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