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Probation Reform Advances

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas delivers opening remarks at the inaugural meeting of the Probation Reform and Implementation Team before a standing-room only crowd at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

A new Probation Reform and Implementation Team, created by the Board of Supervisors as part of its broad justice reform initiative, met for the first time to begin developing a comprehensive roadmap for reform and to craft the structure for a permanent and independent civilian Probation Oversight Commission.

The kickoff meeting represents a critical step forward in transforming the largest Probation Department in the country—an effort that is expected to result in better outcomes for young people and adults, improve transparency and public accountability, and carry out the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to justice reform.

“We have a moral imperative to ensure fairness and humane treatment for all, and the Probation Reform and Implementation Team will help bring about the changes urgently needed in our Probation Department,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “Their charge is to help create the transparency, accountability and sustained transformation needed to strengthen public trust and confidence.”

“The Probation Reform and Implementation Team will set into motion a process to ensure that changes to the Probation Department align with a truly transformational mission and vision,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “The team will work to ensure that all of the Department’s efforts are up to date with best practices, and will maintain accountability, transparency, and systematic engagement with community, labor, and other interested stakeholders. As we all move forward together to continue to do what is best for probationers, I want to commend the Probation Reform and Implementation Team and the Probation Department for undertaking this important process.”

Probation Reform and Implementation Team at work

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team 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 team chair is Saul Sarabia, an educator with 25 years of experience galvanizing social change by developing leaders and engaging in action to change laws.

The panel includes members appointed by each of the five County Supervisors. They are:

  • 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;
  • Jose 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.

Probation Reform and Implementation Team chair Saul Sarabia

The team also includes one representative from the Probation Department, the Office of County Counsel and the Chief Executive Office.  The panel will meet monthly for 6 to 9 months to develop recommendations for the Board, with the public’s input.

“I’m honored to facilitate a dynamic group of leaders on the front lines of criminal justice reform and innovation to implement probation reform in Los Angeles County,” team chair Sarabia said.  “The appointees, who range from formerly incarcerated leaders in the non-profit sector to a former Chief Probation Officer in Southern California working nationally, are uniquely positioned to roll up their sleeves and implement the Board’s vision. Most importantly, we are excited to solidify ongoing and meaningful ways for County residents—especially populations that are directly affected —to join this effort.”

One of the team’s first steps will be to define a structure for the permanent oversight commission so that it can fulfill its mandate to provide ongoing oversight of Probation Department policies and procedures and their impact on communities.

Among the team’s other priorities will be to develop requirements for selection of oversight commission members and design approaches for robust community engagement.

Audience members write down their Probation reform aspirations during a community engagement exercise.

Chief Probation Officer Terri L. McDonald said she welcomes the implementation team’s work.

“The Probation Department is looking forward to learning and growing from the thoughtful efforts of the Reform Implementation Team,” McDonald said. “The Department has embarked on many reform initiatives in the last several years, and we know this panel will help us continue our forward progress. The feedback anticipated from this group of thought leaders will help engage the community, challenge current thinking and guide the Department into the future.  We welcome the Commission’s ideas, guidance and interaction.”

The Los Angeles County Probation Department is the largest in the nation, with 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. More information on the Probation Reform and Implementation Team can be found at prit.lacounty.gov.

Board Approves Initiative to Help Children Invest in Their Future

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to explore the feasibility of creating a Children’s Savings Account program – an investment that would pave the way to college for many students.

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are long-term asset-building financial tools that are established for children early in life. The accounts are seeded with an initial deposit and built through contributions from family, friends, and the children themselves. At age 18, CSA savings are typically used to fund higher education; but the savings can also be used for other asset-building purposes, such as purchasing equipment to start a small business.

“We must be creative in our approach to opening up viable avenues to postsecondary education and sustainable career pathways,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “One of the most critical investments we can make is in human infrastructure, most notably in enhancing the self-perception and well-being – financial and otherwise – of children.”

“Saving for college early can help build positive, lifelong financial habits,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who co-authored the motion. “By enabling youth to build college savings and raising their educational expectations, Children’s Savings Accounts can put a college or trade school education within reach. With families and students struggling to afford the rising costs of college, any action to alleviate this burden can help create a pathway to success.”

