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LA County Probation Is Hoarding $204.3 Million Earmarked for Programs to Help Adults & Kids—& Sup. Ridley-Thomas Is NOT Pleased

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

It Was Bad Before, and Now It’s Worse

Los Angeles County Probation is hoarding money again, this time more than $200 million.

Last week we reported that LA’s Probation Department was merrily spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a second year in a row to pay the salaries of two deputy probation officers and a supervising DPO, who were supposed to case manage 240 at risk kids per year to help these youth access important services and activities from various community organizations. But, as it turned out, these three probation staffers were instead getting paid for a full year to case manage exactly zero kids.

Worse, now that more nine months into FY 2016/17, we learned that probation is still paying those three staff members, and still no zero children have served by the program they are running.

This week, however, we have learned that, in addition to spending money badly, probation is also sitting on a staggering amount of cash derived from two important state funding streams, each of which is required to be spent yearly on much needed county programs. But instead, the cash has been piling up largely untouched, year after year, for reasons no one at probation seems to be able to adequately explain.

In the case of one funding stream, the money is earmarked to help LA County’s at risk youth. The second state cash stream is meant to be used to help adult probationers trying to restart their lives.

As a consequence of these fiscal peculiarities, a very displeased LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will read a new motion into the record at Tuesday’s meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, for likely vote that day. The motion requests that Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald report back to the Board in writing in 30 days with comprehensive spending plans—immediate and long-term—for the department’s two growing dragon hoards of cash that together now add up to $204.3 million.


A Tale of Two Dragon Hoards and Little to Show for those $$

The two caches of money that concern Ridley-Thomas—and others—are as follows:

The largest of the two funding streams is known as SB 678 money, named for a smart piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Leno in 2009.

Adapted from a successful model in Arizona, SB 678 created a system of performance-based funding that offers a monetary carrot to California’s county probation departments to implement and sustain “data-driven model practices,” which have a record of successfully helping adults who are under the individual counties’ felony probation supervision. The idea is that if county probation departments demonstrate success in helping the adults on their caseloads succeed in their home communities, thus decreasing adult probation violations, or revocations, and sending fewer felony probationers back into the state or county lock-up systems, then the state would split the costs savings with the counties 50%-50%.

Since Los Angeles has the largest population of adults under probation supervision in California, LA usually got between $28.6 and $43.8 million for each of the last five fiscal years. Thus, it follows that wise and effective use of that yearly stream of funds could help public safety, while also doing good things for the health of LA’s communities, and presumably for the state as a whole.

It should have been, as they say. a “win-win.”

Instead, it appears that probation simply sat on the majority of the money—year after year—without mentioning this failure to use the SB 678 money on the programs for which it was intended, and that were sorely needed.

So, while the 678 money was meant to aide adults, the second pile of hoarded cash was intended to help the county’s at risk kids.

In July 2015, WLA we broke the news that LA’s probation department was sitting on a cache of what was then $21.7 million in state-allocated juvenile justice funds that were supposed to be spent toward creating a comprehensive plan of youth services that prominently included community-based programs to keep at risk kids out of the county’s justice system. Some of that money could also be spent on related programs to help kids already in the system with reentry so that they don’t bounce right back in again after they are released.

The funding stream was created by the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), which was itself created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in order “to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at curbing crime and delinquency among at-risk youth.”

The funds, which are allocated on a per capita basis to the state’s 56 participating counties (Alpine and Sierra counties opt out), are mandated to be spent to fund a range of programs that help at risk kids. The methods used are required to be “evidence-based”—aka programs “that have been demonstrated to be effective…”

On March 31, 2017, LA County’s Auditor Controller released a new report indicating that, as of December 2016, the $21.7 million in unspent JJCPA funds was now up to $36.7 million.


Yes, There Was Some Money Spent—Questionably

Probation did manage to spend of the JJPA dollars, but according to a recently released 20-page report, there are serious problems with how it was spent.

Specifically, the main place that LA County Probation spent their JJCPA money has to do with the program known as WIC 236, or voluntary probation. This is a program though which, courtesy of California’s Welfare and Institutions Code Section 236, “at risk” youth who have broken no laws and have no prior court or probation involvement, may be put “voluntarily” under the supervision of school-based probation officers. According to the report, young people are most often referred to the voluntary probation program because, in some way or another, they are having hard time at school. Once in voluntary probation, the kids are supposed to be connected to proven programs that will help them with any challenges they might be facing. Furthermore, LA County Probation is supposed to measure what kind of outcomes—positive or not—the voluntary probation activities and services have produced in the lives and behaviors of the kids it oversees.

In addition, only a small portion—under ten percent—of the JJCPA funding allocated to help LA’s 236 kids is supposed to be spent on the salaries of probation personnel, who are supposed to be primarily paid by probation, not out of JJCPA dollars, according to the regulations governing the funds.

But, according to the report, more than 92 percent of the JJCPA money spent on the voluntary probation program in FY 2014/2015 went to pay the salaries and benefits of probation staff. Meanwhile, only 1.8 percent of the dollars spent went to programs provided by community based organizations to help kids in concrete ways with their problems and challenges.

