In a move expected to save taxpayers more than $200,000 a year and improve the monitoring of those under court supervision, Dauphin County Court is planning to merge its adult and juvenile probation departments. The consolidation will maximize resources, streamline services and provide more family-centered, evidence-based programming.
The merger will be completed later this year and coincide with the retirement in June of Juvenile Probation Director Stephen J. Suknaic, who will have served in the department for 40 years this May. The new department, called Dauphin County Probation Services, will be led by Chad Libby, the current director of the county’s Adult Probation and Parole Office.
While some staff realignment will take place, no layoffs will result from the merger and annual cost savings of around $210,000 are expected. The savings will come from having one director and repositioning staff, as well as through consolidating office space and maximizing the use of equipment, such as electronic monitoring devices.
Just as significant as the cost savings, county officials say, is the ability of probation officers to work together in overseeing juveniles and adults and better address frequent cases involving family members who have been in the criminal justice system.
County President Judge Todd A. Hoover said merging the departments wasn’t “on the radar screen’’ until Suknaic said he planned to retire, but that announcement spurred a review of the departments and the realization that combining the two made sense.
“With the merging of juvenile and adult probation, our approach will be more family-centered and address the cycle of generational recidivism,’’ Hoover said.
Hoover also pointed out that, as has been seen throughout Pennsylvania, the number of juvenile probation cases has been dropping. The county is looking to transfer six juvenile officers to other duties, which would leave 49 officers with a caseload of 18 each – still one of the lowest ratios in the state. From 2008 to 2013, the number of juveniles referred to the county dropped by 694, from 1,593 to 899 respectively.
Some staff will also be reassigned to the county’s new Judicial Center being built in Steelton and scheduled to be opened later this year. The center will handle booking and intake functions and night court and allow police officers to easily drop off detainees and then resume their patrols, losing less time on the street.
As details of the adult and juvenile probation department merger are worked out, the county is working closely with the unions that represent the probation officers and support staff, Teamsters Local 776 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 90, Local 2800, respectively. Including support staff, the court currently has 81 employees in the juvenile probation department and 87 in adult probation.
County Commission Chairman Jeff Haste said the move is another example of how the commissioners and the courts work together to find ways to improve services and, whenever possible, decrease costs.
“This is really a win for the county taxpayers and the criminal justice system,’’ said Haste, whose oversight responsibilities include adult probation. “By combining these departments, we’ll actually be more responsive to the needs of those on supervision and be able to save money in equipment, training, office space and other areas.”
Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, who has oversight of juvenile probation, said the move underscores the county’s commitment to committing its resources wisely.
“In an era where federal and state funding is at an all-time low, we need to be innovative and come up with new ways to deliver services,’’ Hartwick said. “We also need to keep thinking about more efficient ways to treat and engage families who come into the criminal justice system in a more holistic way.’’
Commissioner Mike Pries said the move shows that the commissioners and the courts are committed to finding ways to better serve the county’s residents.
“Our focus is to continue to provide the excellent services our county deserves while at the same time looking for ways to do more with our limited resources,’’ Pries said. “Especially in these challenging economic times, we appreciate that taxpayers are looking to us to make government work without adding to their burden.’’