Retiring probation director says career combined passion for social work, criminal justice

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 July 2023 at 11:18 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Luci Taylor-Welch is shown at the probation department office on Friday, her last day of work in the office. Taylor-Welch has been the probation director in Orleans County for 23 ½ years.

ALBION – Luci Taylor-Welch has a heart for the social work profession, wanting to help steer people to a better life, connecting them with services and support.

She also majored in criminal justice and believes consequences are needed for people breaking laws and putting the community in danger.

She found a 35-year career in probation fulfilled both of those passions.

Taylor-Welch is retiring as the probation director in Orleans County. She started with the department as an intern 35 years ago and was a probation officer and served in other roles before becoming interim director in December 1999, and then the permanent director.

Taylor-Welch, a Kendall resident, earned her associate’s criminal justice degree at Genesee Community College and then her bachelor’s in social work at Brockport State College.

“This career has been a mix of criminal justice and social work,” Taylor-Welch said during an interview on Friday, her last day in the office at the Orleans County Public Safety Office. “The first priority is public safety and then rehabilitation as long as it keeps the community safe.”

Taylor-Welch leads a department with a probation supervisor and six probation officers. Sarah Osborne, a probation supervisor, will take over as probation director on July 10.

The department works with about 350 caseloads, who are juveniles who have broken laws, and adult sex offenders, drunken drivers and others who see probation officers, from either once a month to six times a month.

Probation officers do home visits of probationers, and meet with them at the Public Safety Building or talk with them over the phone.

Some of the probationers are not happy about  being assigned a probation officer. Some of those people say they weren’t at fault and don’t deserve to be in the criminal justice system, Taylor-Welch said.

People who deny responsibility don’t tend to make much progress while on probation. But others who participate in treatment – either drug and alcohol addiction counseling through GCASA, or domestic violence counseling – can make changes and lead better lives without putting others and themselves at danger, Taylor-Welch said.

“We see many troubled people who come from dysfunctional families,” she said. “Some people are able to rise above – they turn their lives around. They go to treatment. They get a job. They get married.”

Probation tries to work with the people by connecting them to treatment professionals and other services so they can break a cycle of destructive decisions.

“Some of the people are not ready to be helped,” Taylor-Welch said. “You have to recognize you have a problem and need help, and be amenable to that help.”

Probation can seek violations from a judge if people are violating terms of their probation by not going to treatment, by not communicating with probation, and by continuing to use alcohol and drugs.

If the judge determines probation has been violated, the probationer could be sent to jail or prison, or have probation extended with more oversight from the probation department.

If probation is seeking a violation from a judge, the probationer has likely missed many appointments and made many missteps, Taylor-Welch said.

She is a firm believer in consequences, or else people have little motivation to change.

“There has to be accountability,” she said. “People need skin in the game. You can’t do all the work for them. If people aren’t held accountable, it breeds more bad behavior.”

Taylor-Welch said the department has responded to the “Raise the Age” legislation from the state. The state raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. The state used to prosecute 16 and 17-year-olds as adults.

Now they are largely kept out of jails. Some are sent to juvenile detention facilities.

She also noted she has seen juveniles who have broken laws and been in the criminal justice system get on the right track with guidance from teachers, coaches, friends and parents of friends. Sometimes having a job can provide the right direction and motivation, she said.

Taylor-Welch said new “Clean Slate Act” legislation is a concern because it seal prior criminal records after a certain time. She said a person’s criminal history is part of a treatment and supervision plan, especially with drunk drivers and sex offenders.

Taylor-Welch not only is retiring from Orleans County. She is ending a two-year tenure as president of Council of Probation Administrators in NYS, leading an organization of the probation directors from throughout the state.

Taylor-Welch said working in probation is a rewarding career, but she said there is a “cumulative stress” of a job where the workers see the impact of crimes, especially on young children.

Some of the former probationers she worked with have sent her messages, congratulating her on her retirement.

“Several have reached out and said thank you for helping us,” Taylor-Welch said. “It’s been a great career. I’ve had many great mentors and worked with many great people.”