Similarly uneven spending percentages held true for FY 2012/2013 and 2013/2014. (Figures for 2015/2016 were unavailable as of this writing.)

In dollars and cents, this meant that $6,986,194 was spent on probation salaries for FY 2014/2015, out of a total voluntary probation budget of $7,520,561, while only $134,309 was left over to actually provide services to kids.

And so what did the kids on voluntary probation get for the money spent on them? The biggest category of services listed in county-generated reports is “tutoring.”

Yet, as the new outside report noted, “typically, probation officers have neither the training nor expertise in education supports, youth development, mental health and other fields to effectively work with youth struggling with academic or behavioral issues.”

This is why, say advocates, it is essential to refer such kids to the relevant community based organizations who do have that expertise, and also have concrete data showing whether or not the services they provided to kids actually did any measurable good.

And, then, if those voluntary probation numbers weren’t concerning enough, there is that $727,963 in salaries for three staff members who for the second year in a row—as we mentioned earlier—are overseeing only ghost children.

It is all this that Ridley-Thomas reportedly hopes to take steps toward changing.

“It is imperative that the County takes the appropriate steps to ensure the effective use of funding for probation, especially as it pertains to juvenile justice programs,” the supervisor said in a written statement to us on Monday afternoon. “That includes a comprehensive spending plan along with identifying deficiencies leading to unspent resources.”

The motion is scheduled to be voted at Tuesday’s board meeting, together with another motion pertaining to accepting the latest grant from the JJCPA, which this year amounts to $32 million dollars, which will be added to the existing $36.7 in unspent JJCPA funds, totaling $68.7 million.

In the meantime, you can read the rest of Ridley-Thomas’s motion here: Ridley Thomas motion 4-17-2017

10 Comments

  • Or the probation Dept. realizing these programs were ineffectual, wasteful, or downright stupid decided not to waste tax payer money. So some of the money went to probation salaries, were these positions started as a result of this “new money” ? Or was this money used to pay for existing positions? If that is the case , what did the probation Dept use the existing budget for? This story is basically a cut and paste from the Ridley Thomas web site. Remember this “story” the next time witness LA howls about the county wasting money.

  • This is what happens when Democrats raise taxes to get their grimy hands on a boatload of cash. They either waste it and are forced to raise taxes AGAIN. Or, the money is found in a drawer doing nothing. How many times has this happened at Probation??

    Very interesting that Arizona’s plan was successful?? Well, not so interesting since Republicans were managing it. The current head of Probation and BOS Supervisors are a culmination of pure incompetence.

  • Hey Mark Riddley Thomas…. what are you unhappy about? YOU are the one that hired Jerry Powers and let that circus play out for several years and YOU are the one that hired Terry McDonald even after all of the negative comments posted on this site about who she was and how worthless she was.

    YOU approved her humungous pay upgrade from LASD and YOU were part of the approval process to bring her in rather than hiring other more than competent people that could have done the job. As a matter of fact, we have changed board members and you are the only BOS member that is still here from the past two chiefs. This sits on your watch!!!!

    You get what you paid for and you should have listened to the people on this site that told you McDonald was a worthless hire. Now you are going to wag your finger at her and make her submit a plan on how to throw money out the window? Hey…. I can waste 200 million dollars in a few years too. Will you pay me $325,000 Dollars to do it???

    How stupid do you think we are? YOU should have hired a more competent person. Remember, she never came from probation and she doesn’t even know where to start with this argument. Sooner or later this will boil to the top. She was hired on your watch Mark not anyone else’s and you are still there. HOLD HER ACCOUNTABLE… do YOUR job

    • Totally agree with you LA Guy. By the way, here’s another fun fact. The Governor makes 175K a year for running the entire state and Terry McDonald makes 325K for running Probation. That’s almost twice his salary. She must have a really important job to make that kind of money…. too bad she isn’t doing it.

  • The saddest thing about all this is that the probation officers union pays its members’ union dues to Ridley Thomas’ re-election because the union heads are part of his “district 2” racial crew. They tell us every year how RT has our backs but at the end of the day he stabs us in the back over and over again while the union president and his cronies are over at RT’s house smoking cigars and laughing all the way to the bank.

    • Hello “A staff”- The Sheriff’s Deputy Union “ALADS” also contributes heavily into MRT campaign fund….all the time. Not much of of a problem except that I’ve witnessed the “shit talking” about MRT behind his back but yet they (ALADS) always support with big bucks.

      • BTW….The endorsement by ALADS to MRT trumps (no pun intended ) the money given. Once again no problem on the surface, but the hypocritical shit talking (near election time) by members at the meetings is a sight to behold. Maybe it will change the next time.

  • Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch will be the deciding factor to make or break Agency Shop. Knowing the “Pocket Padding” game that unions play, the members are just plain tired. If Agency Shop is done away with, the flock will no longer be fleeced. Prime example is Southern California, Teachers, Peace Officers, Nurses etc…they deserve choices.

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