With more than two dozen of their members testing positive for COVID-19, the head of the Probation Officers Union is still in the office most days.
The union representing Probation Officers in NYC recently moved from Forest Hills in Queens to Westchester Square, and is led by Dalvanie Powell, a native of the Bronx, who is the first African American woman to serve as president of the United Probation Officers Association.
“Moving to the Bronx was a fresh start,” Powell said. “I’m glad we made the move.”
In 1990 she was elected as a delegate by her fellow members and has since held every position in the union except treasurer. She was appointed president in 2016 and in 2019, ran unopposed and was elected to a four-year term. The UPOA represents over 800 Supervising Probation Officers and Probation Officers as well as over 400 retirees, which are mostly women and women of color.
“It’s about trying to keep individuals out of the prison system,” Powell said. “It’s law enforcement absolutely.”
The union has been distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all its members and is preparing to start working with folks released from Rikers Island amid the pandemic. So far a total of 30 union members have tested positive for COVID-19.
While their office is closed, they have been distributing food and supplies to the public. Powell said this is an unprecedented and the members are checking in on their clients virtually to make sure they are staying on the right path.
“I have to commend my members for adjusting,” she said. “I try to keep my members as updated as possible.”
With 26 locations across five boroughs and countless clients on probation, she has her hands full, especially now during the crisis.
They help them get educated, obtain their GEDs, land jobs, housing, get mental health help and any other type of guidance that is needed.
She also noted that people often confuse parole and probation. People get probation to avoid incarceration, while parole is for people when they leave prison, she explained. Powell added that maybe if there were more community centers and YMCAs and less liquor stores in the Bronx, there might be less crime.
With two YMCAS coming to the Bronx this year, she hopes things will change.
“We do everything we can to keep people out of jail,” Powell commented. “We should appreciate life and what we have. That’s the beautiful thing, we are about changing lives and protecting lives.”