A change to the City of Marion’s informal probation program at the start of 2019 has been successful so far, according to city officials.

Probation Officer Brent Harshman said beginning Jan. 1, the probation department implemented a more structured informal probation program.

Individuals convicted of lower-level offenses such as possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct and petty theft are eligible for informal probation, Harshman said. That process does not require the same monthly check-ins, fees and other requirements of formal probation for crimes such as battery and theft with restitution involved.

“It’s more of just a slap on the wrist to try to keep them from doing it the next time instead of having to completely alter their lives by making them report and jump through all the hoops that come with that,” Harshman said of informal probation.

While informal probation has been around for at least the 12 years Harshman has worked in probation in Marion, he said before the new changes were made there was no organized way to follow up with informal probationers.

“It’s more of a thing where people would just get put on and it would be if somebody was able to remember that somebody was put on probation then something might be done with it,” Harshman said. “It was one of those things where if somebody realized they were on informal probation and broke the rules, then we would go after them and get them.”

With the new system, informal probationers pay a $100 fee and a paper record is created for Harshman to continue to follow up with them.

Marion City Judge Jason McVicker said the new structure has led to more people who are eligible being held accountable through informal probation rather than formal.

“What Brent and I had discussed between the two of us was trying to go to a format where not all defendants needed to be on formal probation,” he said. “I feel as if Officer Harshman is able to make sure those conditions that are part of informal probation are being complied with, and if they’re not, then the probationer faces probation violation even on informal probationary status.”

Judge McVicker said while the fee for informal probation is new this year, it is far less than the costs of formal probation. Making sure the cost was relatively affordable for defendants was part of the consideration of the new program, he said.

“I would not want to set a defendant up in a situation to where they’re unable to pay the fees,” he said. “And if we can supervise low-risk offenders on informal probation, I think that is part and parcel of why this program was implemented nine months ago.”

Harshman said the new program has proven to be a win-win so far for all involved. Probationers face lower fees, Harshman is able to keep track of probationers and the city receives additional funds through the program.

Through Sept. 24, Harshman said his department has collected approximately $4,600 more in fees than at the same point in 2018, which all goes to the city’s general fund. There are currently 120 individuals on formal probation and 202 on informal, according to Harshman.

“It’s easier, they’re making these payments, that’s helping the city out,” Harshman said. “(Probation is) about making things just uncomfortable enough for people to keep them from doing it again without having to throw them in jail, costing the county and the city money by putting people in jail that don’t necessarily have to be there all the time.”

Judge McVicker said he is pleased with the way the program has gone so far.

“Officer Harshman’s ability to supervise – he’s done an excellent job in making sure all informal probationers are being held accountable.”
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