A New Mission and Vision for Probation

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team meets at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration.

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) met to discuss a new mission and vision for the nation’s largest Probation Department, as well as to consider an organizational structure that supports separate adult and juvenile probation operations.

The Honorable John Lawson provides expert testimony at the third PRIT meeting.

It was the third in a series of public meetings being held over several months to develop a comprehensive plan for reforming the department, as well as to transform the existing Probation Commission into a new – and strengthened – Probation Oversight Commission. The effort is in line with the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to criminal justice reform, and is expected to result in better outcomes for youth and adults under Probation supervision, and to make Probation more transparent and accountable to the public.

At the meeting, the PRIT had a chance to hear from experts and stakeholders in Probation reform, including the current Probation Chief, a former Probation Chief, judicial representatives, and union representatives.

“Systems change requires deep and sustained engagement from multiple perspectives. By hearing from judges, probationers, union representatives, the Department’s leadership, and the public today, the Supervisors’ appointees will  be able to present an effective, integrated reform plan to produce more transparency and accountability,” said Saul Sarabia, chairperson of the PRIT, an educator who has been working for 25 years to try to end structural racism and discrimination of all kinds by developing leadersteaching, and engaging in collective action to change laws.

PRIT Chairman Saul Sarabia

PRIT member José Osuna said, “It is critical to ensure that a culture of transparency and accountability is rooted at all levels of the Probation Department. This community dialogue regarding the revision of the Department’s mission and the restructuring of its operations will allow LA County taxpayers and residents, and people who have been on Probation, such as me, to inform this major reform effort. As a member of the Board’s original working group to reform the department in 2016, and current appointee to the PRIT, I will not rest until the community and the Board’s vision for reform is realized.”

“Probation reform cannot wait, as demonstrated by increasing evidence of safety concerns in the County’s juvenile halls,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion that created the PRIT. “Fundamental to reform is the mission of the department, and how it structures its staffing, operations and service delivery to support that mission. These are the building blocks for creating a culture of care in our adult and youth justice systems. I commend the PRIT for giving these topics the attention they deserve.”

“I commend the Probation Department for taking these steps towards realizing the Board of Supervisors’ vision for reform,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who coauthored the motion. “Developing the mission and systems for true accountability and transparency are critical for implementing the vision for change that is shared by Probation, the Board, and most importantly, the communities that we serve. The PRIT process and today’s conversation gives stakeholders a leadership role in determining the Probation Department’s future, alongside the Board and the Department.”

“At LA County Probation, we have embraced the challenge and opportunity to restructure the Department to best serve clients and the public while creating the foundation for change,” said Probation Chief Terri McDonald. “We welcome these discussions as we continually examine how we should perceive ourselves, serve clients, value staff and work with the community.”

PRIT members Alex Sanchez, Cyn Yamashiro, Mack Jenkins,José Osuna and Sheila Balkan

The PRIT is made up of a diverse and committed group of experts with deep experience in criminal justice, violence prevention and intervention, and social justice advocacy. The panel includes members appointed by each of the five County Supervisors:

  • Alex Sanchez, First District: Co-founder of Homies Unidos and an advocate committed to violence prevention through racial tolerance and cultural understanding;
  • Cyn Yamashiro, Second District: Former public defender who established a criminal defense legal clinic at Loyola Law School and currently leads the County’s juvenile indigent defense team;
  • Sheila Balkan, Third District: Research consultant and sentencing evaluation specialist who has participated in over 4,000 state and federal cases;
  • José Osuna, Fourth District: Consultant specializing in gang rehabilitation, community based re-entry solutions, community organizing and social justice advocacy;
  • Mack Jenkins, Fifth District: Expert in evidence-based practices for community corrections, serving as Chief Probation Officer for San Diego County from 2007 to 2016.

The team also includes one representative each from the Probation Department, the Office of County Counsel and the County Chief Executive Office.  The panel is to meet consistently for six to nine months to develop recommendations for the Board, with the public’s input.

Probation has a budget of almost $1 billion and supervisory responsibility for more than 40,000 adult clients and about 8,000 youth, more than 900 of whom are detained as juvenile clients in the halls, camps and other facilities.

Supporting Families Impacted by Fatal Use Of Force

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion directing the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to develop a plan for better supporting families who lose loved ones after a fatal use of force by, or while in the custody of, the Sheriff’s Department.

The motion, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, called for turning recommendations made by the Civilian Oversight Commission (CoC) into an implementation plan that would provide timely, trauma-informed and clear communication with grieving families, as well as the community. The County CEO is to report back to the Board in 60 days, including advising on any County infrastructure, staffing, training, and services that would be needed to carry out the implementation plan.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell provides testimony at the October 9, 2018 Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“Improving the way LA County interacts with, and supports, grieving families who have lost a loved one from a fatal use of force or in-custody death is another important aspect of public safety and criminal justice reform,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “If done right, this type of communication can reduce trauma, support families, and improve community and law enforcement relations. This is no small thing – public safety doesn’t come without public trust.”

