Michael Edwards, Volunteer Probation Officer (VPO) for the 6th Judicial District in Pulaski County spends at least two hours per week with his assigned juveniles supervising their court ordered probation. This includes contact with the juvenile's school and family to insure that there are no probation violations. VPO's must also make referrals to appropriate agencies, provide family guidance and assist the juvenile with their educational goals.
The staff probation officers in Pulaski County often have as many as 100 cases at a time. This caseload makes one-on-one supervision impossible. With the help of volunteers like Edwards, the caseloads of the staff probation officers are reduced and first-time juvenile offenders receive the kind of supervision they need to insure they will not get into further trouble.
Edwards joined the Volunteer Probation Officer Program in February 1996. Since then, he has remained active and is always supervising at least one case. He has dealt with very difficult cases, some of which included drug and physical abuse and neglect. In addition to the required duties of VPO's, Edwards also provides tutoring to any of his juveniles who need extra help. Recently, he helped provide training to new VPO's joining the program. He has spoken to elementary school kids about juvenile crime and probation and has spoken to a youth group about the importance of education, staying out of trouble and striving to attain goals. Edwards always makes arrangements with his school or other commitments so he can attend court with his families.
Since becoming a VPO, Edwards has become increasingly aware of the problem of illiteracy among our young people. He recently completed a class sponsored by Literacy Action of Central Arkansas to become a tutor to teach English as a second language. He will teach basic reading to anyone that wants to help and has made his services available to Juvenile Court. Edwards tries to instill the importance of good grades in the juvenile he works with. He has taken his skills back to his hometown, Hughes, AR, where he helps some children who have lost their father by being a mentor, buying them school clothes and taking them out to eat when he is in town.
Of all the children that Edwards has supervised as a VPO, none are re-offenders. He was named "Volunteer of the Week" by the United Way in October 1996. The efforts of VPO's such as Edwards have a direct effect on the recidivism rate, which is 17% for juveniles who have a Volunteer Probation Officer. This compares to a normal recidivism rate of 50% for the first-time juvenile offenders who do not have the added supervision of a volunteer.