From the President

September 1, 2011

Let me start by welcoming several new members to SCOPO for 2011 (in order of application): San Benito County Probation, Siskiyou County Probation and Juvenile Peace Officer’s Association, Monterey County Probation Association, Lake County Probation, Tuolumne County Probation, and Santa Cruz County Probation Officer Association. Welcome aboard! As we continue to grow, it’s important for all of us to realize that we’re all facing similar challenges during these trying times, and that as a community of likeminded organizations we can and will prevail.

Passage of Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109) was a shift in the way the State of California will conduct business; specifically in how it supervises its criminal offenders moving forward. It’s too soon to judge how effective this change will be, but it will have a dramatic impact on the delivery of services at the local level. I can see several different outcomes on how this experiment in supervision will turn out, but in the end business as we know it has changed. Due to SB 678 from a few years ago and now AB 109, our jobs have become more stat driven than ever. And, while some of our brothers and sisters have already begun the shift towards evidenced based practices, it is a new concept for others. Caseloads are likely to increase in size, and with it the responsibility to supervise offenders released from State Prison or sentenced locally in lieu of going to Prison. Will we have enough resources to meet the demand? Are departments ready to take on the challenge of these added responsibilities? Within the next few years, will the money still be there for us? There are many questions that remain unanswered, and many details that need to be worked out. From local supervision practices, to changes in laws at the state level, much of what we know will be revised for the influx of new “clients.” For most departments, they will be looking to use a portion of the AB 109 money to hire more officers for programming and supervision. Not all departments though will be seeing a true increase in staffing, as they’re still trying to recoup from layoffs over the last several years.

Unfortunately, another product of the bill also includes what many have identified as the beginning of the end of State Parole. I’m not here to champion Parole’s effectiveness or its supervision efforts, but I do believe they gave it their best and should be recognized for their efforts. Many of their agents are former members from our local probation organizations, and some are now trying to return to the departments from which they left. Why? They see the handwriting on the wall.

Earlier, I mentioned that AB 109 is an experiment. It is that partly because of what’s been proposed, but it is also an experiment because many people will be studying the results. The goals are to reduce recidivism, rehabilitate the offender, and protect the public. If this experiment fails, what then? Does supervision go back to State Parole? That’s doubtful, as the cost will become prohibitive; especially in light of the state’s budget woes. Does supervision remain within the purview of Probation at the local level? That’s a possibility, though it could be revised to include a larger role for the Sheriff or handed off to them altogether. We’ve seen a handful of instances where this was a possibility prior to the decision by each county’s board of supervisors to give Probation the authority for the supervision of these new offenders; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department being the biggest sheriff’s department to claim that they could do the job. What we should all be mindful of, is that besides those who want to see this experiment succeed, there are others who want to see it fail, and in turn grab a bigger piece of the funding pie that comes with the responsibility for supervision.

Besides continuing to do your jobs to the best of your ability, what can you do to increase probation’s chances for success with realignment and enhance our visibility on probation related issues? Become part of the solution. Get involved with SCOPO, become informed about relevant topics to the field of probation, then plan to meet and educate your local and state legislators about what you do and why it is important to adequately allocate funding to probation. We need to be at the forefront of the battle to preserve and expand funding to probation, and be an active part of the discussion 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. 

Stay alert, stay safe, and stand committed.

Paul Brennan
SCOPO President