“When families lose a loved one who is being held in Sheriff’s Department custody or through an incident involving lethal force, they deserve clear and timely communication. Family members must be treated with respect and compassion,” said Board Chair Kuehl. “The Board’s action today moves us closer to an empathetic protocol to guide the Sheriff’s Department as it deals with shocked and grieving family members.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell testified in support of the motion, saying, “We look forward to working with the Board and our County partners to provide the necessary input and support for the development of the implementation plan.  It’s an important conversation that addresses a critical moment that families will carry in their memories for the rest of their lives.”

Civilian Oversight Commission Executive Director Brian Williams and Civilian Oversight Commission Chair Patti Giggans provide testimony. Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

CoC Executive Director Brian Williams told the Board, “People in the community need to know that they matter and this is a great opportunity for the Sheriff, the Civilian Oversight Commission and the community to say, ‘Everyone matters.’”

 

Among the CoC’s recommendations are: creating a multi-disciplinary team to provide ongoing support, resources and transparent communication to grieving families; providing trauma-informed training for Sheriff’s Department personnel who come into contact with grieving families; and advocating changes in state laws on access to victim resources.

“This is not just an issue for the Sheriff’s Department – we believe that this is an LA County issue and that, through collaboration, we can show respect to these families and to their communities, and help them heal,” CoC Chair Patti Giggans, who also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Peace Over Violence, noted. “We intentionally have outlined the functions of the response team based on the values necessary, like compassion, empathy, respect, transparency, trauma-informed communication and support.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman shares feedback at the Board of Supervisors meeting.  Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

“Treating families with respect is how we avoid making a terrible situation worse,” added Inspector General Max Huntsman, who has been a champion of the County developing this type of program. “It is a basic duty of government, and something I fully support the CoC in recommending.”

 

Public Defender: The People’s Lawyer

L-R: Public Defender Ricardo Garcia, Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Public Defender’s swearing-in ceremony. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Remarks
on the Appointment of Public Defender Ricardo Garcia

Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark US Supreme Court ruling, established the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It affirmed in fact that in a society built on the rule of law, the right to counsel is a right that is sacrosanct.

And it affirmed in equity that there are few, perhaps no office more important than that of Public Defender.

The person in this position is the people’s lawyer.

They are tasked with making sure those of lesser means who enter our justice system receive — evenly and equally — quality and careful legal representation.

We are in a defining moment for our justice system, with fundamental changes underway.

Mental health diversion, the end of money bail, probation reform – all of these timely issues require leadership from the Public Defender.

Thank you to Nicole Davis Tinkham and those in the Public Defender’s office who have done such great work in the interim.

In our search, we were deliberate and acted with purpose to make sure we found the right person for this pivotal time.

I, along with the other Supervisors, have all had the opportunity to speak at length with Mr. Garcia.

It was not just his impeccable skill and fine credentials that brought him to our attention, though it did not hurt his case for the job.

It was the caliber of his moral fiber and his tuft as person.

Talk with Mr. Garcia and in just minutes you know that he is passionate in his commitment to the defense of society’s forgotten.

Justice is his map; fairness, his compass.

He’s driven by a fundamental belief that justice is not an abstraction; it’s a very real and tangible way that our laws interact with people in their daily lives.

It all comes from an inexorable belief that ordinary citizens like us, generation after generation, can do our part to uphold our founding ideals.

Because we are here just for a time – whether in this building or even on this earth.

In this time our responsibility, while we are here, is to breathe life into these ideals; to imbue them with the strength of our convictions and the weight of our efforts.

In sum, I believe today’s swearing-in makes more real the promise of Gideon.

The promise of fairness and equality, “of liberty and justice for all.”

And it makes stronger the strength of our convictions and the weight of our efforts.

I look forward to the great work that Mr. Garcia will do as Public Defender on behalf of the people of Los Angeles County.

The Community Gets Serious about Probation Reform

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas delivers welcome remarks at a community meeting organized by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) hosted the second in a series of meetings to develop a comprehensive roadmap for reform and to craft a structure for a permanent and independent civilian Probation Oversight Commission.

The PRIT’s overall mission is to transform the nation’s largest Probation Department and make it more transparent, accountable to the public, and in line with the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to justice reform. This particular meeting was intended to allow PRIT members to engage community members in defining the mission of the Probation Oversight Commission, and how it should engage communities.

Probation Reform and Implementation Team

Community groups from across the county filled Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Exposition Park field office to dialogue with PRIT members. In his welcome remarks, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told them, “The current Board of Supervisors has demonstrated – repeatedly – that the business of Probation reform must be addressed, and addressed with a sense of urgency and care. We now have handed the baton over to you to carry forward for your leg of the journey.”

