Transforming Probation for Young People in California

Chief Probation Officers of California Partners with the Casey Foundation

Updated on October 15, 2021, and originally 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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