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In her first job as a parole and probation agent in south Prince George’s County, Martha Danner got “bitten by the bug.”

Armed with a map book, paper and pen in 1986, the age before cell phones and GPS, Danner combed the county in a Chevy Chevette trying to keep those released from prison from returning.

The recently appointed director of the Department’s Division of Parole and Probation, however, called the small victories her greatest accomplishments.

One client who couldn’t read took her direction and came back a few years later, reciting documents to her.

She later saw another former client who struggled with drug addiction clean and sober. Agents operate as everything from psychologists to business coaches teaching offenders how to interview, dress and write cover letters, Danner said.

“I like to be in the helping field and make a difference,” Danner said. “If you treat your clients with respect, you get respect. And that’s all anyone has — self-respect.”

Danner will now put those lessons learned into managing a staff of 1,100 including about 700 agents like her in 43 offices around the state.

And her client caseload just swelled to 50,000, all those on parole and probation in the Maryland system.

Though Danner armed herself with compassion, she wielded justice having no qualms about sending repeat offenders she deemed dangerous to Maryland citizens back to prison.

Danner graduated with a sociology and political science degree from Frostburg State University before working with troubled juveniles in several public and private facilities.

In addition to Prince George’s County, Danner worked in Anne Arundel before becoming division deputy director. She still likes to visit parole and probation offices and can be found answering front desk phones when colleagues get busy.

“It is never boring,” Danner said. “You can plan your day out but it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen that way like when you get called to court unexpectedly.”

Technology revolutionized the division since her early days, Danner said. Agents can now retrieve criminal histories and court documents with keyboard flicks.

Danner, who grew up in rural northwestern Maryland, arrives to the new post after serving three years as assistant to Deputy Secretary of Operations J. Michael Zeigler, where she got a panoramic view of corrections.

“You see the challenges and dedication people have,” Danner said. “You see the hard work and how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit.”

Zeigler credited Danner with bringing “positive energy” to headquarters.

“Martha has great ideas and the ability to think out of the box,” Zeigler said.

Danner’s field work will enhance her goal to making communication, transparency and visibility a priority, she said.

“I was a case agent with a caseload so I know what my team is going through,” she said. “I’ll take the team approach.”