A college degree has become increasingly important. Three decades ago, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree made 40 percent more than those with a high school diploma – last year that number reached 83 percent. Meanwhile, the number of jobs requiring a post-secondary degree has more than doubled. Today, according to the US Census Bureau, only 32 percent of Angelenos have a bachelor’s degree.

Under the proposed initiative, Los Angeles County (County) would form a partnership with the City of Los Angeles to help fund a CSA program for first grade students enrolled at schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  Councilmember David Ryu, who has already laid the groundwork for the City’s CSA program said, “it’s well past time that we start thinking outside the box to develop policies that boost college readiness, attendance, completion rates, and ensure our students have a fighting chance in today’s and tomorrow’s economies.” He added, “this vote represents a critical next step toward making higher education a reality for children across Los Angeles.”

In June 2018, the LA Unified Board of Education approved a resolution directing  LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner to develop a CSA plan. “We are excited to have LA County as a partner in our goal to provide college savings accounts to all first graders across the county,” said LA Unified Board Vice President Nick Melvoin, the resolution’s author. “This step toward preparing kids for college and careers may start with a small, simple investment, but it has the potential to produce big, life-changing results for our students.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas discussed the proposal with Superintendent Beutner during a joint visit to Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the first day of school after the summer break. “As we fulfill our promise to provide all students with a high-quality education, we must also build a framework to support their long-term success by helping families pay for college beginning when their child is in first grade,” said Superintendent Beutner. More than 80% of LAUSD families live below the poverty line.

The motion also directs County staff to consider other populations that could benefit from a CSA program, such as foster youth.

Over the past decade, the number of CSA programs subsidized by government has rapidly increased. For example, the City and County of San Francisco have launched such a program in partnership with the school district. Research has shown that the mere opening of a CSA can increase the likelihood of college attendance: low and moderate-income children with college savings between $1 and $499 are three times more likely to attend college. Furthermore, the existence of a CSA was found to deepen a parent’s belief that his or her child will attend college.

Health Equity Action Plan Launched

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined with the Los Angeles County Health Agency and community organizations in announcing the release of a new plan that promotes health equity countywide.

Over the next five years, the Health Agency and other partners to sustain efforts to reduce and eliminate some of the biggest gaps in health outcomes. Priorities include improving birth outcomes for black babies who currently die at three times the rate of white babies in the County, as well as reducing disproportionally high rates of sexually transmitted infections among men having sex with men, black women, and transgender residents.

“Health equity is essential in a society that values the wellbeing of all its members, to ensure that no one is left behind simply because of where they live and other factors,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to create the Center for Health Equity within the County Department of Public Health. He added, “We have an obligation to avoid exacerbating health disparities in our communities, and to reverse them.”

The plan is a call to action to advance health equity so that everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need for optimal health and well-being in the County.

“In Los Angeles County, there are stark differences in health outcomes based on race and ethnicity, geography and income,” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “The action plan is a set of strategic priorities and is a public commitment to achieving a set of well-defined equity goals to close gaps. These activities will build a movement toward ensuring everyone in the county can reach their fullest potential.”

“Equity shouldn’t be an aspiration in our society but rather a basic human right,” Community Health Councils CEO Veronica Flores said. “To ensure this basic right is operationalized throughout our County, the action plan will offer a clear path to accountability and strategy.”

The plan focus areas include:

  • Reducing the gap in black infant mortality by 30% in 5 years;
  • Eliminating congenital syphilis entirely in 5 years;
  • Reducing hazardous exposures to harmful toxins in low-income communities;
  • Improving health outcomes for residents with complex health needs;
  • Ensuring health agency services are accessible and culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Innovative Solutions to House People Living in Vehicles

(Left to Right) Dr. Scott Sale, Safe Parking LA; Nathaniel Williams, HOPICS; Lindsay Jo Garcia, St Joseph Center; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; Emily Kantrim, Safe Parking LA; Christian Riehl, St Joseph Center; Andre Baker, HOPICS. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive set of solutions to build on the success of an interagency effort that has already helped 59 people living in vehicles move into stable, affordable housing over the past year.

Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the motion called for expanding the use of public and private lots countywide to provide safe overnight parking to people living in vehicles, and for creating more sanitary conditions for them and nearby County residents.

Photo courtesy of Safe Parking LA by Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News.

The motion also sought to curb the resale and reuse of dilapidated and unsafe vehicles where people had lived before finding housing, and directed the drafting of an ordinance to streamline the roles of public and private partners involved in complex issue. Finally, it called for establishing a pilot program to help the growing concentration of people living in vehicles in unincorporated West Rancho Dominguez, Rosewood and Willowbrook over the past decade.

“We need to keep the momentum going and scale up our efforts to help people move out of their vehicles and into affordable housing,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We are innovating. We are implementing. And we are appropriately legislating.”

Over the last year, the County has been working closely with street outreach teams staffed by experienced nonprofit homeless service providers such as HOPICS and St. Joseph Center, who go out into the streets every day to offer services to the homeless. To date, their hard work has resulted in 59 people move out of their cars and into affordable housing.

Testifying in support of the motion, HOPICS’ Andre Baker told the Board, “We would like to continue this project, as well as to innovate and implement new projects to reduce vehicle homelessness in the county.”

“The motion will solidify a continuous effort to go out to the voiceless, and be a beacon of light for the lost,” Christian Riehl of St. Joseph Center told the Board. “We will leave this world better than we found it – one person at a time.”

The motion also called for funding more safe parking options countywide. The County has been working with the nonprofit Safe Parking LA to provide safe parking at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Koreatown.

Safe Parking LA’s Scott Sale told the Board, “I wholeheartedly support this motion and especially applaud the directive to expand safe parking countywide. Our mission is simple. We want to end vehicular homelessness through private and public support because having to sleep in your car is not a crime.”

LA County Steps Up to Take the Lead in Sativa

The Board of Supervisors endorsed a plan for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works to serve as interim administrator of the troubled Sativa Water District, and to lead the selection process for a permanent replacement water service provider in unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton.

“Sativa customers have endured decades of problems, not the least of which is brown water running through their taps, and it is long past time to identify a competent water provider that can better serve our communities,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion.

“I’m deeply offended by what has transpired, and we need to be resolved that it will not continue on our watch,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It has already taken way too much time just to restore a modicum of dignity and respect to residents who deserve a clean, clear glass of water.”

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer and Public Works Director Mark Pestrella testify in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

“Access to safe, clean drinking water is a basic right and must be guaranteed to every LA County resident,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion’s co-author. “We are in the process of dissolving the long-mismanaged Sativa Water District but we cannot leave these residents in limbo. LA County is ready to step in to protect our residents and our Department of Public Works is the right choice for interim administrator.”

Testifying before the Board, DPW Director Mark Pestrella laid out his department’s short- and long-term strategies during the transition.

“I am confident that the Department of Public Works can serve the current Sativa customers in a respectable manner, with the objective of providing each customer with affordable, clean and safe water,” Director Pestrella said.

When Sativa customers first expressed alarm about brown water running through their taps in April, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed an urgency motion to conduct an investigation, take immediate steps to prevent serious risks to public health, and determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s infrastructure issues, including the failure to properly maintain its 70-year old pipes. At his direction, the County also distributed approximately 20,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of unincorporated Willowbrook and Compton.

In June, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas called on the California State Water Resources Control Board to appoint an interim administrator to exercise “vigorous oversight” of Sativa, which has been plagued for decades by allegations of mismanagement and even nepotism. In July, the Local Agency Formation Commission of Los Angeles County (LAFCO) formally initiated dissolution proceedings over Sativa.

Today’s motion reiterates the Board’s support of AB 1577, authored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, which would empower the California Water Resources Control Board to order Sativa to accept administrative and managerial services. The motion also calls for amendments that would allow the County to take immediate fiscal and operational management and control over Sativa as interim administrator, which appropriate financial resources from the state as well as appropriate immunities from liability. It also seeks a streamlined path for LAFCO and the County to select a long-term water service provider to replace Sativa.