Probation violations increase at GV

By Chelsea Lane | 2/5/12 10:07pm

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GVL Archive
Grand Valley State Police check up on students on probation

by GVL Archives / Grand Valley Lanthorn

At first glance, it would seem that a legal rehabilitation system first pioneered by Boston boot maker John Augustus in the mid-1800s would have little impact on the modern college student’s life. But for the approximately 100 Grand Valley State University students presently on probation, the system requires many life changes, and for the increasing number of students who violate probation, some tough decisions, too.

The number of GVSU students on probation constantly fluctuates, but Grand Valley Police Department Officer Jeff Stoll, who executes the required drug and alcohol tests for students on probation, said GVPD’s list currently sits at just over 100 students. The list usually has between 80 and 130 students on it, with the number decreasing during the summer months.

However, this list only reflects the number of students on probation that the university is aware of. Most of GVSU’s probationers are serving probation through the Ottawa County Court system, but if a court puts a student on probation from a different part of the state, the student is not required to disclose that information to the university unless specifically asked or their probation officer requires it.

Stoll said the number of violators thataware of has increased over the past two years from 32 violations in the 2009-10 calendar year to 42 in 2010-11. If a student violates probation under a different jurisdiction, GVSU may not be notified.

“Unfortunately we’re still seeing a high level of violators,” Stoll said. “I think sometimes students don’t recognize the seriousness of engaging in activities that the probation office has told them they cannot do.”

Stoll said the number of violations seems likely to rise for the near future, although he added the recent increase may be at least partially attributed to increased dissemination of information by the probation office, making it easier to identify the number of students on probation and assist in monitoring them.

Completing probation

In order to successfully complete probation, a probationer must adhere to a set of behavioral guidelines or risk further penalties, up to and including jail time.

Stoll said that for GVSU students, the most common condition of probation is abstaining from use of drugs or alcohol. Depending on the conditions set by the student’s probation officer, students may be subject to random testing at their residence, daily tests at the DPS office and/or random searches, depending on the circumstances in their specific case. When to conduct a random test is determined by the probation officer and Stoll said he is “essentially just the executor” of the test once he receives notification from the probation officer.

Addictions specialist Mike Gillen, who worked as a federal probation officer from 1974 to 2002 prior to his current
job at the GVSU Counseling Center, said some probationers get a “false sense of security” about testing by thinking it is routine, but all probationers have the potential to be tested at anytime.

“A probation officer has the latitude where let’s say I test today and I pass,” Gillen explained. “They can test again tomorrow… I stress with them the importance of not using when they’re on probation.”

If a student tests positive or misses a required test, their probation officer is notified and then files a petition with the court. Consequences for violations are at the judge’s discretion and while the burden of proof differs from a criminal trial, the officer still must present evidence in support of the violation petition.

Gillen also stressed the importance of taking probation seriously and recognizing the potential long-term consequences of violating, including not only criminal penalties but also an impact on students’ job searches after college.

He said he tries to show students the consequences of violating in hopes that they won’t have to face them firsthand.

“Follow these conditions,” he said. “Even if they think they’re unfair, follow them… Some students, it (probation) wakes them up and some students, they just don’t get it yet. Not that they’re bad people, but it just hasn’t registered
yet.”

Life beyond probation

Gillen said probation was designed not as a punishment, but as “a grant of trust by the court” to keep people who are unlikely to re-offend out of jail. He said that while most students on probation just need help “making mature decisions” and learning how to improve some of their habits and behaviors, he has also witnessed several students
suffering from serious addiction problems whose lives were changed by probation.

“I have seen this actually save lives and save a small percentage of students from their addiction,” he said. “Believe me, I have… I actually know students who have gone back and thanked the court.”

Eric Klingensmith, who handles the “educational piece” of the probation process as director of Marijuana and Alcohol Campus Education Services (MACES), said supportive friends and roommates who are willing to change their behaviors and drinking habits to help a probationer, coupled with a probationer’s “genuine desire to change,” are often crucial factors in a student’s ability to successfully complete probation.

Klingensmith added some students do not fully understand what they’re getting into when they are put on probation or apply for a diversion program. He encouraged students to talk to a counselor if they would like to go over the conditions of their probation or attend 12-step meetings if they are struggling to stop using. A minimum of two meetings are held 365 days a year for students.

“(The meetings are) on campus so students don’t have to drive anywhere,” Klingensmith said. “Many students do lose their license (as part of probation).”

One of the meetings’ goals is to help students determine why they are drawn to using substances and how to develop healthier coping methods to avoid continued usage. Gillen said many students who complete probation
have found ways to “stay busy in a positive way” with academics, jobs or extracurricular activities.

“If students can identify with something in college and get involved with an activity or a group and get a sense of identity beyond maybe the partying, they’ll succeed,” he said. “These students aren’t criminals. They just have to get it that if they’re on probation, they have to cease that behavior that got them on probation.”

clane@lanthorn.com

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