I wrote in today’s editions about how the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office has begun trying to turn away certain cases, telling judges it no longer has adequate funding and staffing to provide everyone a constitutionally adequate defense. In that story, I also mentioned budget cuts for the Superior Courts, the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office.
But I neglected to check in with the Alameda County Probation Department, another key player in the criminal justice system. Lo and behold, it’s facing budget cuts and service reductions, too.
Chief Probation Officer Donald Blevins told me this afternoon he won’t badmouth the Board of Supervisors for the $8 million cut in county funds his department suffered, because he knows the county as a whole is between a rock and a hard place under the budget agreement struck by the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Really it’s the state that’s put us in this position,” Blevins said, noting his department lost another $2.5 million to $3 million in direct state grants atop the county’s cuts.
That means Blevins personally delivered layoff notices to 55 department workers, including 38 deputy probation officers (or about 10 percent of his total deputy probation officer roster). The layoffs are effective Sept. 4; he hopes to save a few jobs either by finding some new grant money or by demoting a few officers into vacant juvenile hall positions. “At least they wouldn’t be out of a job.”
More after the jump…
But most of those 38 officers probably will be let go, and because adult probation services already have been pared back so far in recent years, juvenile probation will take the brunt of this cut. Blevins said his department’s program for the county’s highest-risk kids will lose eight deputies, about a third of its staff, meaning it’ll have to cut back from 800 kids to about 500. Other juvenile probation officers will see their caseloads rise from about 60 to more than 100, he said, and there’ll be no more close supervision of juvenile offenders still on probation past age 18.
“We won’t have that luxury of doing that anymore: When they hit 18 they’ll go into an administrative bank and we’ll just monitor them for payment of fines and restitution,” he said, with as many as 400 such “banked” cases assigned to a single probation officer.
Moreover, Blevins said, he’s seeing his youngest, best and brightest staffers – the future of his department – being kicked to the curb. It’s a horrendous cut even for a department that’s somewhat accustomed to getting the short end of the funding stick, he said.
“From a PR (public relations) standpoint, we’re probably the most misunderstood faction of the criminal justice community,” Blevins said – the public defender, district attorney, courts and sheriff handle offenders on the front end, but it’s his department that’s “the lynchpin that makes this whole thing hold together” by trying to keep them from reoffending.
Blevins said there’s pending legislation – SB 678, authored by state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco – which would establish a model in which the state would pay counties incentives for every probationer they keep from re-offending. He hails this as a way “to finally get the attention of the state that there’s a way to improve the system by using local resources,” but notes there’s no money attached to the bill yet.