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Because probation and parole officers are seen as extensions of the court system by inmates, key characteristics are critical to them being successful. One very important characteristic is the ability to truly listen to the inmate without interrupting as so often the inmate never feels heard. Many times the inmate has trouble expressing his thoughts in any coherent order which makes listening doubly important. Another characteristic is the ability to be realistic and skeptical without being snide and cynical. The ability to explain and make sure the inmate truly understands rather than just saying he does is important; making him explain to the officer clarifies any misunderstandings. Flexibility without rigidity is important as extenuating circumstances can play a role in the sentencing guidelines. Flexibility does not imply no backbone as officers must be able to clearly follow the law; it simply means that in some cases, the law doesn't exactly fit. Having worked with both sides, the inmate and the parole officer with a difficult woman on supervised release, the fine line walked is critical. When the woman violated her parole conditions, the officer first asked for an explanation before the intended revocation. The explanation was for reasons the officer had tried to teach her, and the revocation was stayed. Characteristics needed to be successful are more than I have listed here, but probation/parole officers are the court's eyes and ears.
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