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Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro announced Jonathan “Jon” Heller, Principal Probation Officer with the Dutchess County Office of Probation and Community Corrections, has received the 2018 Ennis J. Olgiati Award from the New York Association of Pretrial Service Agencies (NYAPSA). The award is presented annually at the NYAPSA Conference, held this year in Troy on October 21-22. The award, the association’s highest honor, recognizes agencies and individuals who have had significant impact on pretrial policies and operations in the state and is given in memory of Joe Olgiati, one of the early guiding forces in the pretrial diversion movement. Mr. Heller, as well as several other Dutchess County Probation Officers and staff, also spoke on various panel discussions at the conference.
Mr. Heller was honored for his nearly 34 years of service as a Probation Officer, particularly his contributions to developing innovative alternative to incarceration programming and pretrial release alternatives, which facilitate the supervised release of approximately 1,000 defendants from the Dutchess County Jail annually. Mr. Heller has also volunteered as a resource for other jurisdictions developing pretrial services and has participated in the development of a gender-specific pretrial screening instrument with the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women and the Center for Effective Public Policy.
Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro said, “Dutchess County’s Probation Officers help those under their supervision to become law abiding and responsible members of the community. Through a comprehensive array of services, individuals can recover, find success, and reduce recidivism. Jon Heller has been instrumental in developing services and programming that not only serve the community but have become a benchmark for probation services across the state. Congratulations to Jon for receiving this much deserved recognition.”
Mr. Heller, a Dutchess County native, first began with Probation and Community Corrections in 1982 when he completed an internship with the Pre-Trial Services Unit. Following his graduation from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, he was hired in 1985 as a Probation Officer Trainee in the Adult Supervision unit. He has advanced through the department, serving in various roles, to his current position as Principal Probation Officer.
Mr. Heller is certified as a Pretrial Services Professional by the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, serves as Vice President for Diversion for the NYAPSA and is Chair of the Special Populations Committee of the Dutchess County Criminal Justice Council.
Dutchess County Office of Probation and Community Corrections Director Mary Ellen Still said, “Mr. Heller has helped raise the profile of pretrial services in Dutchess County. He is always willing to share his knowledge and expertise with colleagues in the field. It is a pleasure to work alongside him as our office continues to work to make a difference in our community.”
Mr. Heller said, “We continuously seek to make the criminal justice system as effective and efficient as possible. Dutchess County Probation has encouraged me to be very innovative and creative in the development of programming and collaboration efforts with the state and other agencies. We are lucky to have a team of people dedicated to making sure only those who belong in jail are using that expensive resource and those who are appropriate to be released are supervised and given the assistance they need to not recidivate and be productive and successful in their community.”
Mr. Heller said the most rewarding aspect of his job is when past clients reach out to share their successes and milestones. He shared, “I keep a voice message on my phone from a young woman we’d supervised letting me know she had received her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certificate. She’d been involved in a traffic stop where drugs were found and everyone in the car was charged and convicted of felony drug possession. After she’d successfully completed probation, we helped her file a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities, which gives individuals convicted of a felony a chance to apply for a professional license. The certificate allowed her to achieve something she otherwise would not have been able to because of her conviction.”
Mr. Heller added, “The work we do helps people rebuild their lives and, from a pre-trial perspective, helps address the underlying cause of their criminal behavior with less disruption to their lives so they can stay in school, keep working to support their family, or get the treatment they need.”
At the NYAPSA conference, Mr. Heller, Principal Probation Officer Joanne Nellis, Probation Officer Karmen Smallwood, and Women’s Program Director Denise Rivera served on various panel discussions on topics such as the wider supervised release of defendants with mental health needs, new practices for delivering pretrial services especially as it relates to mental health and adolescents, the benefits of interactive journaling and the Women’s Center in Dutchess County.