Martha’s Vineyard probation officer has mostly off-Island duty

Juvenile probation officer Shawn Schofield, shown here in a 2012 photo. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

To law enforcement officials and others who work with Island kids, the recent reassignment of juvenile probation officer Shawn Schofield is a significant loss for Martha’s Vineyard and hinders the effort to intervene with troubled kids who might be inclined to commit crime. Before his new assignment began in June, Mr. Schofield spent most of his work week on the Island.

Mr. Schofield, an Edgartown resident, is one of six juvenile probation officers assigned to handle cases in a district made up of 30 towns on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

Mr. Schofield is now on the Island about five days out of each month, according to Coria Holland, communications director for the Massachusetts Commissioner of Probation. An assistant chief probation officer is assigned to the Island to handle court sessions.

“The work shifts of Juvenile Probation Officers in Barnstable County were changed based on the operational needs of the court and to ensure the equitable distribution of cases per officer,” Ms. Holland wrote in a statement emailed to The Times. “The six Barnstable Juvenile Court Probation Officers supervise or oversee juvenile cases in a jurisdiction that includes approximately 30 towns in Barnstable County, a portion of Plymouth County, and the Islands.”

According to the Massachusetts Probation Service, the role of a juvenile probation officer is to supervise children under the age of 18 who are involved in delinquent behavior, as well as monitor the welfare of children who come before Juvenile Court as subjects of parental abuse and neglect.

Ms. Holland said currently there are 26 juvenile cases assigned on Martha’s Vineyard. By comparison, she said there are currently 147 cases in Falmouth, where Mr. Schofield now spends the bulk of his work time. There are 654 open cases in the entire district. She said earlier published reports that stated that Mr. Schofield spends two days per month on the Island are inaccurate.

Reached by telephone, Mr. Schofield declined comment on the reassignment.

Island base

West Tisbury Police Lt. Matt Mincone has a unique perspective. He deals often with kids who are at a crossroads, about to make decisions that could determine much of their future. Head coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School boys hockey team, he takes an active role in advising the athletes on and off the ice. He considers Mr. Schofield an extremely valuable resource.

“I haven’t had a lot of players that were on probation,” Lt. Mincone said. “But if there’s something going on in the school, he’ll let me know. I can call him and say ‘hey, this guy’s at an intersection, and maybe he’s going to take a wrong turn.’”

Lt. Mincone said much of Mr. Schofield’s role is preventative. He focuses on intervening before a problem gets to the level of police and court action.

“You don’t see him in the newspaper every day, because some kid made a good decision,” Lt. Mincone said. “I’ve called at weird times; he’ll take a phone call whenever. I don’t think it will be beneficial for anybody, including the kids that know he is available. Kids make decisions every day.”

Loss felt

Theresa Manning, coalition coordinator for the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force, said her organization is already feeling the loss.  “We’ve had meetings, focus groups, activities where we’ve tried to have him included and he’s not available,” she said. “He’s invaluable. Having a person who is local, who knows the kids, who knows the community was a tremendous resource.”

Mr. Schofield could often identify trends that helped the Youth Task Force set priorities and direct resources, Ms. Manning said. “When we hear kids are starting to use prescription drugs, or involved in breaking and entering to get drugs, we can go to him and he knows,” she said. “That’s helpful…more than helpful.”

Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack called on state senator Dan Wolf and state representative Tim Madden to address funding for the probation division that includes parts of Plymouth and Barnstable counties, as well as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. While the chief probation officer in that division sets staff schedules, Sheriff McCormack questions whether the state is providing adequate resources.

“There are nine courts in that particular jurisdiction,” Sheriff McCormack said. “There are only six juvenile probation officers in that division. My issue is not with the chief probation officer; my problem is with the legislature not funding the positions that used to be there.”