Now that LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers has officially announced that he is stepping down as of January 4, 2016, one of the primary topics of discussion in and around the nation’s largest probation department is the matter of who will be chosen to succeed Powers.
And there’s also the question of the interim chief–the man or woman chosen to temporarily hold the reins of the large, complicated and troubled organization during the period between Powers’ departure, and when a new chief is sworn in.
Powers—as most of you know—formally resigned on Tuesday in a closed door session with the county’s five supervisors, who unanimously accepted his letter of resignation (which he characterized as retirement). Powers’ exit occurred within the context of allegations that he was engaged in an improper romantic relationship with his direct subordinate, Kym Renner, whom he hired at close to double her previous salary, first to work with human resources, and then—astoundingly—to oversee the department’s $820 million budget, although Ms. Renner appeared to have zero professional background in budgeting and finance.
So who will come after Powers? And how will the LA County Supes go about finding that person? Will they look in-house, or will there be a national search? Or do they have someone in mind already?
THE INTERIM CHIEF
According to our sources, the question about the interim chief, at least, appears to have been answered. Cal Remington will fill the gap between Powers and whoever comes next.
Remington’s name is a familiar one to those at probation, and he is generally well-liked by those within the department , as well as juvenile advocates, and the supervisors.
For a decade or so, he was Probation Chief of Ventura County, coming up through the ranks to take that spot. He was asked to come to Los Angeles as the acting chief when Powers’ predecessor, Donald Blevins, was ousted in 2011. Remington was also acting chief when Blevins’ predecessor, Robert Taylor, was shoved into retirement in 2010 leaving behind an impressive list of departmental scandals, that included probation officers getting caught having sex with teenagers in their care, beating probationers in the juvenile camps and halls, drinking on the job, and/or collecting paychecks while absent from work for months at a time for indistinct reasons….and more.
In both cases, Remington acted as a smart, steady and calming presence who was accessible to the wide variety of stakeholders who interact with the department. He is also known and well respected throughout the state. In other words, bringing him on a third time makes excellent sense.
Remington, who is coming in on January 18, isn’t the only interim. Assistant Chief Margarita Perez will take over until Remington arrives, and will reportedly work closely with him during his temporary tenure. Perez worked in State Parole prior to coming to LA County in 2012, and has reportedly earned a great deal of respect from the rank and file during her time here.
Perez is also known among reform advocates for her willingness to push for promising prison reentry programs to help the AB 109 population have a better chance at success when they return to their communities.
A NATIONAL SEARCH FOR A “TRANSFORMATIVE LEADER”
When Powers was selected, and Blevins before him, the County CEO and the board of supervisors decided not to do a national search as they were looking for a new head of probation. Taylor moved into the top slot with even less of a search. He was the county ombudsman when he was asked step in to lead probation after then-Chief Paul Higa had a fatal stroke.
This time, however, the Supes reportedly will do a serious national search. After the less-than-happy exits of three probation chiefs in a row, that would seem to be the prudent choice. A national search does not, of course, preclude the selection of some capable someone from within the department. (Several people presently in upper level management are believed to be interested in the top spot.) But whether the candidates come from out-of-state or close-by, talent, vision, and suitability should guide the supes final choice, not proximity.
So what kind of person should we be looking for?
In response to Powers’ resignation Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California, has written down some of his ideas as to what kind of new chief is needed.
Because of his work at the Children’s Defense Fund, Johnson naturally is most concerned with any candidates’ views on juvenile justice issues. But most of his points also apply to the adult side of the agency as well.
Here are some of Johnson’s thoughts:
“As Los Angeles County is set to identify its sixth probation chief in ten years,” he writes, “it has never been more important to ensure this new leader is committed to investing in youth and uplifting promising, community-based solutions. While recent progress has been made… deeper change is needed for the nation’s largest juvenile justice system.”
