Karen S.

Pre-sentence Investigation Officer
Coconino County

I was born and raised in Apache County, AZ by a traditional Navajo grandmother who was not formally educated and did not speak English. She lived to be 102 years old. She taught me about many things including spirituality. The backbone of who I am today, in this contemporary job as a Pre-Sentence Investigation Officer is because of her. I give her credit for everything.

My first job was as a Human Services Specialist for the Native Americans for Community Action (NACA). NACA provides alcohol and drug education and counseling services. They also provide employment services and mental health services. In addition, they provide assistance in terms of temporary housing and food for struggling families and have a full outpatient medical clinic for Native American families. After working at NACA for a couple of years, I resigned from my position in order to take some time off to raise my family.

In December 1992, I received an unexpected call from an old college friend that turned out to be a gift that changed my life. He told me of a probation officer position that was open for Apache County on the Navajo Reservation. He said, “You are what they are looking for- just come and say hello.” Apache County was a place that I knew and understood. We scheduled a meeting with Chief Dennis Maxwell and a few other court personnel after the holidays. When I first meet Chief Maxwell he said, “Mark has told us all about you. When can you start?” I soon began my career as a Probation Officer on January 1, 1993 in Ganado, Arizona.

Tribal members can be suspicious and distrustful of government authorities. You do not want to be perceived as a person who is misusing your authority. Establishing trusting relationships and kinship is very important when working with elders, families and clients. Because my first language is Navajo, I was able to easily form those relationships. Elders are a valuable source of information in the community and being able to meet them on common ground allowed me to quickly develop trust and rapport.

After working in field supervision for approximately 12 years in the rural Reservation areas of northern Coconino County, AZ, I transferred to the Revocation Court. In 2008, I began working in the Pre-sentence Unit in Flagstaff, AZ. It is important for individuals working in this role to understand that in our position as pre-sentence investigation officers, we are making decisions about people’s lives. This is a huge responsibility and honor. It is often the first time that someone has really listened to the client. It also gives the client the opportunity to talk about the circumstances that have brought them into the criminal justice system. Pre-sentence investigation officers collect valuable information during the pre-sentence interviewing process; information that is not always known or available to the judge, prosecutor, or defense counsel.

I believe that as a Pre-Sentence Investigation Officer, I play a valid and important role in the criminal justice system. It is my responsibility to be unbiased when I work with my clients. Also, it is important to not become jaded or cynical. I am grateful for the position I have because it allows me to be useful to others. Service to others is an honor that allows my ancestors to remain vibrant via this contemporary position. I am also grateful for the department colleagues I have worked with for almost 20 years. I have seen our families growing older and feel a kinship to the people I have worked with.

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