Probation director to retire after 33 years of service

After a lengthy career, Linda Shields will retire in May from her position as probation director for Chautauqua County.

Over the course of her time as director, Shields worked closely with schools, police departments, courts, community agencies and other county departments to monitor the compliance of probationers.

“Even though a big part of what we do in probation is enforce court orders, I think many times, people haven’t been afforded the opportunity to obtain the skills they need,” Shields said. “It’s kind of been my mission to bring about programs that would provide skills to the clients that we work with.”

Shields was appointed as director in 2008, but began her career with the county in 1981 when she was first employed as a part-time probation officer.

With a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Mercyhurst College and a master’s degree in education from St. Bonaventure University, Shields said the combination made sense for the future of her career in Chautauqua County.

“I liked the idea that it was nontraditional and I had the ability to help people,” she said, adding that a summer job in high school at the Health Department enabled her to associate with those working in probation across the hall. “I thought their work was really interesting, and I liked the idea of a non-traditional kind of career for a female.”

Shields also served as a senior probation officer, probation supervisor and acting director. Her duties have included holding court-referred offenders accountable for their actions, working with probationers to facilitate positive changes in behavior and advocating for victims’ rights.

One of the highlights of her career, she said, was the implementation of a grant program through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The 200 Percent of Poverty Alternative to Incarceration Grant Program supports community-based alternatives to incarceration programs for eligible individuals with families with income not exceeding 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

A program connected to this grant is Ready, Set, Work, offered through a collaboration between the Chautauqua County Jail and the Chautauqua County Office of Probation to provide probation clients and incarcerated individuals with tools and information to achieve employment as they re-enter the community.

In April 2013, the program successfully graduated its first participants.

“Probation has been a wonderful career for me and I have enjoyed facilitating positive change in the lives of others,” Shields said.

The Thinking for A Change (T4C) Program, a cognitive behavioral change initiative for offenders, is another part of the grant. It incorporates cognitive restructuring, social skills development and problem-solving skills for those on probation.

A number of Shields’ staff members have been trained in T4C and the program will be offered to probation clients beyond those qualifying for 200 Percent of Poverty.

Shields will receive the Sarah Tullar Fasoldt Award for her leadership later this month from Robert M. Maccarone, deputy commissioner and director of the New York State Office of Probation and Correction Alternatives.

“Shields’ leadership, strong work ethic and determination to help others will certainly be missed,” said County Executive Vince Horrigan, adding he will establish a bipartisan search committee to aid him in finding a qualified individual to serve as director after Shields retires on May 2.