Kris Gross, corrections agent, has seen a lot of change in her 39 years with Pine County. But what has remained consistent is her passion for young people at risk.
In 1978, Gross began her longtime career with Pine County being hired as a juvenile diversion agent, which is an informal court program focused on first time minor offenses. She later began working with juveniles on probation. Toward the end of her career, Gross worked with the highest risk offenders. Her biggest goals were to make sure public safety was addressed, and the rehabilitation of the young person remained a focus while trying to keep them in their home.
Gross saw changes in the probation office over her career. “When I started in 1978, the director had a full-time caseload, and I had a caseload and a rotating agent between three counties. We also had a part-time office person,” recalled Gross. “The numbers of adult cases has increased tremendously. Now we have four full-time adult agents, a full-time director, two juvenile agents, a case aid and an office staff.”
She also saw changes in the types and severity of cases coming in. “We did a lot more with tobacco, juvenile drinking and assaults when I started,” said Gross. “We were dealing with a lot more car thefts and burglaries. Those were the main felony level cases. We did not have the sexual offenses.” Gross said that technology is allowing more people to get in trouble for those type of cases.
In the past, a lot more was dealt with in the schools that is now being passed on to law enforcement. “It is easier to pass it off and let someone else deal with it,” added Gross.
Gross said drug use and sexual offenses are on the rise. “When I started, there wasn’t meth. We did have the pills but not the excess of opioids,” said Gross. “There wasn’t the testing that we have now. They had to get caught with it. Now we have all sorts of testing, and now we can even test alcohol within 72 hours.” Gross added that marijuana is the number one drug that she recently saw with her clients.
“I think there’s a lot of experimentation,” said Gross. “I’m usually shocked at what they are using.” She added that the freeway and casino add to the drug use. “We have better policing as well.”
Probation is continually changing, and certainly better methods have been applied. Juvenile crime is down as well, but Gross believes that shouldn’t mean we don’t continue to be proactive with juveniles in trouble.
“The trend in corrections is focused on adult criminals while reducing resources for juveniles both within probation offices and in community supports. I think we can still make a difference with adult numbers if we give resources and attention to juveniles in trouble, too.”
The most discouraging part of the job for Gross was seeing the juveniles she worked with continue to get into crime. “It was tough feeling like I didn’t make enough of a difference in their lives,” recalled Gross.
But there were many rewards. “I had juveniles ask me to keep them on probation longer because they wanted me to continue working with them. I was enough encouragement in their lives to help keep them going,” said Gross. “That was a good feeling.”
When asked what kept her going through the many ups and downs in working with at-risk young people, Gross responded, “I think I was able to keep doing it because it was a call from the Lord. I was able to keep going because he didn’t tell me I could stop. I also think it was the relationships with the people I worked with and the juveniles as well.”
One juvenile she worked with ending up getting adopted by a foster family, and Gross got invited to his wedding, while his birth parents did not. “Seeing people change their lives helped keep me going,” said Gross.
As far as advice to her successor, Gross stated, “A probation agent has a lot of power; use it wisely. Also, if I think I’m something more than the people I work with, it is a recipe for failure. I have told them that any of us could be in jail tonight by doing something stupid. My parents always said everyone deserves respect and that has stuck with me.”
Gross wanted to thank Jerry Olson who was the first director she worked under and who hired her. “He was instrumental in my life, both spiritually and in training on what corrections is about,” said Gross. “I also am grateful to Terryl Arola who was always supportive. I also had some great coworkers through the years and don’t know that I could have kept going without their support and wisdom.”
Gross said that, in retirement, she plans to be active in church and spend more time with friends and family.
“My gardens will certainly look better,” added Gross.