community
and must be imprisoned. Some should undoubtedly never again be released.

"The ironic fact, however, is this:

"The more that prisons become overcrowded with people who should never
be sent there, the more dangerous criminals will be let out–when they
never should be.

"Even prison officials and parole boards have to be realistic. A certain number must be let out to let new ones in."

Who’s to blame? The writer points a finger at himself.

Or is it pointing at us?

"Instead of professionally suggested caseloads of 50 to 75 persons per probation officer, we now have caseloads of 200 or more.

"Instead of three or four felony investigations per week–to allow a
thorough job–we investigate and dictate reports on twice that number.

"And the results are truly disastrous.

"Not so much because the probation officer often works
himself–physically and emotionally and literally–to death, but
primarily because millions of human beings are needlessly and
shamefully sent to prison.

"Too often they are sent only to learn how to become an adept criminal."

The officer points out that by law–with very few exceptions–convicted
felons cannot be sentenced until a probation officer makes a complete
investigation of his case and submits a written report and
recommendation to the court.

"We are supposed to investigate and evaluate a convicted person’s entire life history before sentencing is pronounced.

"We are supposed to recommend to the judge for or against probation,
depending largely on whether we believe the person to be a menace to
the community.

"There are not–nor will there be in the foreseeable future–enough
probation and parole officers anywhere in the United States to do an
adequate job.

"I am really upset by the penny-wise and dollar-foolish, self-righteous
public officials who claim to represent the best interests of the
narrow-minded, uninformed public.

"It costs between $2,000-$3,000 a year to maintain a man or woman in
prison. To supervise a man on probation it costs about one-tenth that

"There are thousands of persons who should never have been sent to prison.

"And thousands more who should be released.

"It would mean less expense and probably less risk to the public.

"Because, as outstanding as our California prisons are, the chances
also are that if a guy didn’t belong there the first time, he will
really belong there the next time."

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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