Probation Reform and Implementation Team Weighs Powers of Future Probation Oversight Commission

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) held its fourth in a series of public meetings to develop a comprehensive plan for reforming the nation’s largest Probation Department. They discussed ways to transform the existing Probation Commission into a new – and strengthened – Probation Oversight Commission (POC).

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, as well as to make Probation more transparent and accountable to the public.

At the meeting, PRIT members had a chance to hear from experts and stakeholders who discussed empowering the POC to conduct investigations, have access to information, conduct facility inspections, and expand oversight to adults. Speakers included:

  • Brian Williams, Executive Director of the LA County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission
  • Max Huntsman, Inspector General of LA County
  • Mark Smith, Inspector General, Los Angeles Police Department
  • Patricia Soung, Youth Justice Policy Director and Senior Staff Attorney, Children’s Defense Fund

“It is not every day that the residents of LA County have a chance to design a new entity in County government,” said Saul Sarabia, chairperson of the PRIT. “Shaping the powers of the Probation Oversight Commission by drawing on community wisdom to engage and deliberate about best practices will create public ownership and awareness over the POC – the first step towards increasing accountability and transparency.”

PRIT member Cyn Yamashiro added, “Monitoring a department that has an annual budget of $935 million and jurisdiction over the lives of 7,500 youth and 45,000 adults is no easy task. We need broad community input to fulfill the Board of Supervisors’ charge to design a new oversight body with adequate powers, staffing and community confidence to achieve the systemic reform of the nation’s largest Probation Department.”

“The challenges in Probation are so systemic and persistent that they stymie those in the department who are trying to do good work,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion that created the PRIT. “Strengthening oversight and increasing accountability are absolutely necessary if the department is to improve its operations, fulfill its mandate to rehabilitate, and restore public trust.”

“Oversight is essential to ensuring that the Probation Department maintains fidelity to the values of transparency and accountability, thereby building and maintaining trust with the communities it serves,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “It is imperative that the Probation Oversight Commission is structured to include input with the broadest community reach, and is staffed with experts who can guide the Probation Department, celebrate its wins, address its deficiencies, and serve as our trusted advisors to help the Board of Supervisors and the community keep the Probation Department accountable.”

“Oversight can be a tool to accomplish our mission rather than a punitive process,” said Probation Chief Terri McDonald. “I welcome the Probation Oversight Commission and their healthy criticism, support and guidance. I look forward to accommodating their new mission in a transparent manner.”

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;
  • Jose Osuna, Fourth District: Consultant specializing in gang rehabilitation, community based re-entry solutions, community organizing and social justice advocacy; and
  • Mack Jenkins, Fifth District: Expert in evidence-based practices for community corrections, who served 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 was tasked 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.