Thursday, July 14, 2005

Parole Officer Arrested for Bribery/Extortion

The Baltimore Sun has reported that a probation officer working in Baltimore County has pled guilty to demanding bribes from probationers for "no-show" probation and favorable reports.

To Baltimore City residents, this is not surprising. The dishonorable tradition of paying health inspectors a "bag man" bribe to clear restaurants for inspection is well known here. A senior member of the bar described to me how getting the Sheriff actually to enforce a judgment collection in Baltimore City required an unofficial cash gratuity for many years. While we are not yet (one hopes) to the level of a former mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, who was rumored to have a "two-way" drawer in his desk that pushed out backwards in front of a visitor to allow the convenient deposit of a "fee," corruption up here is nothing new. I understand that good government types like Doug Duncan may be astonished to learn of such practices, but they are as much the heritage of Nickel City as the Orioles and the Colts.

The fact that this happened in the County, rather than the City, means little. The Department of Parole and Probation is a state agency and it is entirely likely that many if not most of the probationers reporting to P & P were former or present City residents who just got caught on the other side of the line.

In their interviews with the FBI, many probationers of this agent reported fearing the probation officer, worried that a vindictive officer who did not get a bribe would not only enforce the rules ruthlessly but would falsely accuse them of violations. I find this very plausible; what better way to discourage "do-gooder" or to prevent its damaging effects than by creating the credible threat of retaliation and following through? The probationers were absolutely correct to be scared.

The libertarian in me cannot help but notice that victimless crime probationers are most likely to have something to fear from a corrupt agent. Probationers for violent crimes are likely to have more elaborate problems and terms of probation, forcing a more serious examination by a judge before revoking any terms. Violent criminals are more likely to have nasty records generally. Probationers for minor charges are more likely to have been given probation before judgment, i.e. no official conviction, and therefore are more likely to have light probation terms AND something to lose on a probation revocation hearing, i.e. their essentially clean record. Also, probationers for major charges are more likely to have had contact with attorneys from the private defense bar with a continuing interest in their client's welfare, rather than a semi-anonymous overworked public defender. In such conditions a corrupt probation officer could and presumably did thrive.

Oh well. At least in federal prison and probation she is unlikely to bribe her own way successfully out of showing up.


-- Bruce Godfrey

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