As examples of areas in which change is needed on the juvenile side of probation, Johnson mentions “solitary confinement and other inhumane practices inside LA County juvenile justice system,” along with closing some of the low-population juvenile facilities in order to re-invest the cost savings in community-based alternatives. “The next probation chief must be committed to: an explicit focus on rehabilitation and not incarceration; identifying community-based alternatives to incarceration focused on prevention and diversion; utilizing data collection in a meaningful way that promotes accountability and tracks progress toward reducing recidivism…”
Most of all, Johnson says, the next probation chief must be “a transformative leader who recognizes the disproportionate impact of race as a structural pillar in the prison pipeline, and also understands what experts who study adolescent brain science tell us – that we must treat the young people in our juvenile justice system not as adults but as youth who require healing from the trauma that landed them inside a locked facility in the first place.
In general, Johnson writes, “the time is ripe for an innovative leader dedicated to ensuring justice for system-involved youth. I urge the County, under the leadership of the Board of Supervisors, to conduct a national search with opportunities for meaningful community input from those most impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice system. True reform is not simply aspirational, it is attainable and a fundamental necessity.”
We would agree.
It was also be nice if such a leader knew how to challenge and inspire the best from the rank-and-file working under him or her now, while also making it a priority to attract and hire new talent who view probation as a calling.
More as the situation—and the search—unfolds.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE….THOUSANDS OF JUSTICE INVOLVED YOUNG MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR COMMUNITY-BASED MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENTS
Recent studies suggest that american adolescents and young adults are 3-4 times more likely to be affected by a mental or emotional health issue than any other health condition. For kids involved in the juvenile justice system, those numbers shoot even higher. Unfortunately, very few of those justice involved kids get appropriate treatment.
Here’s a clip:
Incarceration instead of treatment doesn’t make sense as a health care practice. Providing intensive mental health treatment to youth when it’s needed ensures that young people are developing the social and emotional skills they need to be positive members of our communities. A service array in California, called ‘Katie A.’ services, could meet this critical need for care and better support the state’s most vulnerable youth.
To date, these intensive home and community-based services have only been available to child welfare-involved youth. Last month, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) publicly acknowledged, for the first time, that Katie A. services must be provided to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries under the age of 21 for whom these services are medically necessary, including juvenile justice-involved youth.
Even prior to the state’s recent acknowledgment that Katie A.’s scope should be wider, Young Minds Advocacy set out to evaluate what it would take to expand access to intensive home and community-based services.
The resulting report – Fulfilling Medi-Cal’s Promise: Extending Home and Community-Based Mental Health Services to Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth in California – finds that thousands of juvenile justice-involved youth in California should be eligible for these services, and that delivering them to this population could greatly improve the lives of young people.
Incarceration rather than treatment doesn’t make fiscal sense. Because the federal government reimburses about half of the cost of Medi-Cal, providing Katie A. services to juvenile justice-involved youth is less expensive than business as usual.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE FREDDY GRAY MISTRIAL
The first of the six trials in the case of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, resulted in a hung jury, thus a mistrial. But as the New-Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes, despite the tragic pattern of brutal, careless and uncaring actions that appear to have resulted in Gray’s death, the legal puzzle faced by the prosecution is…. complicated.
Here’s a clip from Wallace-Wells’ story:
Cases of police killing often hinge on the psychology of a particular officer—on his ability to manage his own fear, on his history of bias—but these issues have so far not been central to the Freddie Gray case. It’s hard to argue that Gray was killed by one bad cop. For the same reasons that Porter’s prosecution is tricky, Gray’s death is close to the issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter protests. Gray, a young African-American repeat offender in a heavily policed neighborhood, was detained with no suspicion that he’d committed a meaningful crime, and treated roughly although he posed no threat. He died because he was handcuffed and shackled in a police van but not properly secured, leaving him vulnerable to crashing around. In Baltimore, there is a history of “rough rides” like this. Gray didn’t die because of one individual officer but because of institutional neglect. The pattern was the problem.