2 officers keep close tabs on sex offenders

Pair build rapport, won't hesitate to take action
2012-11-25T00:00:00Z 2012-11-27T07:57:02Z 2 officers keep close tabs on sex offendersKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 25, 2012 12:00 am  • 

It was Halloween night and Jean Abraham and Mathew Weadock didn't see a single porch light on at the houses they visited. Nor did they see any fake cobwebs, ghosts or jack-o-lanterns.

They were pleased. They didn't have to arrest anyone.

Abraham is a probation officer and Weadock is a surveillance officer with Pima County's Adult Probation Department.

Everyone on their caseload is a sex offender, some sentenced directly to intensive probation and the rest on intensive probation after getting out of prison. Some of them will be on probation for the rest of their lives.

The two weren't sure what to expect as they made their rounds Oct. 31.

Two years ago, Abraham drove up as one of her probationers returned from trick-or-treating. Another year, she found one in his bathrobe handing out candy.

As of Nov. 1, there were 58 sex offenders on intensive probation in Pima County. Another 300 sex offenders were on standard probation.

It's the job of the probation department to make sure every one of them participates in sex offender treatment, lives in an appropriate location, doesn't possess or view child pornography, follows a pre-planned weekly schedule and has no contact with any child under 18 without their probation officer's permission.

As they do every Oct. 31, Pima County probation teamed up with federal probation officers and U.S. Marshals to make the rounds on their caseloads.

Some of the sex offenders lived alone in the boonies. Others lived with relatives in town. Four lived in the same house.

Their stories are just as varied.

Some of their probationers got caught looking a child pornography on the computer. Some tried to lure children for sex via the Internet. Some molested children. Others raped them.

"Yeah, they've done some really bad things, but a lot of them are trying to change their lives. They are trying to be productive members of society," Weadock said.

What surprises a lot of people is that sex offenders, along with murderers, are the least likely criminals to reoffend, said Barbara Johnson, sex offender program coordinator for the adult probation department.

Murderers are unlikely to murder again because they are in prison. Sex offenders are unlikely to hurt anyone because they are in treatment and being closely monitored, Johnson said.

Some sex offenders on intensive probation see their probation and surveillance officers as many as four times a week, but at a minimum they see each other twice a week.

In Pima County, probation officers and treatment providers are in constant contact. They share who is actively participating in treatment and if they have seen signs of stress or behaviors that could trigger them to reoffend.

Psychologist Serena Gorgueiro said risk factors include anti-social attitudes, a high number of probation violations and rationalizing or minimizing behaviors. Changes in employment status, housing and support systems are also risk factors.

Like most felons, sex offenders have a hard time finding housing and jobs, but they tend to be more ostracized in the community.

Abraham and Gorgueiro agree, sex offenders have to want to get better.

"We have got to have someone who is willing to change," Gorgueiro said. "If they are not willing to do the work, it's going to be difficult for them to change and if they don't believe they have to change, why would they even participate in counseling?"

Over the last year, 10 people on intensive probation did so well they graduated to standard probation, Johnson said. That means fewer visits from probation officers and fewer hoops to jump through.

Ten probationers went from standard probation to intensive probation during that same time frame, Johnson said. Sixteen probationers were sent to prison for violating their probation, although only three committed new offenses. Two failed to register as sex offenders or failed to change their address and one committed criminal damage.

Abraham takes more pleasure in seeing someone succeed than fail.

"It's nice because sometimes we see the light bulb go on, 'Oh, I don't have to live like that anymore' or 'Oh, I don't have to think like that anymore,' " Abraham said.

On Halloween night, Abraham chatted amiably with her probationers on a variety of issues after first administering an alcohol breath test to each of them and performing a cursory search of their room or home. She asked them about their job search, how their last treatment session went and paying their probation fees, offering encouragement at every opportunity.

Studies have shown motivational speaking has more of an impact on probationers than heavy-handed tactics.

"I treat them like people who made a mistake," Weadock said. "It doesn't matter if they were convicted of domestic violence or a sex offense or if they are a regular gang banger, I treat them the same way. I treat them the way I want to be treated."

If a probation officer has developed a rapport with probationers and their family members, it increases the likelihood they will come forward when things aren't going well, Abraham said.

But the former Tucson police detective will come down hard on a probationer if she has to.

"I enjoy knowing I'm really protecting the community and I want to do it. I'm going to go the extra mile to ensure they are compliant," Abraham said.

In one recent case, Abraham said she had concerns about one of her probationers working in the community and made him quit his job.

The child molester, who wears a GPS ankle monitor, is not allowed to leave his house alone unless he's going to sex offender treatment or an employment agency. If he wants to go to the grocery store or any other public venue, he must be accompanied by an adult chaperone who is pre-approved by the probation department and is fully aware of his criminal history.

Abraham and Weadock said the man is the most likely to reoffend probationer on their caseload. His deviant behavior started at age 12.

"He started with the neighborhood kids and just continued," Abraham said.

"If he gets the chance, he'll probably do it again," Weadock said. "He can't control himself."

True pedophiles like him are the most challenging, Abraham and Weadock said.

"It's an intellectual game. You've always got to be one step ahead of them. They are always compliant on the surface, but you've got to really pay attention because of what's underneath the surface."

By the numbers:

In Pima County -

300

Sex offenders on standard probation

58

Sex offenders on intensive probation

31

Number of sex offenders on GPS monitoring

105

Number of sex offenders on lifetime probation

Source: Pima County Adult Probation Department

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Get weekly ads via e-mail