From the President

May 1, 2011

Our April 7th and 8th Legislative Days of Action were a success! 18 member and allied organizations from around the state participated in our two-day event. The first day focused on meetings with state legislators at the Capitol. There we met with key legislators from the Senate and Assembly. We explained probation’s role within the criminal justice system, and how realignment without the appropriate funding would impact us. Several counties have already been negatively impacted by local budget woes, and having more responsibilities dumped upon them with dwindling resources will only exacerbate current problems. The key here, as it always has been, is funding. More specifically, receiving appropriate levels of funding for offender supervision. And, funding that is not supplanted by the local Board of Supervisors for other needs. Our second day of meetings were conducted at the local level, with member and allied organizations meeting with their state legislators in district offices. More of these meetings have occurred on an individual basis since the April meetings, and organizations are encouraged to continue meeting with their legislators; especially as we get down to the wire in the budget hearing process. According to some of our members, the April meetings have already had a direct positive impact in their respective departments.

Since legislators are termed out in just two terms, we are seeing new legislators come into office every few years; which makes our task even more important since there is turnover on a regular basis. It is of continual importance for all of us to educate and influence those in positions of political power. The better educated they are about who we are and our role within the justice system, the better off we’ll be when decisions are being made about the budget and our future.

At our May SCOPO meeting, held on May 20th in Orange County, we again had an opportunity to have our concerns heard. There, we had interactive discussions with Assemblymember Jose Solorio (D-69), Assemblymember Ricardo Lara (D-50), and Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-54). Even though they grasped probation’s role, it was beneficial for us to be able to explain some of our concerns moving forward with regards to realignment and the state budget. Lack of uniformity was one issue brought forward by a member, including the issue of arming officers throughout the state. Caseload size and budgetary constraints were also discussed. In the end, I believe the legislators understood where we were coming from, and they were committed to having our concerns heard at the Capitol.
Another issue mentioned at that same meeting, and in other meetings we’ve been in this year, was the impact of the then pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding overcrowding in the state’s prisons. Even though some at the state level have been preparing for this decision for some time, a workable solution is still elusive. The state will not find a receptive public accepting the release of tens of thousands of inmates all at once, nor will the state likely be able to address the overcrowding issue fast enough to appease the Prison Law Office. The recently rendered decision and its consequences will have a tremendous impact on the justice system and the residents of the State of California for years to come. Even with the best paid plans, and those have yet to materialize, there are going to be hurdles implementing a successful release and transition plan of action. In the short term, if there’s anything good that’s come out of this decision, it is that this may have lit a fire under those who were sitting on the fence of getting a budget deal done anytime soon. Those legislators now know that a deal must get done. Not only because a budget needs to get passed, but the state now has a specific responsibility to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and address the situation. Realignment is going to happen in some shape or form, albeit without a clear plan for success.

What can you do? Become part of the solution. Get involved with organizations like SCOPO, become informed about the issues, then plan to meet and educate your local state legislator about what you do and why it is important to adequately allocate funding to probation. In response to the Governor’s proposed budget and realignment, we need to be at the forefront of the battle to preserve and expand funding to probation, and be in the room when probation and related labor issues are being discussed. One person and one organization can’t do this alone, especially considering what’s at stake. Consider this a call for probation to rise to the challenge, and take the lead in California’s future. Your future.

Let’s get to work!

Stay alert, stay safe, and stand committed.

Paul Brennan
President, SCOPO