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Johnson, Coughlin, Wimberly & Benson Bill to Create a Dedicated Bureau of Probation & Strengthen Services Advances in the Assembly

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel recently advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon M. Johnson, Craig J. Coughlin, Benjie E. Wimberly and Daniel R. Benson proposing a constitutional amendment would allow the creation of a Bureau of Probation within the State Parole Board and transfer all probation duties from Judiciary to this new entity.

“Placing the bureau within a division that serves a similar constituency would help to strengthen probation services,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “The intention here is to provide probation officers the resources and tools needed to effectively do their job.”

“Rapidly changing times prompted the legislature to ensure probation officers are able to handle any situation they come up against while out there,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “This amendment would help us further reinforce their roles as officers of the law.”

In 2001, the Legislature enacted a law to establish a “Probation Officer Community Safety Unit” consisting of at least 200 probation officers authorized to carry a firearm. The legislation also granted these probation officers the authority to arrest probationers, enforce the criminal laws of this State, and enforce warrants for the apprehension and arrest of probationers who violate conditions of probation.

In April 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers doctrine. The court stated that it is the responsibility of the Judiciary to define the duties of probation officers. The court also reiterated its position that probation officers are not law enforcement officers, but impartial agents of the Judiciary.
“Probation officers are often placed in precarious situations when performing their job duties,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “An amendment and new dedicated bureau would pave the way for higher standards and procedures, more training.”

“Probation officers provide a critical service to the community and there work may mean the difference between a one-time offender and a repeat offender,” Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Their roles and duties have grown over the years and this move would help better serve them in the future.”
The constitutional amendment would transfer all of the functions, powers, duties and responsibilities concerning probation, and the probation officers and other professional supervisors, case workers, and case-related employees who perform probation functions from the Judiciary to this new Bureau of Probation.

The Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR-116) was released by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday November 18; and it now awaits further consideration on the Assembly floor.