Q&A with Intensive Supervision Officer Shannon Bartels

Why did you decide to enter this line of work?

I graduated from Ottawa University in 1994 with a degree in psychology. At that time, I wanted to help the youth “turn their lives around." Honestly, I had no idea at that time how I was going to accomplish this, or where my first job at the local detention center would lead. I just knew I wanted to “help people."

How long have you been doing it?

I have worked with the youth here in Johnson County for 25 years now. I began working at the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center in 1997. I left corrections in late 1999 to gain case management experience working for Johnson County Court Services. In 2001, I came back to the Johnson County Department of Corrections and have worked as a Juvenile Intensive Supervision Officer since that time.

How have you seen the program(s) change over time?

The Juvenile Justice System in the state of Kansas has completely evolved since I began working with the Department of Corrections in 1997. In 1997, Johnson County had a 70-bed juvenile detention center. Unfortunately that facility wasn’t big enough, and youth were placed in other county detention centers outside of Johnson County. In 2011, Johnson County was chosen as a pilot site for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. This initiative began to pave the way for numerous changes in juvenile reform. JDAI forced counties to look at their juvenile justice system locally and create programs and find alternatives to placing youth in secure detention facilities. Johnson County was very progressive in its efforts with implementing local services, cognitive behavioral treatment and other evidenced-based programming to provide to the justice-involved youth and families of Johnson County. These services provided families the education and tools necessary to make behavioral changes within the community, ultimately lowering the number of juveniles in secure facilities.

In 2016, the state of Kansas passed Senate Bill 367, Juvenile Justice Reform in the state of Kansas. Today we use numerous supervision tools and evidence-based services and programming to help our youth make behavioral changes. We use objective assessment tools to outline the needs of our clients and their families. We use this assessment to identify risk and needs in order to connect them to services and programming in their community. Additionally, secure detention facilities are only used when for the higher-risk youth and for shorter amounts of time.

How does it make you feel to see success stories?

Success looks different for all youth. We individualize and celebrate even the smallest success with each client. For example, if a youth has dinner at a table with her family for the first time, or discusses an incident where they used their coping skills, this is success, and the youth is rewarded.

Personally, it is great to see success in our clients. Many have experienced struggles for a significant period of time before they end up on intensive supervision, so to see success through probation is discussed and celebrated with the youth.

How do you see people change from day one to when they leave the program?

There is the opportunity for great change in our clients from day one to the end of their probation term. We assess the youth (and their family) when they enter our program and provide access to services and programming to match their risks and needs. We focus on behavior change and work with the kids on the steps it is going to take to get there. We do not just tell someone what needs to be fixed or what they need to do, we break it down and work together to come up with a plan.

We see a great change in some of our clients. Youth deep in addiction work hard and leave probation with sobriety. Our kids have the opportunity in cognitive behavioral treatment [to receive] the tools necessary to help make an appropriate decision when faced with risky situations. I have seen clients flourish just knowing that an adult cares about them and wants to help them succeed.

What are some of the major barriers individuals face?

For our clients, there can be numerous barriers. Depending on their age, they often rely on their parents to help them navigate their probation. If a parent does not have transportation or employment, we run into numerous barriers (lack of transportation, financial barriers, lack of insurance, etc.). Past trauma or current addiction issues can also be a barrier to treatment. We work hard to identify barriers and navigate how to remove or minimize the barriers if possible.

Would you encourage others to enter this line of work? What does it take (personality, motivation, etc.)?

I love what I do and would encourage others to look into work at the Department of Corrections. To work in a case management position within the department, I believe a person must share the desire to help others see their full potential. Of course (as a probation officer), we have a commitment to community safety, but we are also committed to helping our youth and their families connect with the appropriate services and educational programs to allow them to work towards long-term behavior change.