Supervisor Ridley-Thomas Says Probation Dept. Not Ready for Influx of Parolees from State

On Tuesday, July 12, the Board of Supervisors will discuss proposals from the Sheriff and Probation Department regarding which agency should supervise the parole of newly-released prisoners under AB 109, a new law that will shift the overseeing of thousands of parolees from the state to counties. Los Angeles County is expected to be charged with supervising more than 13,000 parolees beginning October 1.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the Probation Department would normally be the right agency to supervise the parolees; but due to current troubles at Probation, he proposed giving the Sheriff interim authority over the parolees.

“This year, the State of California is to release paroled felons to the supervision of counties as part of the Governor’s re-alignment program. This shift is set to occur just as Los Angeles County’s Probation Department has been found by the U.S. Justice to be dangerously troubled.

The dysfunction at Probation is so severe that I believe a majority of the Board of Supervisors would do the unusual by turning over parolees to the Sheriff’s Department. This speaks volumes.
A police officer’s job is to identify, investigate and arrest suspected criminals. A parole officer, by contrast, must prepare a person’s transition to society after incarceration. Some would argue combining the roles creates an obvious confusion of missions, if not an outright conflict of interest. A parolee’s trust and confidence in a parole officer is essential. Is it realistic to think a parolee will confide in a Sheriff’s deputy who has the authority to arrest him?

Only under the most strained of circumstances would I accept giving a police agency control over parolees. Sadly, the current crisis in the Los Angeles County Probation Dept. is such a circumstance. The Chief Probation Officer has not been able to effectively address the range of problems identified by the U.S. Dept. of Justice officials monitoring his department.
Sheriff Baca, meanwhile, has a track record of progressive leadership. I believe both society at-large and the parolees will be more reliably served under Sheriff Baca’s management while the Probation Dept. struggles to right itself.

This does not eliminate the fundamental systemic flaw of placing parolees under the supervision of a police agency. My support will be for a temporary arrangement allowing Sheriff Baca to oversee parolees, perhaps 12 months to 18 months. I propose the staff of the parole program be drawn from the approximately 200 probation officers who are currently facing layoffs. These probation officers could be assigned to the Sheriff’s department during the interim period. It is my hope that because they are not Sheriff’s deputies, and because their background and training is different, this would strike the appropriate balance.

The arrangement I propose is based on keeping a delicate balance. The Probation Department, despite being the appropriate agency to oversee parolees, is simply not up to the task at this time. Assigning parolees to the Sheriff’s Department is not an ideal choice – but at the moment, it’s the safest choice.”

LA Times Article Available here.