Transforming Probation for Young People in California

Chief Probation Officers of California Partners with the Casey Foundation

Updated October 15, 2021 | Posted July 12, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young Hispanic male

The part­ner­ship described in this blog post is not con­tin­u­ing at this time – Edi­tor, Oct. 152021

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and the Chief Pro­ba­tion Offi­cers of Cal­i­for­nia (CPOC) have formed a part­ner­ship to help advance efforts to trans­form juve­nile pro­ba­tion in com­mu­ni­ties in Cal­i­for­nia in ways that pro­mote pos­i­tive behav­ior change and long-term suc­cess for young peo­ple. Amid changes in California’s youth jus­tice sys­tem, includ­ing the antic­i­pat­ed clos­ing of state-run cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ties, this part­ner­ship is look­ing anew at how coun­ty-lev­el pro­ba­tion can work in tan­dem with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to con­nect young peo­ple to the guid­ance, oppor­tu­ni­ties and sup­port they need to thrive at home. In this blog post, pro­ba­tion refers to ser­vices for young peo­ple who are adju­di­cat­ed and placed on com­mu­ni­ty supervision.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion will include train­ing and oth­er tech­ni­cal assis­tance to coun­ty pro­ba­tion lead­ers and staff. The part­ner­ship stems from a shared under­stand­ing that trans­for­ma­tion efforts can suc­ceed only if they are shaped by the input and ideas of young peo­ple, fam­i­ly mem­bers and com­mu­ni­ties most affect­ed by the pro­ba­tion sys­tem, as well as many oth­ers at the fore­front of equi­table youth jus­tice reform in California.

This is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for broad-scale col­lab­o­ra­tion — from mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ty part­ner­ships to pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ships with schools and law enforce­ment and more — on how young peo­ple can thrive in their own com­mu­ni­ties with sta­ble con­nec­tions to pos­i­tive adults and activ­i­ties,” says Steve Bish­op, a senior asso­ciate at the Foundation.

CPOC is ded­i­cat­ed to fur­ther advanc­ing a pro­ba­tion sys­tem where young peo­ple build the skills and devel­op the capac­i­ties they need to suc­ceed as adults,” says Karen Pank, CPOC’s exec­u­tive direc­tor. Cru­cial to that effort is bring­ing togeth­er all those work­ing towards pos­i­tive out­comes, includ­ing those in our com­mu­ni­ties whose voic­es may have been over­looked in the past. This part­ner­ship will help Cal­i­for­nia seize the cur­rent momen­tum for sys­tem reform, build upon the work of the past decade and push it to an entire­ly new level.”

An oppor­tune time

Begin­ning in July 2021, the state is imple­ment­ing leg­is­la­tion that fur­ther realigns respon­si­bil­i­ties from the state’s Divi­sion of Juve­nile Jus­tice to local coun­ties. This fol­lows years of advo­ca­cy and sys­tem improve­ments in Cal­i­for­nia that have sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced youth con­fine­ment and the num­ber of young peo­ple on pro­ba­tion. A recog­ni­tion that best prac­tice requires keep­ing young peo­ple con­nect­ed to their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties under­lies these moves and is foun­da­tion­al to trans­form­ing juve­nile jus­tice in Cal­i­for­nia. The mas­sive shift of these func­tions to coun­ties, as well as oth­er new and pro­posed leg­is­la­tion in the state, makes this an oppor­tune time to focus on pro­ba­tion ser­vices at the coun­ty level.

Why trans­form California’s juve­nile pro­ba­tion system?

Pro­ba­tion is the most com­mon dis­po­si­tion in juve­nile jus­tice in Cal­i­for­nia, just as it is across the coun­try. Giv­en that fact, it is crit­i­cal to exam­ine pro­ba­tion prac­tices to ensure they are aligned with the cur­rent under­stand­ing of youth devel­op­ment and to elim­i­nate any prac­tices that per­pet­u­ate the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black, Lati­no and oth­er youth of col­or in the jus­tice sys­tem. Based on strate­gies that explic­it­ly focus on race, research on ado­les­cent behav­ior and brain devel­op­ment and evi­dence about inter­ven­tions that con­sis­tent­ly reduce delin­quen­cy, the Foun­da­tion has artic­u­lat­ed a vision to get juve­nile pro­ba­tion right. While Cal­i­for­nia has low­ered the num­ber of youth placed on pro­ba­tion, coun­ties in Cal­i­for­nia have expressed readi­ness to con­tin­ue to pur­sue the trans­for­ma­tion of com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion to include cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant, com­mu­ni­ty-cen­tered approach­es that will ensure the well-being of young peo­ple in their communities. 

