Los Angeles County Probation Chief, Jerry Powers, has hired two talented outsiders to help him clean up his discouragingly troubled agency, a fact that probation watchers have greeted as good news.
Ever since Powers took over the department’s helm at the end of last year, youth advocates and others have been hoping for some meaningful signs of change—but the the signs have been mixed.
For instance, it was acknowledged that Powers was attempting to clean house by getting rid of some of the worst of the agency’s supply of bad apples, resulting in the arrest of around 40 (!!!) department employees this year, with more arrests reportedly still to come.
(Before we go further, just pause and think for a minute what it suggests in terms of departmental dysfunction that, in taking over a single county agency, you not only find scores of people whom you must fire but, as a result of much-needed internal investigations, you also find more than three dozen of your employees who need to be arrested. And, you tell the press that you expect there will be a bunch more where those came from. So, yes, let it be hereby acknowledged that Mr. Powers did not walk in on anything resembling an easy job.)
What has been less encouraging, however, is the distinct lack of progress, in the past year, when it comes to satisfying the most important remaining the Department of Justice demands. The DOJ, if you’ll recall, laid out a series of marks that the County had to hit in the hope of reforming its scandal-plagued juvenile probation camps. According to the last DOJ communique, there’s been little progress in the past year. And our own insider sources tell us that in the camps, and even in the County’s juvenile halls, rather than progress, there have been some disturbing areas of back-sliding, including new instances of abusive behavior by some of those who are supposed to keeping the kids in the County’s charge safe. (More on that in the weeks to come.)
This is why when word went out last week that Chief Powers had reached outside the department to hire a pair of highly-regarded professionals to fill two of Probation’s top positions, the news was greeted with cautious but very genuine optimism.
In the department statement announcing the two hires, Powers talked of a “culture of change.”
Here’s a clip:
Chief Powers is formally announcing the hiring of Don Meyer as Assistant Chief Probation Officer for Institutions and Margarita Perez as Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Field Services to help lead the department which is at an historic juncture.
“I have known Don Meyer for more than a decade. He is a reformer, “ says Chief Powers,
“Don Meyer led the Sacramento County Probation Department as they were being sued for many of the same issues that Los Angeles has gone through. He was able to dramatically reduce use of force and create a supportive and therapeutic environment for both staff and juveniles.”
“Margarita Perez’s leadership and experiences with state parole will be instrumental as AB109 is implemented here in Los Angeles County. Margarita Perez has shown that she knows how to get things done. She is a do-er.”
Henry Meier of the Daily Journal, has more details on the twinned hirings, plus some helpful analysis of what the move may signify.
(NOTE: The Daily Journal is a legal publication that lives behind a paywall. Sorry about that. To give you the best look possible, I have included some large clips below. So read on!)
Probation agency addresses problems
LA department splits chief probation officer position to address post-realignment issues
By Henry Meier
Daily Journal Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES – Reinforcements are on the way for the embattled Los Angeles County Probation Department.
In an innovative move, the department is set to hire Don Meyer and Margarita Perez as new assistant chief probation officers, splitting the responsibilities of the position. The county’s Board of Supervisors will vote on the appointments today, but probation officials said they expected both to be confirmed with no issues.
Carol Lin, a spokeswoman for the probation department, said the dual assistant chief model would increase oversight and break down internal walls in communication.
“It’s a fundamental change in the command structure of the office,” she said. “The division of the assistant chief’s position will increase accountability, flexibility and collaboration.”
The new hires step into the leadership roles at a tumultuous time for the Los Angeles County department – and for probation departments around the state.
Realignment, California’s shift to a more local criminal justice model, has put enormous pressure on probation departments to handle a huge influx of offenders who would have traditionally been supervised by parole officers; the state’s parolee population has been reduced by some 40,000 since the transition began last October.
The two Los Angeles hires will help guide policy and be responsible for the daily operations of the agency’s force of more than 6,000 employees, according to Meyer.
In addition to the challenges posed by realignment, Los Angeles County Probation faces several other obstacles.
Foremost is a U.S. Department of Justice order requiring serious departmental change, which has put additional pressure on an agency already stretched thin.
The order stems from a series of investigations by federal officials into the department that found, among other issues, abuse, neglect and employee misconduct at the county’s juvenile probation camps.
“These are two individuals who are ‘people people,’” Lin said. “Don is known to make friends out of enemies.”
Meyer said that those problems were a small part of the office dynamic.
“There are lots of good people in the department who want to do the right thing,” he said. “They want to be seen as a success.”
Corrections department officials declined to comment.