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For offenders, first stop after the third-floor courtroom is 1 floor down

James Denton says before offenders leave the probation office, "we make sure they know what's expected of them." Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- For most people who walk out of a third-floor Kandiyohi County courtroom, the next place they go to is the probation office on the second floor.

"We never know who'll walk through the door," said Lynn Gatewood, who is one of three in-take probation officers stationed at the courthouse that sees offenders right after they've appeared in court.

Those offenders are often scared and confused and may not understand exactly what they need to do.

"When they walk out of here, we make sure they know what's expected of them," said Jason Denton. The probation officers spend about 20 minutes with each offender in that first visit.

"We help them understand the system," said Christel Roelofs.

"We see people from start to finish," she said. "We wear a lot of different hats and we change them quickly."

Most of the county's probation officers are housed in the Health and Human Services Building, miles away from the courthouse.

Having the three in-take officers in the courthouse makes sure you don't "lose people" after they leave court, said Gatewood.

Among other things, these probation officers meet with offenders in jail, do interviews to determine their flight risk, provide pretrial supervision, are frequently called to the courtroom to respond to a judge's question about a case, set up electronic monitoring, coordinate random drug-testing -- sometimes they must go an offender in the public bathroom down the hall when urine samples are collected -- and conduct presentence interviews and provide recommendations for sentencing.

They'll handle anywhere from 10 to 40 cases each day.

"We deal with all levels of cases," said Gatewood.

"People don't realize all that goes into a criminal case," said Roelofs.

Once someone is sentenced, they are classified as low, medium or high risk and assigned to a different probation officer who oversees that segment of the process.

Their multifaceted job has two goals, they said.

"We want to help people and also protect the community," said Gatewood.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750