York County probation chief: House arrest no 'magic guarantee'

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Ross Crawford

Editor's note: This article originally ran in The York Dispatch on June 14, 2012.

A Manchester Township man would likely have been fitted with an electronic house-arrest monitoring device early this week, had he not been arrested for allegedly killing his on-again, off-again girlfriend, the head of the county's probation department said.

"House arrest is a tool," said Al Sabol, chief officer of the York County Adult Probation Department. "It's an alternative to incarceration, but it's not a magic guarantee that people will not violate their conditions or commit new offenses. Ultimately, an offender is responsible for his or her own actions."

Ross William Crawford, 41, of 570 Harvest Drive, remains in county prison without bail. He's charged with homicide in last week's beating death of C. Jennifer Dowell.

Body found: Northern Regional Police said he killed her by using an object to strike her in the head inside her home in the 500 block of Cedar Village Drive. Her body was found Friday by a concerned co-worker, who fled the house and called police after she spotted Crawford with self-inflicted slashing wounds to his arms and neck, police said.

He'd been out of prison for less than three weeks when Dowell, 53, was killed.

Crawford was locked up from March 14 until May 21 on a probation violation for a 2010 case in which Dowell was the victim. His probation was violated because he incurred a new charge on March 6 — a summary harassment citation, again with Dowell listed as the victim, according to court records.

On May 21, as part of an agreed-upon resolution between the prosecution and defense, Crawford was released from prison and ordered to spend nearly four months on house arrest for the probation violation, defense attorney Ron Gross has said.

As part of his house arrest, Crawford was to be fitted with an ankle cuff that would alert probation officers if he left his home.

"Generally speaking, there's usually about a one- to two-week lag in getting someone hooked up for house arrest," Sabol said.

Factors that could delay that process include availability of manpower and equipment, giving the defendant time to have a phone line installed in their home and the volume of people that must be hooked up in any given week, he said.

The York County Adult Probation Department is currently supervising about 10,000 offenders, according to Sabol, ranging from people sentenced to non-reporting probation, to those on house arrest for pending or resolved cases, to people under the most intensive supervision.

The department has 74 probation officers, with about 52 or 54 of them actively supervising offenders, Sabol said.

C. Jennifer Dowell

'Difficult to prevent': "This is not total confinement. If someone really wants to go out and do harm ... to someone else, that is very difficult to prevent," he said, adding that even if Crawford had been fitted with an electronic ankle cuff "that doesn't mean this tragic event would have been prevented."

Crawford was under supervision and had been seen several times by probation officers after being released from prison, Sabol said.

"This case wasn't really handled any differently than any other case," he said. "Part of our mission statement is ... protection of the community. And we take that very seriously. ... Obviously, our sympathy goes out to the victim and her family."

Sabol said his department is reviewing what happened.

"We are constantly looking at our policies and procedures, and ways we can do things better," he said. "We do the best we can."

Troubled relationship: Court documents reveal Crawford and Dowell had a turbulent, on-again, off-again relationship. Police arrested Crawford a number of times over the past three years for alleged crimes against Dowell, including aggravated assault, arson, burglary, making terroristic threats, theft and other offenses.

Some of those charges were dismissed because Dowell wouldn't appear in court to testify against him, records reveal.

"They had a very unhealthy relationship," Gross, Crawford's defense attorney, said.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether the two were back together at the time of her death, according to Chief Mark Bentzel of Northern York County Regional Police.

He confirmed neighbors saw Crawford and Dowell sitting together on her patio June 2, but noted that doesn't mean Dowell willingly let him in last week.

"I don't know if we'll be able to make that determination," Bentzel said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at