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5 Essential Takeaways From The New Oversight Plan For LA County’s Still-Troubled Probation Department [Witness LA]

By Celeste Fremon, Witness LA, June 17, 2019

After 14 public listening sessions held all around Los Angeles County—some of the meetings drawing as many as 200 people—the temporary blue-ribbon panel, known as the Probation Reform and Implementation Team, or PRIT, delivered its plan late last week for the creation of the nation’s first civilian oversight commission for a local probation department.

Before it was made public, WitnessLA gave readers an early look at the proposed strategy, focusing on one of the most important, and most controversial elements in the new plan—namely subpoena power.

But there are other significant elements to the ambitious plan that the proposal’s authors, along with youth advocates, community members, probation staff, and others consider to be make-or-break issues.

Here are five of the key takeaways from the report.

The pressing need for civilian oversight

On Thursday, June 13, when the proposed plan for the Probation Oversight Commission (POC) was officially presented to the public, executive director, Saul Sarabia made a point of praising the help and cooperation by LA County Probation Chief, Terri McDonald, and Chief Deputy Sheila Mitchell, as did several others on the panel.

Yet, in the 28-page  proposal, the authors delivered a far more urgent message, writing of a department in “dire need of oversight.”   In the course of eleven months of public meetings, the panel found “a sharp public mistrust” of LA’s Probation Department in most quarters—including both community members and probation staff.

The PRIT panel members, and their subject matter consultants,  also found such problems as “a failure in the stewardship of public funds….dysfunctional relationships between the unions, management and the populations they are paid to serve”….and more after that.

The report’s recommendations, the proposal’s authors wrote, “reflect the PRIT’s assessment of the complexity of the oversight problems and the failures of the status quo model” to effectively guide the department successfully “into the new century.”

In other words, things cannot and should not go on as they are. Civilian oversight is necessary.

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