The Art of Reentry

THE CRUCIAL ART OF REENTRY: 2 County Supes Determined to Jump Start Long-Needed LA Reentry Programs

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

Jump-starting Reentry in Los Angeles County

A new motion by Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl demands, in the nicest possible way, that Chief of LA County Probation, Terri McDonald, in partnership with the Director of the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry, facilitate the creation of a series of new reentry centers—or hubs—to meet the reentry needs of probation’s adult clients.

More specifically, the motion instructs Chief McDonald, to develop a program for a pilot reentry hub that can subsequently be used as a model in order to expand community reentry centers across the county.

The motion, which was originally scheduled for a vote at the August 1 board meeting but now has been delayed*, asks the chief to report back to the board in writing within 180 days “on lessons learned from the planning of this site,” in order start moving on the county-wide expansion.

Right now, the Los Angeles County Probation Department supervises approximately 38,455 adults.

Theoretically, the idea behind that supervision is for probation to help those nearly 40,000 people move their lives in a positive direction as they “reenter” their communities, so that they don’t become return customers.

Lots of Money Hoarding, Little Reentry

The issue of reentry became far more urgent for the county following the passage of AB 109, the state’s ambitious “realignment” program, which meant that a large group of lower level offenders who had once been under the state’s supervision, were instead added to the county’s rolls to supervise.

One of the ideas behind this rejiggering of responsibility—in addition to lowering the state’s disastrously large prison population—was the belief that the county could do a better job of helping former inmates with reentry to their communities, since the success record of the state’s parole system for getting their clients out of the revolving door of recidivism was so utterly lousy.

The hope was that the various county probation departments would partner up with local community programs to create systems that aided men and women with issues like jobs, housing, and other challenges that—post conviction—often became difficult problems to solve for men and women hoping to successfully reboot their lives.

Yet in the years since realignment began in October 2011, LA County Probation has talked about reentry but done little, according to justice advocates.

In fact, although LA County has received plenty of money from the state via Senate Bill 678, it has become notorious for its habit of hoarding rather than spending those dollars for what they were intended.

For those of you unfamiliar, SB 678 is 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 fiscal years since SB 678 kicked in. 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.

As we reported in April of this year, the set up should have been, as they say, a “win-win.”

Instead, 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.

But all this hoarding was done under the previous probation administration of former probation chief Jerry Powers.

Based on what we’ve learned from probation sources and from our brief conversations with Chief McDonald, herself, we know that the chief is very much in favor of spending the SB 678 money productively—hopefully sooner rather than later.

This motion, if passed, looks like a good jump start on that endeavor.

This story was updated at 9:40 p.m. on August 1, 2017.

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