County probation worker honored with state award

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Bobbie Shafer felt from the start of her college education that she wanted to help people, but she did not find her career fit right away.

She began college with a plan to study nursing, but after one semester at St. Catherine’s, “I realized that wasn’t for me,” she told the Star News.


A native of Morristown, Minn., she continued her education closer to home, at what is now Minnesota State University – Mankato, where she enrolled in psychology classes and other courses in which students could learn ultimately how to help other people. The waters that she tested included the field of corrections, which became her major focus of study.

“I always attribute (my career choice) to the professors I had at Mankato,” Shafer said in a recent interview. “I enjoyed their classes. They made me want to continue in the field.”

Upon graduation, Shafer served one year as a probation case aide in Rice County before becoming a probation officer for Sherburne County, where she will complete her 16th year of service next month.

She began her time with Sherburne County as a juvenile probation officer, working with offenders as young as age 10 (children who are younger than 10 and in need of correctional help are referred to Health and Human Services, she explained).

Four years ago, her county department welcomed a new director, J. Hancuch, and some office reorganization. Within the new structure, Shafer was appointed to supervise the probation department’s court and juvenile units. She oversees the drafting of reports and recommendations that are sent to judges prior to sentencing for offenders, and she manages a team of seven probation officers (she no longer keeps her own caseload of clients).

Based on continuing research of state and federal laws, Shafer writes policy procedure. In 2011, she updated the county’s data practices policy, which, according to Hancuch, is followed by other agencies in the state.

“Bobbie is well respected throughout the Minnesota corrections community,” Hancuch said. “She is strong, confident and not afraid to express her opinion. (She) is respected by all department staff and manages both of her units exceptionally well.

“She’s just a tremendous asset to this department and the county,” added Hancuch, who arrived in Sherburne County after serving eight years as probation director in Isanti County.

This spring, he nominated Shafer for an Outstanding Performance Award from the Minnesota Association of County Probation Officers, and she was surprised to receive the award during a MACPO conference held the week before Memorial Day.

‘I hope to make a   difference’

“It’s humbling, and overwhelming,” Shafer said of the honor. “I’m not super comfortable with public recognition.

“I’m a worker bee. That’s the way I was raised. I come to work to do my job. I hope to make a difference.”

She has worked with a range of clients, from those ordered into diversion programs, up to felony-level offenders. “Statewide, the overall numbers have declined,” Shafer said of the case-loads that come through county offices. “It means something’s working.”

She says transitioning to what is called “evidence-based practices,” over the past 10 years, has helped. She said probation officers today are better able to identify chemical dependency, mental health issues or other underlying factors within each client.

Hancuch noted that under Shafer’s supervision, Sherburne County has seen a significant reduction in the need for out-of-home placements for juvenile offenders, saving the county more than $1.5 million.

“I love the challenge” of a supervisory role, Shafer said. “I love that it’s different every day.

“I have high expectations of myself, and I have high expectations of those I work with. Being in this position, I guess, has allowed me to make choices and decisions to help the department be as best it can be,” she added.

Shafer said she misses working directly with clients. “I love juvenile probation,” she said. “Some juveniles we see, they make bad mistakes, (learn from them) and we never see them again.

“Some (others) you see repeatedly, and that may be due to a number of factors,” Shafer said.

“I just think if you can intervene early, and with appropriate intervention, there’s a chance they’ll turn it around and we won’t ever see them again in the court system.

“I think that’s the ultimate goal of all probation,” she said. “Everybody’s different, and so really you need to treat them as individuals, identify what makes them tick, basically, and tailor your interventions accordingly. There’s nothing about probation that’s black and white.

“When you’re working with people, and what you do affects people’s lives, you want to make sure what you’re doing is for the good of them as well as for the good of the public.”