Michael Mahoney, Skagit District Court Probation Services Director
THREE PRACTICES OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PROBATION CLIENTS: An Interview with Skagit County District Court Probation Officers
By Peter Borromeo, MA CDP
Follman Agency Counselor/Staff Writer
On a gray September morning at 8:30 a.m. at the old Courthouse building in Mount Vernon, Washington, the officers of the Skagit County District Court Probation Department met with this counselor to share their perspective on the question, “Who succeeds in the probation process?”
Present were Michael Mahoney, the Director of Probation Services and the three Probation officers – Bob Alton, Laure Bergsma and Jeanne McDermott.
As an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, many of our clientele have legal issues related to their addiction. They are mandated to report to the Probation Department of the Skagit County District Court. To those who have not had any dealings with Probation, the myths, misunderstandings and misconceptions cloud-up their emotions leading to anxiety and misgivings.
To clarify and help individuals see Probation as a resource to “turn their life around” the four officers, with 49 years of probation-related knowledge, shared their insights, opinion, and recommendations from “real world experience” as they answered the question, “Who succeeds?”
In the next 60 minutes, the four gave their observations. Three practices of successful probation clients emerged during the interview. In essence, highly successful probation clients embrace these three practices.
Here are the three practices as seen through the eyes of the four Probation Officers interviewed.
I. HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PROBATION CLIENTS EMBRACE HEALTHY BELIEFS.
“They believe that they have hit ‘rock bottom’ and want to change their lives for the better.”
“They see and believe that Probation is an opportunity to better themselves and not just marking off time.”
“They don’t see or refer to themselves, as ‘bad’ people; but people who need to change their behaviors.”
“They believe in being honest and truthful with themselves; and not just go through the motions.”
“They believe that they ‘cannot play the game to see how far I can go’ but are serious in a positive life change.”
II. HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PROBATION CLIENTS EMBRACE HEALTHY BEHAVIORS.
“They take ownership of their behaviors.”
“They take responsibility in showing-up to probation when the judge directs them.”
“They keep their appointments, and stay in treatment if directed.”
“They communicate and notify their probation officer if they change address, phone numbers and other contact information, including two individuals who probation can call to reach them.”
“They don’t hide if they relapsed. They contact their counselor and their probation officer. They ask for help!”
“They use their ‘tools’ to keep themselves clean and sober such as counselors, sober support group, sponsors, family members who want to see them succeed. That includes their probation officer.”
“They are prepared for the ‘unprepared situations. They have a back-up plan.’ For example, if their brother died at 3:00 in the morning from cancer and they want to reach for a bottle or use heroin. Whom can they call who can help them stay safe and sober through the crisis? Who are their resources?”
“They treat people with respect. In probation, that includes not just the probation officers but also the support staff. They don’t condescend.”
“They dress and present themselves in a respectful manner. That is, they appear to appointments dress cleanly and in appropriate attire. They don’t communicate ‘I don’t care approach in their actions, hygiene and attitude!”
III. HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PROBATION CLIENTS EMBRACE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES.
“They don’t drive without a valid driver’s license, insurance and ignition interlock!”
“They stay away from friends and places that influenced them towards criminal behavior.”
“They don’t do behaviors that will draw attention from law enforcement.”
Michael Mahoney, Probation Department Director, shared the Skagit County District Court Probation’s
mandate. He referred to the official website for the philosophy and directive of his department.
When asked their own thoughts of what they do as probation officers they replied:
“We help people focus. We try to keep them involved in treatment, in training programs, jobs, in education. We
assess what they need. Sometimes, it’s food, housing, shelter, or mental health assistance. We are “big enough
and small enough” to go the extra mile. Ultimately, we try to keep them away from what is causing them to get in
The main priority here is to see people succeed to make sure they don’t come back."