Probation is court ordered to those who have been convicted of a crime and have either served jail/prison time or are required to successfully to pass through this phase in lieu of potential time behind bars. It can include fines, restitution, community service, counseling, drug/alcohol and weapons restrictions or an array of other sanctions, as well as the offender reporting to their assigned probation officer at specific times and days. If the person sentenced to probation fails to comply with any of the above requirements, chances are they will be going to court and headed back to jail or prison immediately. The role of a probation officer is to supervise those currently under probation and technology is completely altering the way in which these overseers for the court conduct operations.
In fact, these days it isn’t uncommon for probation officers to take frequent ganders at offenders’ private Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts to ensure they aren’t doing anything that could land them back in the big house.
“It’s one of the secrets we don’t let a lot of people know,” said Phil Landry, a probation officer within the Quincy District Court, said in a statement.
With over 81,000 people in the state of Massachusetts alone currently on probation, social media platforms in addition to other types of innovations are helping the state’s array of probation officers zone in on criminal acts with opening one Web browser. For those stupid enough to be on probation and still committing illegal acts, these popular sites act as a quick and easy way to view an array of factors including hanging out with gang members, drinking and using drugs—all big no no’s in the eyes of probation laws.
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In an example of how quickly misdeeds can be highlighted, Ann MacDonald, a Plymouth Juvenile Court probation officer, revealed she found the Facebook profile of a man who’d had a warrant pending for nearly 15 years. And MacDonald also used Facebook to locate a Middleborough teenager who had run away and joined the circus after receiving probation for a larceny charge.
She commented that Facebook is truly “one more tool in the toolbox” to seek out incriminating information. “We’re able to see a different side,” MacDonald added.
In another incident, Plymouth District Court Probation Officer James Polin recently encountered a situation that dealt with a 25-year-old Plymouth who was on probation for possession of Class B drugs and when forced to take a mandatory drug test, he failed and decided to run away. Polin didn’t give up though and continuously checked the man’s Facebook page, where he ultimately put clues together based upon what the convict was posting which led to his arrest.
According to Peter Bernstein, senior editor at TechZone360, “The fact that probation officers in the U.S. and elsewhere are using social media for identifying potential parole violations, and that courts recognize online postings as valid evidence of continuing problematic behavior by bad actors highlights the value of social media’s growing importance as a tool for improving law enforcement.”
Although social media mega sites weren’t originally designed to assist probation officers to do their job with a reduced amount of complexity, they certainly are proving their weight in gold.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli