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Crossing the Line Saves Two Probation Offices Money and Manpower

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When two chief probation officers in neighboring states crossed district lines, the Judiciary saved money and personnel.

Fort Campbell, a U.S. Army installation, borders both Hopkinsville, Kentucky and Clarksville, Tennessee. The military installation has a federal court facility where a magistrate judge handles criminal cases, which in turn generate offender supervision needs. To handle those responsibilities, the Western District of Kentucky maintained a probation office on the north side of the base, and the Middle District of Tennessee has a probation office in Clarksville, Tennessee on the south side of the base.

The lease on the Hopkinsville office was due for renewal, and Chief Probation Officer Kathryn Jarvis was looking for ways to cut costs. “If I gave the leased space up what would I do?” she remembers thinking. “Then I realized Bob has an office 20 miles away and they cover Fort Campbell too.  If we can share services, maybe we can share space, too. So I called him and pitched the idea.”

Bob is Chief Probation Officer Robert W. Musser in the Middle District of Tennessee.  He was quick to respond: “We have a lease through 2015 and we’ve been downsizing, so we had some open office space. So I said, yes, absolutely.”

For Jarvis, being able to close the Hopkinsville office freed up 2,800 square feet and saved over $47,000 in rent annually. Both Musser and Jarvis will save additional money because they’ll share expenses for building utilities, computers, and phone lines.  The two districts also were able to combine a part-time receptionist position and the services of a Data Quality Analyst into full time coverage of the front desk. Jarvis was able to abolish a support position, saving salary costs on top of the rent. “We needed that money to fill what will be another salary gap this year,” she said.

There was an unexpected bonus. Previously, with only a male officer in the Hopkinsville office and a female officer in Clarksville, special arrangements had to be made to collect urine samples from offenders of the opposite sex at the respective offices. Kentucky had a female officer drive from a distant office to collect the samples, and the Middle District of Tennessee sent male offenders to a local contractor. 

“Now that we have a male and female officer in the same office, we’re going to save money on outside contracting for urine samples,” said Musser.  “It’s a safety factor too; now we have more than one person in the office at all times.” 

It took some time, but the probation offices worked with their respective circuits, and the General Services Administration, and eventually, as Jarvis put it, “the stars aligned.”

Everybody, it appeared, was happy. There was just one hitch.

“How do we allow an officer from a different district to operate within a judicial district to which that officer has not been appointed?” Musser asked.

The answer, vetted by the AO’s General Counsel, was that by statute a district court can appoint officers within a district “with or without compensation.”  So the Western District of Kentucky probation officers serving in the Clarksville office also are also appointed in the Middle District of Tennessee— but only compensated by their home district.  The Judicial Conference has agreed to seek legislation that would make it easier in the future for inter-district sharing arrangements of probation officers to occur.

One problem solved. Other long-term problems remain.

“We’re 14 or more positions below what our workload demands, and, even after offering early-outs and abolishing positions we are still unable to make payroll without moving money around,” Jarvis explained. “We end up spending so much of our energy and time running scenarios and projections instead of being able to focus on our mission and on evidence-based practices. But the funding crisis has really forced all of us to think differently and to make some changes. I hope that what Bob and I are doing inspires others to consider sharing space across jurisdictions.”