The Community Gets Serious about Probation Reform

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas delivers welcome remarks at a community meeting organized by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) hosted the second in a series of meetings to develop a comprehensive roadmap for reform and to craft a structure for a permanent and independent civilian Probation Oversight Commission.

The PRIT’s overall mission is to transform the nation’s largest Probation Department and make it more transparent, accountable to the public, and in line with the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to justice reform. This particular meeting was intended to allow PRIT members to engage community members in defining the mission of the Probation Oversight Commission, and how it should engage communities.

Probation Reform and Implementation Team

Community groups from across the county filled Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Exposition Park field office to dialogue with PRIT members. In his welcome remarks, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told them, “The current Board of Supervisors has demonstrated – repeatedly – that the business of Probation reform must be addressed, and addressed with a sense of urgency and care. We now have handed the baton over to you to carry forward for your leg of the journey.”

Dozens of community members participated in a dialogue on Probation reform.

PRIT appointee Cyn Yamashiro noted the process already feels different from past reform efforts. “I have been on working on probation reform for six years, and community engagement has never looked as strong as this,” he said. “I am optimistic this effort is going to change things once and for all.”

Probation Chief Terri McDonald speaks with a community member at a meeting of the Probation Reform and Implementation Team.

Marcus McKinney, Director or Policy and Advocacy for A New Way of Life, a community reentry non-profit, remarked similarly about the value of community engagement. “When the community is involved, not only do they feel a sense of ownership, but decision makers are also afforded a chance to hear firsthand from those with the life experience being directly impacted , which is key to any successful reform process,” he said. “Given Probation’s sheer size and the importance of its charge, reform must include sustainable change that helps transition folks back into society, transparency and public accountability.”

Community members were asked to submit comment cards that explored their views on public accountability, transparency and better outcomes for adults and youth, as well as on engagement between the Probation Oversight Commission and the community.

The PRIT will be holding more meetings over the coming months to cover such important topics as the powers of the Probation Oversight Commission, ways to reform juvenile facilities, and issues such as the use of pepper spray, and staff hiring and training. Final recommendations will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors in the first half of 2019.