The Board of Supervisors has appointed former Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald to head the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
McDonald – who has 35 years of experience in the mental health and corrections fields – will be the first woman to lead the nation’s largest probation department, which supervises 46,000 adults and 7,800 juveniles, employs 6,500 people and has a budget of $820 million.
McDonald will be joined by Sheila Mitchell, former Santa Clara Probation Chief appointed by the Board of Supervisors to oversee Juvenile Services as the county’s Chief Deputy Probation Officer.
“It gives me great pleasure to approve the appointments of two remarkable women,” said Board Chair Hilda L. Solis. “Both Ms. McDonald and Ms. Mitchell have an extensive list of accomplishments and qualifications that make them more than capable of succeeding in their roles.
“We look forward to witnessing the good work that they will undoubtedly do for our County residents.”
The department has been through several recent leadership changes. It is in the midst of remaking its juvenile facilities to better support the rehabilitation of youthful offenders.
“It is an extreme honor and privilege to lead the public servants of the Probation Department, who are committed to finding innovative means to improve rehabilitative services and restore lives, while keeping our communities safe,” McDonald said.
McDonald headed the Custody Division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for three years. She stepped down last spring after helping negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice that mandates improvements in the treatment of mentally ill inmates and other reforms.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said McDonald’s tenure as assistant sheriff “gave us the opportunity to appreciate her judgment and her skills, especially in her efforts to reduce jail violence, which produced impressive results in a relatively short time. The hiring of CPO McDonald and CDPO Mitchell will be of tremendous help as the Board continues to strengthen and improve our rehabilitative programs and strive for better and positive outcomes for juveniles and adults, while also continuing to protect public safety.”
McDonald joined the Sheriff’s Department to help remedy management failings cited by a citizens’ commission created by the Board of Supervisors. She was lauded by law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates for hands-on leadership that helped decrease inmate suicides, improve jail conditions and enhance training for deputies.
“Terri brings a deep commitment to public safety, a strong sense of empathy and compassion, and the unique ability to effectively manage a demanding department,” said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, citing her “extensive background as a leader in state corrections.”
Prior to her service with Los Angeles County, McDonald spent 24 years with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She began as a correctional officer and rose through the ranks to become second-in-command, overseeing adult prisons, parole operations, juvenile justice and rehabilitative programs.
Mitchell spent nine years as chief of the probation department in Santa Clara County, where she built a national reputation on reforms that decreased the number of incarcerated juveniles, reduced recidivism and increased community-based alternatives to locked facilities.
“Changing the culture of an organization is challenging, but I know Terri and Sheila are up to the task and will ensure that we continue providing the services and tools necessary to give people a chance to rebuild their lives,” said Supervisor Don Knabe.
“After working to turn around the serious issues in our County jails, Terri has the experience, strength and compassion to oversee the largest probation department in the country,” Knabe added.
Said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: “Terri is a proven reformer who has already achieved notable improvements to our jail system. I am confident in her ability to carry out the changes we need in Probation, especially with Sheila as her second-in-command, a renowned expert in juvenile justice with a track record of system change in California. Terri and Sheila are already making history by becoming the first women to lead Probation. I hope they can steer the long-troubled department to a brighter future.”