Reforming Probation

L-R: Community Coalition’s Patricia Guerra, Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover, Children’s Defense Fund’s Patricia Soung, and Homeboy Industries’ Ed Flynn, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion aimed at improving transparency and accountability at the troubled Probation Department, saying reform efforts over the years have yet to yield substantial results. A vote is expected on October 17.

Co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, the motion calls for creating a task force and/or enhancing the existing Probation Commission to synthesize the many existing recommendations for reform, develop a plan for implementing them, and submit it to the Board for approval.

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“Current efforts are fragmented, which could lead to inconsistencies,” Board Chairman Ridley-Thomas said. “We need a singular vision and a clear roadmap for reforming Probation, which has struggled for decades with excessive use of force by staff, mismanagement of funds, and a range of other issues.”

Supervisor Hahn added, “I look forward to moving ahead to create a Probation Department that professionally and compassionately leads our citizens towards productive lives in our communities.”

Several members of the public testified in support of the motion, including Probation Commissioner and retired Superior Court Judge Jan Levine. “Current reform efforts are important and laudable, but insufficient,” she said. “There must be continuous outside oversight of the Department by an independent body to ensure transparency, updating of policies, ongoing review of budgets and spending, continued tracking of outcomes, and the creation of a forum for families and other stakeholders to participate in an ongoing two-way exchange of information about policies and practices.”

“These are critical measures if we are to inspire trust as well as to be effective in efforts to actually help the individuals entrusted to the Probation system,” she added.

CalState LA Associate Dean Denise Hertz, one of the researchers called upon over the years to assess systemic problems at Probation and recommend changes, said, “This motion offers a tremendous opportunity to build a collaborative foundation from which best practices can be identified and implemented.”

Probation Commissioner Zach Hoover lauded the Board’s appointment of Probation Chief Terri McDonald and Deputy Chief Sheila Mitchell. Still, he added, “It’s clear to me that they need more wind at their back. They need the support of oversight to be able to truly transform the department. We’re not interested in reform; we’re interested in a transformation.”

A New Way of Life’s Tiffany Johnson, Urban Peace Institute’s Josh Green, and Californians for Safety and Justice’s Marisa Arona, all testifying in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors.