Riverside Probation Tackles Recidivism, a Second-Chance Firefighting Program, Mental Health in Schools, and Father Greg’s Humanitarian Award


With the help of CA Fwd’s Justice System Change Initiative, Riverside County has been proactively searching for ways to reduce a jail population inflated by California’s prison realignment. CA Fwd’s project focuses on reducing incarceration by finding areas of the criminal justice system in need of recalibrating, and helping counties adopt alternatives to lock-up for the mentally ill, substance-abusers, and juveniles.

When Riverside’s Probation Department gathered and analyzed data regarding probationers’ recidivism rates, the numbers revealed that most arrest warrants for probationers were for violations like missing a meeting with their probation officer, not for committing a new crime. And 80% of those probation violators later appeared in court, and exhibited a desire to fix the issue.

The data led Riverside Probation to refocus probation officers’ efforts toward helping people complete the terms of their probation and successfully re-enter their communities. Since the county started working with CA Fwd on these issues, arrest warrants for probation violations have dropped 25%.

(San Bernardino County is also working with CA Fwd to reduce incarceration.)

CA Fwd’s Nadine Ono has more on Riverside’s reform work, and the Probation Department’s culture-shift. Here’s a clip:

The data analysis showed that the probation department was cycling thousands of people through the courts and jails for violating the conditions of their release, not for committing a new crime. The most common violation was failing to show up for a meeting with their probation officer. Not only was this increasing the demands on a costly and overcrowded jail, but it meant increased work for the probation staff and increased caseloads for the court system.

“If you have data, data will make the decision for you,” said Riverside County Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake. “It just allows us to more effectively manage the resources that we have. It allows us to target the specific problem areas or it allows us to better focus resources where they’re most needed.”

Chief Hake was not surprised by the results, but it did make him and his staff think about what their department could do to lessen the burden on the jails. Using the numbers from the report as a baseline, the probation department assembled a workgroup to determine how to tackle the problem.

One of the main areas on which the workgroup focused was the need for a department culture change for both supervisors and line staff. The data showed that staff needed to be more engaged with their probationers and become a positive resource to help them re-enter society. The analysis also allowed the staff to redouble some of their earlier efforts to help the probationers successfully complete their probation and stay out of jail…

“I think for Riverside County, it’s a shift in the mindset,” said Chief Hake. “It’s a shift in the focus from processing cases and moving files across your desk without much concern on how it gets off your desk to one of we want to see people succeed and in order to see people succeed, you’ve got to do more than just push paper.”

In the year since the report was issued, the probation department has realized a 25 percent decrease in warrants issued for probation violations. Without the baseline numbers, this data point would not have been discovered. And, without this discovery, jails beds would continue to be filled by probationers returning for technical violations, probation staff would continue to spend hours processing paperwork, and the courts would continue to be overbooked handling the cases.


A documentary called In the Red follows three young Oakland men, Joseph Stubbs, Dexter Harris, and Justin Mayo, as they complete an 18-week free fire camp for at-risk 18-24-year-olds put on by Bay EMT.

The program participants, many of whom are recruited from an Alameda County’s Probation Camp, say they find new hope and a sense of purpose in the job training Bay EMT provides. The program was founded by firefighter Wellington Jackson, whose secondary purpose in founding Bay EMT was to boost diversity in first responder jobs. Since the program’s inception three years ago, 41 young men have graduated, five have gotten jobs as firefighters, and many others are in the middle of the hiring process (or completed the EMT course that’s also offered).

Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the program and the documentary. Here’s a clip:

With a soundtrack by Raphael Saadiq—who grew up in East Oakland with Lieutenant Sean Gascié, director of the fire academy—Chakarova’s film documents the rigor of the program as well as minute details of the cadets’ personal lives, filming them at the training ground and also in their off-hours at home, in the barbershop and at family gatherings.

The young men share their challenges, those they faced growing up and those they are still striving to overcome. For Harris and Stubbs, both of whom spent time at Camp Sweeney, Bay EMT provides that rare second chance. Their classmate Justin Mayo is just looking for a first chance. In one scene, he makes his grandmother a cup of coffee, then sits down to describe how he believes a firefighter uniform will change the way people see him.

“I would get on BART with a backpack,” he says, “and I could be dressed in something simple… people just looked at me as a Black kid, didn’t know what I was about…people would rather stand up for forty-five minutes than sit down next to you, and that’s kind of depressing, honestly…if I’m wearing that uniform, people could see me, I don’t know, as possibly a hero.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson, who previously served as the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court and is a central figure in the film as well as in the lives of many young people who have participated in Bay EMT, told The Chronicle of Social Change she has seen young people transformed by the program.

“Transitioning into stable employment means people are happy to see them as opposed to clutching their purses,” Thompson said. “To walk into a room and know that people are glad to see them translates into enormous and intangible benefits for these kids. It’s something you can’t even quantify.”

Joseph Stubbs, who describes getting arrested during a chaotic time in his adolescence, says, “I’m trying to do something other than the streets.” He later explains that he wants to be a firefighter “because I want to show my kids that they can become anything they want to be.”

“These are kids who want to do something. They are trying to find the road map to get there,” Thompson said. “And the film shows the transformation that can take place when the community stops long enough to listen to our young people, give them something to say yes to and make a commitment to be present in their lives.”


An important California bill introduced earlier this month would reintroduce trauma-informed mental health services for kindergartners and students in grades 1-3, as part of the Early Mental Health Intervention program, which was defunded in 2012.

AB 1644 introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) would require the state health and education officials to launch a state-funded 4-year pilot program, that would provide outreach, training, and technical help to schools providing the mental health services to young students.

The bill would be an important step toward identifying and treating California kids’ trauma and toxic stress. In a recent youth well-being report card, Children Now (a national, state and local research, policy development, and advocacy group) gave the state a D- in the category of childhood trauma and resilience.

California HealthLine’s David Gorn has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The medical community uses a scale of ACE indicators — for adverse childhood experiences — to measure that higher risk category. People with four or more childhood traumas, such as physical abuse or having a family member with a drinking problem, have a much higher prevalence later in life for a host of health issues — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, kidney disease, stroke, depression, dementia and other maladies.

“We see childhood trauma and ACEs as a public health crisis that is critical for the state to address,” said Ben Rubin, senior associate of neurodevelopment and health at Children Now, a children’s health advocacy group based in Oakland.

“More and more ACE indicators have been gaining traction,” Rubin said, not just in the medical community but in criminal justice and legislative circles as well. “We think [addressing] this has been a big deficit in the state. This bill is a good step toward providing services.”

Bonta’s legislation would establish a four-year pilot program to help some schools and communities provide mental health services with the state chipping in funds, training and technical assistance. It also would commit state money for the Early Mental Health Initiative, which was cut by the governor in 2012.

The benefits for the state are many, he said:

– School classrooms would be more effective if teachers are better able to screen and help children who exhibit symptoms of adverse childhood experiences;

– Dealing with children’s trauma now could mean big savings in health care spending in the future, as ACE indicators are one of the telling signs of those who are the heaviest users of the health care system; and

– The ability of children to become adults who contribute to society goes down among those with a number of ACE indicators, so there are a strong economic and workforce reasons to address those problems earlier.

“It’s true, it’s our moral imperative to do something about it, to protect our children,” Bonta said. “But there’s also a financial imperative, because early prevention saves dollars down the road.”


The James Beard Foundation has chosen Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries to receive its 2016 Humanitarian of the Year award. (If you’re unfamiliar, Homeboy Industries is a Los Angeles gang recovery program that has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life.) According to the foundation’s website a recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year award is someone “whose work in the realm of food has improved the lives of others and benefited society at large.” Father Greg’s nurturing leadership has grown Homeboy’s culinary presence from it’s Homeboy Bakery origins to include Homegirl Cafe (and catering), Homeboy Diner in LA City Hall, and beyond.

Here’s a clip from the Beard Foundation’s announcement:

A Jesuit priest, Father Boyle has dedicated his life to helping those in need. In 1992, in the aftermath of the civil unrest in Los Angeles, he launched Homeboy Bakery, where former rival gang members worked side by side and learned both business and baking skills. Its success laid the groundwork for additional social enterprises within the Homeboy brand, including Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy Diner in Los Angeles City Hall, and a retail presence at Los Angeles–area farmers’ markets. Every year more than ten thousand formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women come through Homeboy Industries’s doors.

“I am honored and humbled by this recognition,” Father Greg said, “but also heartened, because it acknowledges, as well, a community on the margins that has long been demonized. This award, then, imagines a circle of compassion outside of which no one is left standing.”

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