Shawn Schofield is the Island's face of juvenile justice
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Officer Shawn Schofield is the juvenile probation officer on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. His job is multi-faceted. He works with the young who have either broken the law or have come to the attention of the court for other reasons. It is a job that keeps him busy and under most people's radar.
Children between the ages of 7 and 17 are subject to a set of laws and regulations that are enforced by the Massachusetts Juvenile Court Department. The court has general jurisdiction over delinquency, care and protection petitions, adult contributing to a delinquency of a minor cases, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offender cases. One of the court's departments is the juvenile probation department.
Unlike the TV version of a probation officer, Mr. Schofield's job as the Island's juvenile probation officer encompasses more than just monitoring those who have been convicted of crimes. As an officer of the court, his job includes supervision and enforcement work as well as investigation of a juvenile's living circumstances and anything pertinent to a case. He is responsible for holding juveniles accountable in delinquency cases, and works with children who are subject to care and protection petitions. He also runs the Child in Need of Services (CHINS) program.
Mr. Schofield is an affable, broad-shouldered man who grew up on the Island, the son of well regarded former MV Regional High School (MVRHS) basketball coach Jay Schofield and his wife Pat. The younger Mr. Schofield has two children in the high school and one in college, studying criminal justice. His wife, Major Susan Schofield, manages the Dukes County Communications Center (911). Mr. Schofield loves to play tennis when he has the time.
Mr. Schofield studied criminal justice in college after graduating from the MVRHS in 1984. He worked as a corrections officer in the Dukes County Sheriff's office before becoming director of the KEY program off Island. The KEY program is a nonprofit residential program that provides out-patient mental health services, shelter programs, community re-entry programs and educational services for youth. Mr. Schofield feels fortunate to have been chosen for his present job back in 1996. It brought him back to the Island.
Child in Need of Services (CHINS) is designed to help parents and school officials deal with troubled youth before they get into legal trouble. The person filing the CHINS petition, who may be a parent or a school administrator, must show the judge that the child either regularly runs away from home, constantly disobeys the commands of a parent or legal guardian, misses school on a regular basis, or constantly fails to follow school rules. The child must agree to participate in the CHINS program.
Mr. Schofield said that sometimes the threat of not getting a license or establishing a court record, which can follow them for years, is enough to get the child to agree to the CHINS conditions to get back on track. He said, "Many people do not realize that some employers like schools and law enforcement agencies have the right to look at juvenile records. Job and school applications will often have questions that ask if the job applicant has ever been arrested, and why."
The juvenile court's diversion program is one program Mr. Schofield does not work for. "There are some minor offenses that the DA's office will send to a diversion program instead of an arraignment in court to help keep a record from being generated," he said. "You get one shot at that."
The diversion program requires strict adherence to a reporting schedule, drug tests, community service, a letter of apology, and sometimes counseling, according program director Patty Friedman who works out of the district attorney's office in Falmouth. Except for the CHINS cases, Mr. Schofield usually doesn't see kids until after they have failed the diversion program.
The diversion and CHINS programs are designed to help keep children out of trouble. "Except for a big event, like assault and battery, 95 percent of the time we have a kid who has had an encounter with the police on the street," Mr. Schofield said. "Maybe they have taken the kid home and spoken to the parents and told them that if they do it again we are going to have to take it another step."
He pointed out that the police use discretion when dealing with possible offenders. "The second time the police may think that this person did not learn from the first encounter and they may issue a complaint, with a police report, through to our office." If the clerk magistrate finds that there is probable cause, the case is handed to the district attorney. The DA may then recommend that the defendant be assigned to the diversion program or to stand trial.
As a parent would
"Our great push in juvenile court is to see that kids attend school daily, follow the rules and graduate high school," said Mr. Schofield, adding that he meets with his charges on a regular basis. "We put a lot of importance on paying restitution, to make sure that the victims are made whole. Which often means working as well as going to school."
Mr. Schofield also does the research to determine indigence, to help the court decide if a suspect is entitled to reduced cost legal defense. "Even the indigent have to pay from $150 to $300 for their legal representation," he said.
There are 11 divisions of the State juvenile court. The Vineyard is part of the Barnstable division. Mr. Schofield's boss, chief probation officer John Millett, works out of the Barnstable office.
Mr. Millett estimated that there are between 10 and 20 active juvenile cases on the Vineyard at any one time and that the average length of time in a juvenile program is six months.
Mr. Millett said the caseload numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years. "When they made marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal issue that took away about 20 percent of our business. If a 16-year-old is stopped with a can of beer, he can be arrested and brought to court. If he is smoking marijuana he can't be arrested."
When a juvenile is placed on probation, the probation department does a risk-needs assessment. Mr. Millett said, "We determine how often a kid needs to report. We have the judge's order that gives us the specific conditions of probation. We have a court clinic that evaluates the kids and gives us a specific list of needs to improve their behavior. I think we have a lot of success."
"Kids thrive on discipline and they thrive when they have structure," Mr. Millett said. "If we can become that structure for the parent and help them out and keep the kids on the right track for a period of time and they start having successes rather than failures, you build on those successes and the kids start to do better."
After 16 years on the job, Mr. Schofield said that he feels he has had a lot of success. Some of it is no doubt due to his ability to get to the point. He tells his kids, "If you want to act like a jerk, you are likely to be treated like a jerk."
Mr. Millett said of Mr. Schofield, "He does an absolutely great job for us."