The Rutherford Report—Law Changes Dynamics of Probation

Click here if you are having trouble viewing this email.

The Rutherford Report
  View Past Issues Visit Jan's Website View Print Editions  
Top Photo
“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.”

—Alan Cohen
Law Changes Dynamics of Probation

The San Bernardino County Probation Department’s role has changed considerably over the past century, going from an agency focused mainly on looking after wayward youth to one that, today, monitors criminal offenders ranging from felons released from state prison to misdemeanor shoplifters.

The first recorded mention of the Probation Department is a March 1909 order by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to rent a 12-room San Bernardino home to house “delinquents.” Probation officers stationed there were to watch over runaways, orphans and law-breaking youth.

Three years earlier, the California Legislature had adopted laws allowing probation for both juvenile and adult offenders and directing county courts to appoint probation officers. While juvenile offenders were probation departments’ primary focus in the early years, the agencies began seeing their adult caseloads grow around 1917 as judges were given more authority to sentence people to probation rather than prison or county jail.

Even so, the San Bernardino County Probation Department didn’t create separate adult and juvenile supervision divisions until the 1960s, and its specialized units to monitor gang members, high-risk drunk driving offenders, and other categories of offenders didn’t materialize until the 1980s. Today, the department has seven specialized units in addition to specialized caseloads for offenders in populations as diverse as veteran’s with substance abuse problems to gender-based programming for young female offenders.

The adoption of Assembly Bill 109 in 2011 transformed the dynamics of probation departments throughout California. This legislation, also known as the Public Safety Realignment Act, shifted responsibility for detaining or monitoring offenders convicted of “non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crimes” to counties, freeing up space in state prisons and reducing the state’s parole costs.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t consider past offenses, so some offenders placed on probation or in county jails under AB 109 also have previous convictions for violent or sexual crimes. That means probation officers are supervising many more high-risk offenders.

Since the law was implemented, it has added more than 4,700 new offenders to the Probation Department’s already heavy caseload of about 22,000 adult and 3,500 juvenile probationers. Thankfully, the State has provided additional funding to help bolster probation departments’ ability to monitor and rehabilitate this new type of probationer.

The San Bernardino County Probation Department has hired 107 new probation officers since as a result of the passage of AB 109, and it has also opened Day Reporting Centers in Rancho Cucamonga, Victorville and San Bernardino where offenders released under AB 109 can check in with their probation officer or get help finding a job, overcoming substance abuse, addressing mental health issues, and accessing other rehabilitative services.

Probation has partnered with County agencies, including the departments of Behavioral Health, Public Health, Workforce Development, and Transitional Assistance, and multiple nonprofit and faith-based organizations throughout our communities to work with offenders and get them on the right track.

While rehabilitation is a high priority, the Probation Department hasn’t lost sight of the fact that some of those released from prison will reoffend, and it has applied past strategies that were successful in probationer supervision to the AB 109 offenders such as frequent unannounced home visits and drug tests to keep offenders on the straight and narrow. Probation’s Criminal Intelligence Unit and Fugitive Apprehension Team have also proven to be successful measures, adopted in the wake of AB 109 to provide for additional public safety. The department also works closely with local law enforcement agencies, including developing special enforcement teams to target high-risk and gang-involved offenders.

For more information about the San Bernardino County Probation Department click here. You can also visit the Department’s Facebook page or Twitter account.
Was The Rutherford Report forwarded to you? Click here to subscribe.