April commemorates Second Chance Month, a time to raise awareness about the barriers facing almost 80 million Americans who live with some type of criminal record. For most formerly incarcerated individuals, transitioning back into our communities is a complicated process with red tape and barriers to housing, education, and employment. Going at it alone is next to impossible, but individuals who are lucky enough to be paired with an innovative probation officer can see success.

As a former law enforcement officer, I’ve worked with probation officers in the past, but I recently joined on a ride-a-long in Tallahassee that opened my eyes to what successful relationships with probation officers can accomplish. There are approximately 146,000 Floridians currently supervised by probation officers, and this is often the first point of contact for many individuals beyond jail and prison walls.  For some, it can also be the first time they experience any form of correctional actions, expectations, or individual accountability.

As I entered the Probation Office in Tallahassee, I met with the officer I would be riding with for the evening. He told me about the course of the ride and how we would be stopping at homes to meet with those he was currently supervising, explaining his role and the reason for the stops. I spent much of the time asking technical questions about the process, but he quickly demonstrated why the job was so much more.

We made our way to several homes, where the officer made personal contact with each person. What struck me as remarkable was the relationship the officer had with each of those who he supervised. At each home, you could see the relationship between the officer and the ones he supervised, from discussions about their children to their recent job promotions.

As I spoke to the officer as we left each home, we discussed the importance of the family unit in an individual’s successful transition into society. Many do not have family support, or their family dynamics may have shifted after incarceration. This is why the role of the probation officer is pivotal in so many lives.

A probation officer’s job is so much more than supervising and holding the formerly incarcerated accountable; probation officers also serve as social workers, counselors, and even mentors. Helping people is what drives every aspect of the job from beginning to end- and it never really ends.

For an outsider, this may seem like a strange concept, but by and large, the law enforcement and corrections communities are driven in their jobs to hold individuals accountable, restore their victims, and take pride when individuals can successfully stop that vicious cycle of recidivism.

Working in conjunction with an Employment Specialist at each probation office, an important part of the probation officer’s job is identifying local employers willing to hire someone with a criminal record. These employers are offered tax credits and free federal bonding programs to provide a second chance for individuals with meaningful career opportunities. Additionally, the opportunity for a second chance provides for an economic boost through increased labor participation.

We know that roughly 95% of individuals who have been incarcerated will eventually reintegrate into our communities upon release. Probation officers play a crucial role in fostering a successful reentry process by promoting public safety and offering an opportunity for individuals to achieve a path to redemption.