Recently, the Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) released comprehensive recommendations outlining its proposed authority and structure for the civilian Probation Oversight Commission (POC) for Los Angeles County’s Probation Department, the largest in the U.S. The proposal includes a call for subpoena power, authority to investigate complaints, and empowering former Probationers as community liaisons to serve as the County’s “eyes and ears.”
Together, these powers and structure aim to increase accountability and transparency of the $1 billion Department.
The PRIT’s recommendations are a result of a community-focused working group that includes five Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors-appointed representatives from each Los Angeles district, which convened at more than ten public meetings where formerly incarcerated youth, adult probationers, Probation staff and unions, and probation experts provided input.
The goal of the PRIT is to recommend the powers and structure to erect the new oversight body, as well as synthesize hundreds of recommendations that have already been made to Los Angeles County into a comprehensive reform plan that the POC will use to ensure systemic reforms are implemented. The POC will serve as an advisor to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Probation Department as well as a monitor of the Department’s systemic reform progress on behalf of the Board.
Link to report: Proposed Authority and Structure for the Probation Oversight Commission in Los Angeles County
“As someone who survived Los Angeles County’s juvenile probation camps in the 1980s, as well as a current mentor to probationers of all ages, I think it’s essential that the POC have robust powers, funding, and staffing to heal this County from the systemic failure to rehabilitate people under the jurisdiction of Probation,” said Alex Sanchez, an appointee of Supervisor Hilda Solis to the PRIT.
In the report, the PRIT outlines ten prescriptive and critical recommendations focused on creating an authentic and robust oversight body. The recommendations respond to widespread consensus, including the viewpoints of the County Board of Supervisors, that the Los Angeles County Probation Department is in dire need of external oversight.
Key recommendations in the PRIT’s proposed design of the advisory POC include its ability to do the following (but not limited to):
– Subpoena Power – The power to compel documents, data, real evidence and direct testimony as a swift, fair and reliable mechanism to ensure the Probation Department complies in a timely and good faith manner to complaints and issues.
– Public Reporting and Robust Community Engagement – Regular and timely reports on the systems, policies and practices of the Probation Department. Also, a public meeting process to ensure community engagement and a forum to increase public literacy on the functioning of the Department. Additionally, innovations to involve former Probationers in resolving service complaints, identify root causes and trends, and in shaping parts of the budget.
– Investigations and Inspections – The ability to conduct robust, independent investigation of matters deemed material to the POC, and to collaborate with the County Inspector General for complex and confidential investigations. The POC will closely monitor the conditions of confinement and the quality of treatment and programming offered to probationers.
The Chairperson who facilitated the PRIT’s deliberation and community engagement, Saúl Sarabia, praised the Board’s decision to center probation as part of its Justice Reform priority. “This is a sea of change for Los Angeles County that drew on community wisdom and subject matter expertise to develop solutions for an agency that impacts the freedom, well-being, and life outcomes of so many Angelenos.”
”The PRIT has done an extraordinarily thoughtful job grappling with the deep challenges in the Probation Department, and developing recommendations for an oversight body designed to create meaningful accountability,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas, County Supervisor, Second District. “We are long overdue for oversight with teeth, whether around juvenile facilities or fiscal stewardship. The hard work now falls on the Board to digest the recommendations and prepare to take action.”
“The Probation Reform Implementation Team has been working many months on the important task of establishing effective oversight of LA’s Probation Department, the largest department in the country,” said Sheila Kuehl, County Supervisor, Third District. “I am very appreciative of its diligent and committed work, as well as its extensive engagement of community stakeholders so that this report would reflect the ideas of all the different stakeholders who are part of our Probation system. I look forward to having the opportunity to dive deeply into the report’s recommendations.”
“We need to make big changes in the Probation Department for the safety and well-being of both the youth and adults under the County’s care and supervision, and the staff we trust with this important work,” said Janice Hahn, County Supervisor, Fourth District. “But any meaningful reform must go hand-in-hand with careful oversight. The Probation Reform Implementation Team has come up with a comprehensive and thoughtful approach for civilian oversight and it is now incumbent upon us to act.”
The PRIT reviewed hundreds of documents including, but not limited to, existing recommendations from previous working groups and a comprehensive survey of national oversight organizations, in search of best practices. At public hearings organized by the PRIT and the County, dozens of subject matter experts, ranging from service providers, formerly incarcerated youth and adults, and representatives from various organizations presented data to transform support a shift in the Probation system in Los Angeles County.
To determine the scope of powers and structure of the oversight body, the PRIT heard from current Probation Commissioners and the County’s Inspector General (OIG) officials involved in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC). During a public hearing on October 25, 2018, the PRIT heard testimony from: Brian Williams – Executive Director, Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission; Max Huntsman – Los Angeles County Inspector General; Mark Smith – City of Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General; and Patricia Soung – Director of Youth Justice Policy and Senior Staff Attorney, Children’s Defense Fund-CA.
The PRIT also held a public meeting on the composition of the POC and the criteria for commissioners on February 13, 2019. The COC Executive Director and two COC commissioners, Loyola Law Professors Priscilla Ocen and Sean Kennedy, presented testimony at this meeting regarding their experience on the COC, the advantages and limitations of its existing powers, Commissioner selection processes and criteria, and current and ideal staffing structures.
The effort is in line with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to 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.