But all that is only part of the job.
Everything they do is geared toward helping clients stay on track. That can entail everything from offering classes in some basic life skills to ironing out family disputes and encouraging those with serious drug and alcohol problems to keep getting help.
``My concern is to protect the community,'' says probation officer Paul Brophy, whose clients include robbers and other sometimes violent criminals. ``I spend more time doing more of a social-work-type of thing.''
After the life-skills class on a recent weekday morning, McGuane and Brophy get into McGuane's blue Honda and drive out past the green fields of southern Chester County to visit some clients. They take their regulation cans of Mace and the department's mobile urine-sample kit, packed in a green plastic lunch pail.
This part of the job can be like sleuthing; while many clients are cooperative, probation officers sometimes must enlist the aid of ex-lovers, police officers and acquaintances to find the ones who hide in fear of testing positive on a drug test or violating other conditions of their release.
``The absolute best informants are girlfriends, wives and lovers,'' Brophy says, explaining that they are often willing to talk when their relationships aren't going well. ``I always keep the phone numbers of ex-girlfriends and girlfriends.''
The first stop is a house on a quiet street in Kennett Square, home of a man on probation for theft and similar crimes. Brophy has a caseload of 275 probationers and parolees who check in with him once a month, usually in the office. He doesn't often have time to make home visits like this, he says.
But he's gotten a call from the county Department of Aging. The elderly father of his client has complained that the client's girlfriend spit in his face, and the department is concerned that he is being mistreated. Brophy straps on his can of Mace and mounts the stairs, sidestepping dirty cups and toys.
Three dirt-smudged little girls, still in their nightgowns even though it is noon, come running out of the house, through a puddle of unidentifiable liquid on the floor of the foyer. They begin playing with two puppies that are tied to the porch.
They are followed by their mother, the client's girlfriend, who giggles when she sees Brophy and then becomes confrontational.
``He's not here. He's at work,'' the girlfriend tells Brophy. She breaks off her discussion with him to watch one of the puppies urinate on a piece of carpet near where her barefoot daughters are standing.
``Look, he's peeing,'' she says, and giggles again.
McGuane surveys the puppies, which are matted with their own feces, the soggy carpet, the children in their nightgowns.
``Life skills,'' she says softly.
* Sometimes, probation officers say, it's hard to know what a client is up to, especially given the size of an officer's caseload. Most officers average a caseload of about 250 clients, up from an average caseload of 90 to 100 in 1975. Some, such as McGuane, see clients with drug and alcohol problems on an intensive weekly basis, so they have caseloads of about 50, though the number is sometimes much higher.
``Unfortunately, with a caseload that big, you can't really prevent problems,'' Brophy says. ``I more have to work after the fact.''
For much of the rest of the afternoon, McGuane and Brophy follow the trail of two of McGuane's clients who are both pregnant. McGuane suspects that at least one of them could be using drugs.
One woman was supposed to show up at the life-skills class, but didn't.
``She's hiding from me,'' McGuane says as she walks to the door of the woman's white rowhouse near Oxford. There is no answer. McGuane leaves her card.
Meanwhile, Brophy, at the curb, peers in the window of a blue hatchback parked out front. ``She's got empty beer bottles in the car and she's using nail clippers as a roach clip. They're in the ashtray,'' he says. The woman's mother, who lives a few blocks away, says she hasn't seen her when Brophy and McGuane drop by to inquire.
Probation officers and probationers don't always have a cat-and-mouse relationship. McGuane fondly recalls one client, also a pregnant woman, who faithfully showed up for meetings and kept in touch after she was finished with her probation term.
``I think she was happy that somebody took an interest,'' McGuane says. ``She sends me pictures of her kids.''
The two also have no luck with McGuane's other pregnant client, so they head over to the Kennett Square Police Department, where one of the officers comes out from behind a bulletproof-glass window to chat about that woman, who is well-known to police. He offers to ask about her at the Center Square apartments, a complex known for drug arrests.
He also discusses the situation in the home Brophy visited earlier in the day, with the small children, the dogs, and the elderly father.
The officer, too, is concerned that the client or his girlfriend could be abusing the old man. The client, a thief who often gets caught, is ``about as sharp as a bowling ball,'' the officer allows.
McGuane and Brophy wait in the department's lobby while the officer drives off. Several minutes later, the officer radios back: The residents of Center Square haven't seen McGuane's client for about three days. But knowing she's been hanging around the complex contributes to McGuane's fears that she's been using drugs again.
In most cases, the first positive drug test or the first failure to make a meeting with a probation officer isn't enough to send someone back to jail. But if a client consistently violates conditions, a probation officer will issue an arrest warrant, hold a hearing in front of department head Larry Scherff, and take the client before a judge.
``You kind of have to build a case against them, really,'' McGuane says. ``You really have to work with them. . . . What I usually do is try to help them every possible way I can, and then I do my warrant. That way, when I get back before the judge, I can tell the judge I've exhausted everything.''
Scherff says he is proud of his department's record. Among clients whose probation terms expired in 1995, 61 percent successfully completed probation, 12 percent completed it with some problems, and 26 percent had their probation revoked. Among the 277 clients whose terms expired in 1994, 53 - or 19 percent - have been rearrested and convicted of misdemeanors or felonies.
``We're a little more successful than the average caseload,'' Scherff says. ``Although there are failures, most cases are successful.''
Once in a while, some of the failures make the department rethink the way it handles certain kinds of cases.
One such incident was the November stabbing death of Sherry Miller, whose husband, Dennis, was on parole for having threatened to kill her. Dennis Miller had moved back into his wife's London Grove home, despite court orders not to do so. He managed to hide his living arrangement from his probation officer.
In the wake of Sherry Miller's death, Scherff has issued new guidelines for dealing with domestic abusers. These include frequent visits to the victim's home.
``If the court orders no contact, then I want the probation officer to be in frequent contact with the victim to make sure that's not occurring,'' he says.
The department is also in the midst of an effort to become more accessible to its clients by opening satellite offices around the county. The first of these opened in Coatesville in June.
Scherff hopes the new offices will add to the department's image as a source of support for clients.
That's the way one of McGuane's clients, John Hertzler, already sees it. Hertzler, 49, of West Chester, is on probation for several drunken-driving and related offenses. He comes into McGuane's office on a recent morning and chats with her about his family before cheerfully submitting to a breath test. The test shows he has a blood-alcohol level of 0.0.
``We're getting my ducks to march in a row,'' he says. ``They keep wandering.''