A New Mission and Vision for Probation

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team meets at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration.

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) met to discuss a new mission and vision for the nation’s largest Probation Department, as well as to consider an organizational structure that supports separate adult and juvenile probation operations.

The Honorable John Lawson provides expert testimony at the third PRIT meeting.

It was the third in a series of public meetings being held over several months to develop a comprehensive plan for reforming the department, as well as to transform the existing Probation Commission into a new – and strengthened – Probation Oversight Commission. 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, and to make Probation more transparent and accountable to the public.

At the meeting, the PRIT had a chance to hear from experts and stakeholders in Probation reform, including the current Probation Chief, a former Probation Chief, judicial representatives, and union representatives.

“Systems change requires deep and sustained engagement from multiple perspectives. By hearing from judges, probationers, union representatives, the Department’s leadership, and the public today, the Supervisors’ appointees will  be able to present an effective, integrated reform plan to produce more transparency and accountability,” said Saul Sarabia, chairperson of the PRIT, an educator who has been working for 25 years to try to end structural racism and discrimination of all kinds by developing leadersteaching, and engaging in collective action to change laws.

PRIT Chairman Saul Sarabia

PRIT member José Osuna said, “It is critical to ensure that a culture of transparency and accountability is rooted at all levels of the Probation Department. This community dialogue regarding the revision of the Department’s mission and the restructuring of its operations will allow LA County taxpayers and residents, and people who have been on Probation, such as me, to inform this major reform effort. As a member of the Board’s original working group to reform the department in 2016, and current appointee to the PRIT, I will not rest until the community and the Board’s vision for reform is realized.”

“Probation reform cannot wait, as demonstrated by increasing evidence of safety concerns in the County’s juvenile halls,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion that created the PRIT. “Fundamental to reform is the mission of the department, and how it structures its staffing, operations and service delivery to support that mission. These are the building blocks for creating a culture of care in our adult and youth justice systems. I commend the PRIT for giving these topics the attention they deserve.”

“I commend the Probation Department for taking these steps towards realizing the Board of Supervisors’ vision for reform,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who coauthored the motion. “Developing the mission and systems for true accountability and transparency are critical for implementing the vision for change that is shared by Probation, the Board, and most importantly, the communities that we serve. The PRIT process and today’s conversation gives stakeholders a leadership role in determining the Probation Department’s future, alongside the Board and the Department.”

“At LA County Probation, we have embraced the challenge and opportunity to restructure the Department to best serve clients and the public while creating the foundation for change,” said Probation Chief Terri McDonald. “We welcome these discussions as we continually examine how we should perceive ourselves, serve clients, value staff and work with the community.”

PRIT members Alex Sanchez, Cyn Yamashiro, Mack Jenkins,José Osuna and Sheila Balkan

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;
  • José 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.

The team also includes one representative each from the Probation Department, the Office of County Counsel and the County Chief Executive Office.  The panel is 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.