The email was addressed to “all DCC staff” and was written by Lance Wiersma. He’s the top administrator with the Division of Community Corrections (DCC) for the state Department of Corrections. According to the Corrections website, DCC “is charged with supervising more than 68,000 offenders placed by the courts on probation, parole or extended supervision in the community. The mission of the Division of Community Corrections is to enhance public safety…”
Probation and parole agents “supervise offenders daily in the community and also provide investigative services to the courts, the Division of Adult Institutions, and the Parole Commission to aid in sentencing and community reentry planning,” the website says.
Will such supervision be as effective virtually, as opposed to traditional in-face or home visits? We posed that question to Corrections, which responded, “Public safety is our primary priority. Ensuring compliance can be accomplished through a variety of means, including virtual face-to-face contacts.” DOC said that home visits were held with high-risk offenders “once every 30 days” before this change. Now they’ll be meeting by Zoom or the other virtual means.
According to DOC, last March, in the early days of COVID-19, the state also went entirely virtual for these contacts. “We implemented virtual contacts at the beginning of the pandemic in March. Many other states have also implemented virtual contacts for individuals on supervision during the pandemic to help ensure the safety of staff, clients and their families,” they said.
In the email, addressed to “colleagues,” Wiersma wrote that the change would be temporary and is due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. It’s not clear how long it will last. “No set time. We will continue to monitor the virus metrics and make adjustments as necessary,” said DOC.
“The purpose of this memo is to notify you of temporary changes to our current contact standards and staffing requirements due to increased COVID 19 cases throughout the state,” he wrote, adding, “Effective Monday 11/2/20, we are going to dial back our onsite coverage and face to face contact requirements as follows:
1. All client contacts should be conducted virtually by Zoom, FaceTime, or Duo. Telephone contacts can be completed if the video applications are not available or appropriate.
2. Onsite staffing will be reduced to accommodate the minimum staff available to meet operational needs of each site, as determined by the Region. You will receive specific information regarding your site from your Regional Office and supervisor. This may be only 1 or 2 persons required to be on site, with all remaining staff working remotely. Additional staff may be needed at larger locations, or to accommodate situational events such as intakes, releases, violation investigations and GPS hookups. Central Office staff, including Monitoring Center staff, will continue to follow current staffing patterns.”
Wiersma then gave staff a list of suggestions to decrease the risk of getting COVID-19.
“I truly appreciate your commitment and dedication…I am proud of the way all of you have adapted to the new normal by maintaining community safety by completing the essential functions and responsibilities of our jobs,” he wrote, adding, “I also want acknowledge that many of us are experiencing COVID fatigue. It is very important to take care of ourselves by using our leave time and utilizing the Employee Services Program…”