The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 9, 2014

Valls retires as chief juvenile probation officer

— Robert Valls has seen a lot of juveniles over the 23 years he has been chief juvenile probation officer for Limestone County.

When he was appointed in January 1991 by then-District Judge George Craig, Valls and his three probation officers were there to try to help troubled juveniles get on the right path.

As one would expect, they helped many, but not all, through mentoring and various programs. But, as the county's population grew, the juvenile probation staff got smaller.

"We had four probation officers at one time, and I still handled caseloads," said Valls, who officially retired Jan. 31 after 23 years at the helm. He will continue working on a contract basis for a short time, however.

"Since then the population has doubled, and now we are just getting by. We now have only two officers for a county of 80,000. We are just intake officers now — the mentoring is not there."

The budget cuts were the work of state lawmakers past and present. Though the Legislature is mandated by statute to adequately fund courts throughout the state, it has severely cut funding over the past few years. At the same time, the population grows, including the juvenile population. How this will bode for Limestone County and this state will become apparent in the years to come as more and more juveniles who might have been saved from a life of crime instead continue on as troubled adults.

So, it is with mixed emotions that he retires and hands the reins to Tara Pressnell, who was appointed by District Judge Jeanne Anderson to replace him. The other probation officer is Deborah Cain.

"We will get by," he said, adding that Pressnell is well-qualified and will do a good job. "I don't have to take these kids home with me."

Valls, who is considering a career change, prefers to focus on what has been accomplished over the years.

"There is nothing more gratifying for me than seeing someone succeeding," he said.

He recounts receiving a letter from a young man, now overseas in the Army, who had once been in the juvenile probation system and was now finding his potential.

"He said thank you for helping me understand what I can do," Valls said.

Valls said various factors go into the success or failure of the juveniles he sees, chiefly the young person's decision to change course. Parenting is also key. One program Valls is proud of is offering parenting classes in which a master's-level counselor teaches people how to be better parents, including how to discipline and to teach their children the consequences of their actions.

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