LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday postponed for two weeks a vote on whether to create a citizen’s commission on probation reform, citing the need to simplify the plan and better coordinate related efforts on other fronts.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended creating the blue ribbon panel, calling for each supervisor to appoint a member by Nov. 4.
“We are obliged to make this work, to do it right,” Ridley-Thomas said, adding that the board was getting reports every day that raised concerns.
Many community activists hailed the plan.
“We support many of the concepts included in this motion, particularly the need to establish meaningful oversight, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in detention and incarceration, to direct funds to community and faith-based programs, and to ensure transparency and meaningful community input,” said Dominique Nong of the Children’s Defense Fund-California.
Nong and many others called for members of the commission to include people who have spent time in jail or on probation.
However, the Youth Justice Coalition, which has been very active in calling for jail and probation reform, said it couldn’t support the motion as written.
“The county now has 169 commissions,” Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition told the board, adding that many of those posts include paid staff or commissioners who receive stipends, but only two include previously incarcerated members.
McGill said her group wanted more time to review the proposal and would not lend its support unless the board prioritized a moratorium on jail expansion and closed at least one juvenile detention center, among other demands.
Inspector General Max Huntsman told the board he supports “real reform.”
Huntsman said that when he was a prosecutor, he found that probation reports “were never of any help” in recommending solutions, offering only a thumbs-up or thumbs-down as to the offender’s compliance with court-ordered programs.
“I’m not opposed to jails, being a prosecutor,” Huntsman said. But he said the county should be using “all the tools available to get people out of the cycle of criminality.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl requested the vote be delayed.
Kuehl said she agreed with the plan to “try and mirror the kind of permanent oversight (planned for) the Sheriff’s Department” but hoped her colleagues could work together to clarify how the commission would interact with other nascent reform efforts.
A working group tasked with examining oversight of the Probation Department and whether a civilian commission should be established has done a lot of work, she said, and is setting up town hall meetings this month.
The board is also in the process of wrapping up interviews for members of the Civilian Oversight Commission, Kuehl said, saying that could lead to confusion. The commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department was approved in concept in December 2014.
Supervisor Don Knabe agreed with refining the plan for a similar group to oversee probation.
“We need to be gentle to make sure it doesn’t collapse upon itself,” Knabe said of the risk of added bureaucracy. “My big dream is that we can finish something by hiring a new chief probation officer.”
The board has been interviewing candidates for that post for several weeks.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion, said she wanted to be sure people understood that it was only a two-week postponement and the board wasn’t giving up. She hoped the time would allow for consensus to build.
“Let us walk together, locking arms,” Solis said.