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Parole officers back bill capping caseloads and shortening years of service till retirement

Parole officer
Parole officer

Ohio’s parole officers are pushing for legislation that would treat them as law enforcement officers when it comes to pensions and would cap their caseloads at 50.

House Bill 441 has bipartisan support. But its Republican joint sponsor said the cost of that bill is high.

There are an estimated 574 parole officers in Ohio, who deal with convicted felons, carry firearms, serve warrants and make arrests. But the state’s pension system doesn’t consider them law enforcement officers, who require fewer years of service to retire.

"It is neither safe or healthy to be 63 years old and arresting other people. Thirty-five years of task forces, making arrests and working hard to manage caseloads that are unmanageable takes a toll on a person, physically and mentally, it drains them," said Amy Jenkins, a parole officer in the Akron area. "I don't want the person that is that is tasked with protecting my family to be someone who is struggling to handle their workload, to make ends meet, and whose body can no longer handle the strain of the everyday work that this puts on us."
SEIU 1199, the union that represents parole officers in Ohio, said they're in the state and local division of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. That's the same as other non-law enforcement state, local and county workers. Those positions require 35 years of service to receive full benefits.

HB 441 would allow new parole officers to retire after 25 years, and those already employed as parole officers would be able to buy their way into that 25-year retirement, said Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), the bill's joint sponsor. But he admits shortening that required length of service to retire could cost a lot of money.

"We're thinking probably millions, tens of millions," Edwards said. "But we can always change the amount that people are paying into the system. And it's only for the current people that are becoming parole officers right now. So it shouldn't have a huge impact for a while."

The 50-caseload cap in the bill would also mean hiring many more officers. The most recent study showed they each handle about 75 caseloads. SEIU 1199, the union representing parole officers, estimates another 552 officers would need to be hired just for the current workload, and the number of offenders under supervision has been growing. Bills to lower caseloads have been proposed before, including a 2017 bill named for Reagan Tokes, a 21-year old Ohio State student murdered by a man who'd been released after serving time for rape and was being monitored by GPS.

"We're seeing different things that we're going to have a bigger need for parole officers," said Edwards. "I can tell you the parole officers in my area, around certain areas, rural areas of the state are overworked right now. It's really tough."

But hiring more parole officers could be difficult if there aren't changes, said those on the job now.

"The problem that we're having as we get them through the door, they stay a year, they get the experience and they go take a job with the feds knowing they're going to make double the amount of money and be able to retire in 20 years," said Kelly Thomas, a parole officer in the Youngstown region. “In the next 3 to 5 years, 50% of our workforce is out of retire. We can't fill the vacancies we have now. We have to do something different."

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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