Never can say goodbye: Retired probation officer Rath still has passion after 35 years

September 25, 2014

Department of Community Justice Parole and probation officer Allan Rath

After 35 years on the job, one would assume retirement would be a welcomed change. Instead longtime parole and probation officer Allan Rath took four days off, got a tattoo as a symbol of his accomplishment, then headed back to the office the following week to continue the work.

“I came back to work since I still have children in high school and my wife still works” said Rath. “I had to do something in my spare time. Why not do something you like to do?”

“It’s the success stories that motivate you,” said Rath while sitting in his fourth floor office at the Reduced Supervision Unit. It’s a new role he has taken on part-time after spending more than two decades as a field officer with Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice.

“The reality of it is that it can be frustrating,” said Rath. “But you gotta give people positive reinforcement to do what they’re supposed to do and negative reinforcement when they don’t.”

It’s safe to say working as a parole and probation officer is part of Rath’s DNA.

As a young man, he recalls taking a career assessment test identifying his strengths as a counselor and a person naturally inclined to help others. He enrolled at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon State College) in Monmouth pursuing a degree in criminal justice. Initially, he believed working as a police officer was an ideal profession but halfway through his college courses he changed paths.  

“I decided that I didn’t want to be a uniformed police officer. Parole and probation was more like social work and I felt like I could make a difference,” said Rath.

Immediately after college, Rath was able put his skills to the test, landing a job as a corrections officer for the Oregon Department of Corrections’ Milwaukie Work Center. Weeks later, the center transitioned into a Multnomah County-run program.

There, Rath was introduced to a wide array of both high-risk and low-risk offenders including: sex offenders, drug offenders, offenders suffering from mental illness, and assault, homicide and domestic violence offenders.  

“Caseloads back then would often reach 70 to 75 people per officer. It was overwhelming. We didn’t have specialized caseloads.”  

Since then, workloads have been whittled-down and defined by evidence-based practices.

Among Rath’s many duties: identifying offenders’ risks and needs; pinpointing what may cause them to re-offend; working with them to prevent re-offending; and providing cognitive-based therapy.

“Nothing is foolproof and it does prove to be frustrating but I celebrate the little victories.”  

Rath’s life is made easier with a healthy support system at home, a wife and fellow PPO, Susan Rath, who sits just a few offices down in the Reduced Supervision Unit.

“I couldn’t imagine being married to someone who wasn’t in this job. She knows exactly what I mean when I don’t get my way in court or someone doesn’t show up. This job can be stressful.”

Over the years, he has learned the importance of getting to young people early.  “I used to supervise two guys, 15 to 20 years ago who were notorious drug addicts. Then I went to a Men’s Volunteers of America event and now they are both counselors.”   

When asked to summarize his nearly four-decade career, Rath humbly answers, “I think I did a little bit of good.”