Begin­ning with training

Broad­er sys­tem reform requires pro­ba­tion agen­cies to have pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ships with an array of part­ners, includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty part­ners that bring con­nec­tions, wis­dom and cred­i­bil­i­ty that pub­lic sys­tems typ­i­cal­ly are unable to access when they act alone. With rela­tion­ship-build­ing in mind, the engage­ment will start with train­ing in four areas that reflect the two organization’s shared goals and values:

  • fam­i­ly- and youth-cen­tered engage­ment in pro­ba­tion practice;
  • case plan­ning and prac­tices aligned with pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment and ado­les­cent brain research;
  • race equi­ty and inclu­sion and the elim­i­na­tion of racial dis­par­i­ties; and
  • sup­port­ing the pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment of pro­ba­tion offi­cers in col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­ni­ty part­ners and with input from youth, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or most affect­ed by the youth jus­tice system.

A broad­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers will iden­ti­fy oth­er areas of tech­ni­cal assis­tance and addi­tion­al priorities.

The Foundation’s contribution

The Casey Foun­da­tion will devel­op a train­ing series for coun­ty-lev­el pro­ba­tion agency lead­er­ship and front­line staff and will assist CPOC in iden­ti­fy­ing oth­er part­ners to par­tic­i­pate in the design, imple­men­ta­tion and deliv­ery of train­ings and oth­er con­sult­ing. The Foun­da­tion also will sup­port data col­lec­tion efforts so that coun­ties can estab­lish base­lines and mea­sure changes in their com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion out­comes and results. 

Casey’s objec­tive is that pro­ba­tion becomes a rela­tion­ship-based, time-lim­it­ed inter­ven­tion focused on bro­ker­ing com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions for young peo­ple that will out­last their pro­ba­tion terms and sup­port their behav­ior change and long-term success. 

Com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion should be used for young peo­ple with seri­ous and repeat arrest his­to­ries — youth who would pose a sig­nif­i­cant risk for reof­fend­ing with­out sup­port and guid­ance — and help them devel­op self-aware­ness and oth­er crit­i­cal life skills on the path­way to suc­cess in adult­hood. For pro­ba­tion offi­cers to devel­op this type of rela­tion­ship with the young peo­ple on their case­loads, their case­loads need to be small­er. To get there, juris­dic­tions should sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand their use of diver­sion pro­grams and approach­es that hold youth account­able for their behav­ior out­side of the court system.

The goals are ambi­tious and will require a sus­tained effort on CPOC’s part to imple­ment and deep­en reforms,” Bish­op says. We antic­i­pate that the strate­gies, meth­ods and resources applied to this engage­ment will need to evolve as plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion devel­ops in phases.”

CPOC’s con­tri­bu­tion

CPOC will focus on con­tin­u­ing to trans­form the orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture with­in coun­ty-lev­el pro­ba­tion depart­ments to fur­ther embrace and enhance the kinds of devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate sup­port and guid­ance that put youth on the right path and reduce their like­li­hood of rearrest.

CPOC also will pro­mote pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ships with its pub­lic and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners — includ­ing the courts, schools, behav­ioral health, law enforce­ment as well as youth lead­ers and com­mu­ni­ty and fam­i­ly advo­cates — to sup­port youth to build skills and devel­op capac­i­ties they need to make bet­ter deci­sions and suc­ceed as adults.

The best out­comes are achieved when we work in the best inter­est of youth and in tan­dem with a broad net­work,” says Pank. Pro­ba­tion in Cal­i­for­nia con­tin­ues to be a will­ing part­ner for effec­tive reforms with­in our sys­tem and we are eager to engage in inclu­sive con­ver­sa­tions to build on pos­i­tive path­ways for youth and to con­tin­ue to help young peo­ple estab­lish pos­i­tive ties to their communities.”

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