Dozens of community members participated in a dialogue on Probation reform.

PRIT appointee Cyn Yamashiro noted the process already feels different from past reform efforts. “I have been on working on probation reform for six years, and community engagement has never looked as strong as this,” he said. “I am optimistic this effort is going to change things once and for all.”

Probation Chief Terri McDonald speaks with a community member at a meeting of the Probation Reform and Implementation Team.

Marcus McKinney, Director or Policy and Advocacy for A New Way of Life, a community reentry non-profit, remarked similarly about the value of community engagement. “When the community is involved, not only do they feel a sense of ownership, but decision makers are also afforded a chance to hear firsthand from those with the life experience being directly impacted , which is key to any successful reform process,” he said. “Given Probation’s sheer size and the importance of its charge, reform must include sustainable change that helps transition folks back into society, transparency and public accountability.”

Community members were asked to submit comment cards that explored their views on public accountability, transparency and better outcomes for adults and youth, as well as on engagement between the Probation Oversight Commission and the community.

The PRIT will be holding more meetings over the coming months to cover such important topics as the powers of the Probation Oversight Commission, ways to reform juvenile facilities, and issues such as the use of pepper spray, and staff hiring and training. Final recommendations will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors in the first half of 2019.

Mobilizing in Men’s Central Jail to “Unlock the Vote”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and rapper, activist, and Selma cast member “Common” enter Men’s Central Jail to register voters.  Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stood on the steps of Men’s Central Jail with rapper and activist “Common” and representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Office of Diversion and Reentry, American Civil Liberties Union, and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership to promote voter registration for justice-involved individuals. In honor of National Voter Registration Day, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas promoted the recent launch of a campaign to bring voter awareness to incarcerated individuals called “L.A. Free the Vote”, followed by a voter registration drive inside the jail.

The motion to officially dedicate Tuesday, September 25, 2018 to voter registration in Los Angeles County was authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Together, he and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, created the Voter Engagement Taskforce for Justice-Involved Populations, directed at increasing voter education and registration to justice-involved communities. Their L.A. Free the Vote work aims to register as many justice involved individuals as possible by the November 2018 election.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, yet more than one million eligible citizens in Los Angeles County have not registered to vote,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I think the vote is one of the first steps that we can do as people in this country to show that we care and people have made mistakes, but we’re still reaching out for them. That’s what America is supposed to be about,” said rapper, activist and Selma cast member.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with LASD Commander Roosevelt Johnson, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) SoCal Jails Project Esther Lim, rapper and activist “Common” and others on the steps of Men’s Central Jail. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Commander Roosevelt Johnson, who oversees the Men’s Central Jail, stood with the facility unit commander, Captain Ruthie Daily, and Chief Joanne Sharp, who oversees Custody Services Division-General Population, and stated, “We are excited to partner with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Registrar Recorders Office and ACLU’s SoCal Jails Project to ensure eligible inmates in the county jail system are afforded an opportunity to register to vote. While we realize this is not an easy task, we are committed to assisting our partners in this effort.”

Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Los Angeles County, said, “When we don’t use our vote, we unwittingly give up our voice either to others or to deafening silence. By exercising our right to vote we are claiming power, influence and significance.”

Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry and co-convener of the County’s Taskforce, said, “The Office of Diversion and Reentry is excited to help lead the L.A. Free the Vote taskforce and campaign to support the reentry population in exercising their civic right to vote. We see this as an important part of ODR’s strategy for supporting this population holistically through job training, mental health services, housing and more.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Common help a Men’s Central Jail inmate register to vote. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Esther Lim, Director of the American Civil Liberties SoCal Jails Project, announced participation in today’s event, as part of the “Unlock the Vote” project, designed to bring voter registration to eligible individuals incarcerated within the Los Angeles County jail system. “All because someone is behind bars DOES NOT preclude them from participating in our most important right, the right to vote. We are proud to be a partner in this countywide effort that we hope will be a shining example across the state and country to show that every voice matters and every vote matters.”

Troy Vaughn, Executive Director of Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LAARP) states, “LAARP is thrilled to be a community partner in the LA Free the Vote campaign, engaging thousands of people in Reentry who don’t know they are eligible to vote, because research tells us that after a job, civic engagement is one of the best protective factors that can drastically reduce recidivism.”

After the news conference, volunteers and representatives went inside Men’s Central Jail to register incarcerated voters. They walked the rows, providing inmates with information on the voting registration process and giving them the opportunity to register for November’s election.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “From where I stand — informed by the civil rights movement — every day is an opportunity to celebrate voter registration. Voting is how we are heard, and every vote counts.”