Corrections probation agents hold first Summit to build power and plan political action

Publish Date

Dept. of Corrections’ probation agents gathered for their first-ever Field Services Summit on Nov. 1 armed with answers to a homework assignment they discussed with their colleagues: What would you like to see changed at your agency?

The agents brought 180 answers with them, everything from workload to staffing and safety to respect.

DOC Field Services Summit posting ideas on wall

Photo at right: Dept. of Corrections field services agent discuss where to post action plan ideas.

“I enjoyed having a roomful of that many field service agents together at the MAPE Summit – I don’t remember that ever happening before. It is extremely important because we’re somewhat compartmentalized now and we don’t get together very often. It was great to confirm that everyone has similar concerns and wants so passionately to impact change, it was really encouraging,” Local 1502’s Valerie Dorff said.

The group discussed topics including organizing for power, analyzing issues, need for more resources and planning a political action. Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (HD 42B) spoke about the legislative process, and later in the afternoon, agents discussed legislative issues important to them. 

“It was really interesting to learn from a legislator’s point of view: how to approach a legislator, how to see things from their point of view, how meeting with your legislator can really make an impact. Rep. Becker-Finn shared that legislators really do pay attention to their constituents,” Dorff said. 

“We’re going to have in-district meetings with legislators. We role-played, and it made me more comfortable doing this in real life,” DeAnn Moen, Local 1301, added. Moen also serves on the statewide Meet and Confer team.

The Dept. of Corrections (DOC) employs 260 field agents throughout the state. Approximately 110,837 offenders – on supervised release, probation or parole – are being supervised in local communities. By comparison, there are approximately 9,559 offenders incarcerated in state prisons. DOC field agents supervise 20,352 offenders, or nearly 20 percent of state offenders.     

Dept of Corrections Field Services Summit

Photo at left: Dept. of Corrections probation officers discuss topics including organizing for power, analyzing issues, need for more resources and planning a political action.

  Field agents said workload was their top concern. The number and complexity of cases has expanded substantially over recent years, but staffing has not grown along with the increasing responsibilities.    

Moen, who has been a field agent for 10 years, works out of Buffalo in the Litchfield district. She said when she first began with DOC, she had 35 active clients and now has around 100 clients. “Some of them I meet with twice a year, some monthly. When there is a lot going on, the time with my clients is cut short. Client contact shouldn’t be the first thing to go but it always is when you have calls to return and referrals to be made,” Moen said. 

Dorff supervises 110 offenders whom she sees monthly or bimonthly in the Moorhead area. A few years ago she was a group agent and supervised 200 offenders. Other field agents may supervise 40 or so high-risk offenders who have been placed on intensive supervised release.

Agents emphasized the value they bring to the community.

“The better I do my job, the safer the community is. It would be really helpful to have fewer clients so the clients you do have you’re spending more time following up with them, checking with them instead of always chasing the problem. This means building a rapport with them and helping them with their needs,” Moen said.

“We really are passionate about what we do, and we want to help our clients effect change in their own lives, making our communities safer, and helping them overcome obstacles. We care about our clients and that’s why we’re in this business – we want them to improve their lives and not be repeat offenders,” Dorff added.

All of the agents said they would hold listening sessions with members in their areas to get further feedback on issues identified at the Summit committed to hosting an in-district meeting with their legislators or participating in a DOC-member event at the Capitol next year. 

“It was great to see a lot of people in the room who had not been active with the union before. As they talked, you could tell they had the interest and ability to get involved. At the end of the day, you could see they felt motivated and encouraged and had hope,” said Jessica Raptis, Region 11 Director and DOC senior program administrator.   

“If we want a union that works for us, we have to put in the work, too,” Local 1501’s Tabitha Schacht, Park Rapids area, said.