Probation vocation: State parole board member finds work challenging


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Abigail Callejas has always been fascinated with criminology — a fascination that led to a career with the Michigan Department of Corrections, and eventually to serving as a member of the Michigan Parole Board.   

Callejas started on her career path by earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University, a major she felt would give her a broad scope of career directions.

“I enjoyed the academic atmosphere at MSU — it challenged many of my views and perceptions giving me a well-rounded education,” she said. “I soon discovered I was more interested in people than the science aspect, and I wanted to influence a change in the criminal justice system.”

Callejas said it was “a natural progression to focus on juvenile and adult offenders and to obtain a master’s degree.”    

By the time she graduated from MSU with master degrees in adult corrections and juvenile delinquency, Callejas had set her sights on a career as a probation officer.    

“This was the area I believed I could have the most affect,” she said. “This position was to be a stepping-stone to advancing to a regional manager, where I could affect change in policy and procedure, and possibly drive new thought on how to manage criminal behavior.”   

In 1998, Callejas launched her career with the MDOC as a probation officer, before being promoted to a department specialist in the Office of Community Corrections and then as a probation supervisor in Oakland County.

Callejas’ favorite part of her work as a probation officer was one-on-one interaction with probationers.    

“The reward of seeing probationers being successful in their lives is what makes the job meaningful,” she said. “Even to this day, when I’ve had a chance encounter with probationers and they disclose the positives in their lives, and how being on probation influenced them, it’s quite satisfying.”    

Callejas has been member of the Michigan Parole Board since 2011. The 10-member board is the sole paroling authority for felony offenders committed to the jurisdiction of the MDOC; and also acts in an advisory capacity to the governor for all executive clemency matters.   

“My career moves and the development of my knowledge in supervising, developing programs, interview techniques, and interactions with the communities and victims led me to this position,” she said.

“This was an opportunity to use my expertise to steer inmates into programming as well to identify those ready to be released from prison. I plan to continue my career with same direction and motivation.   

Some of the challenges Calejas has encountered “are the inability to get inmates to understand they can change and are in control of remaining out of prison,” she said. “Other challenges include the sheer value of potential parole considerations that need to be reviewed, as well as existing laws that prevent parole considerations.”    

Prior to her career with the DOC, Callejas worked as a program developer with Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids.

“Working there was one of the greatest experiences,” she said.

“I was encouraged to use everything I learned in college to be successful as well as encouraged to continue to grow professionally. I saw this same type of philosophy applied to all those it provide services to. This motivated me.”   

Callejas, who grew up in East Lansing and in Holland in western Michigan, now lives in Livingston County where she enjoys running in 5-kilometer, 10-km and other races, as well as reading, quilting, traveling and dancing to music from her Mexican heritage.        

“I was raised by a very supportive mother,” she said. “She continues to inspire me to this day.”