Alexander Milton handles 51 cases on Cape Ann, working with people who have received a second chance.

It's a chance most are willing to take.

Milton is a probation officer at the Gloucester District Court, and he's been there for nearly five years. He works, primarily, with what the state court system calls "risk-need" cases. Those cases are generally substance abuse, assault and battery or sex offense cases, where the judge gave the offenders an alternative to the Middleton House of Corrections.

But, his work will get a little more difficult if the State decides to shift Gloucester's court to Salem.

Last week, the State Trial Court announced that they aimed to close Gloucester District Court and several other trial courts. The closing comes after a $21 million budget cut approved by lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick. The justices plan to move Gloucester's courthouse staff to an expanded complex in Salem as part of an effort to consolidate the state's trial courts.

The Trial Court system faces staffing shortfalls and has lost 1,126 employees since July 2007. The Trial Court system anticipates that the new Salem court building, scheduled for completion this fall, will have ample space for Gloucester's courts.

The proposal needs legislative approval, but both State Senator Bruce Tarr, and State Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante oppose the measure, first brought forward in 2010.

Coria Holland, spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner of Probation, said the move's necessary and even the courts aren't held harmless from the tight economic times.

The move to Salem puts 20 miles between the courthouse and community and Milton said the move will make it harder for him to meet with his cases. He said that if he needed to go out and hook up an ankle monitoring bracelet, it would take an hour from the court's Main Street location. If the court moves, he said, he'll need an hour just to get to the city.

Milton's one of three probation officers at the District Court. The court also employs two probation supervisors. He said about 80 percent of his cases come from Gloucester, and the rest are scattered in Rockport and Essex.

He makes regular home visits, at least twice a week to a cross section of Gloucester's community. His visits keep up with offenders, and aim to keep them on track with the court's conditions. He'll occasionally administer Breathalyzer and urine tests when needed. He said 80 percent of risk-need cases involve substance abuse of some sort.

Holland said the probation officers act as agents for offenders, and will help connect them to services they need. If things don't go according to the conditions, probation officers will make it known in court. Milton said his work requires him to wear a number of different hats.

"We're part law enforcement, part social worker, and part parent," he said.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk offered $42,000 per year to cover the building's electrical and maintenance costs if the Trial Court would keep the Gloucester court in the city. Residents and officials are concerned the trial court's move shifts the financial burden from the state's justice department to citizens and the community.

The people that Milton visits may feel the hit the hardest.

He said that people in the city rely on public transportation to get them to the Gloucester Courthouse, and heading out of the city will only add to their financial burden. He said for someone living in one of the city shelters, the $30 per month it will cost to take the train to Salem would be prohibitive. People on probation already incur probation expenses up to $65, he said.

People on probation that he visited Wednesday declined to comment. He said people don't want to advertise it.

Milton said he's spoken with the court's probation supervisors about setting up shop in the city one day a week if the court moves. He suggested using the current court lobby in the Police Station, to keep the probation department accessible for the city.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.

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