CPOC to Work with Annie E Casey Foundation to Further Elevate Juvenile Justice in California

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The Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Casey) have formed a partnership to help advance efforts to further transform juvenile probation in California in ways that promote positive behavior change and long-term success for young people. Amid changes in California’s youth justice system, including the anticipated closing of state-run correctional facilities, this partnership is looking anew at how county-level probation can work in tandem with community partners to connect young people to the guidance, opportunities and support they need to thrive at home. These efforts are squarely focused on services for young people who are adjudicated and placed on community supervision.

The collaboration will include training and other technical assistance from Casey to county probation leaders and staff. The partnership stems from a shared understanding that efforts to enhance juvenile probation services can succeed only if they are shaped by the input and ideas of young people, family members and communities most affected by the justice system as well as many others at the forefront of equitable youth justice reform in California.

“CPOC is dedicated to further advancing a probation system where young people build the skills and develop the capacities they need to succeed as adults,” said Karen Pank, CPOC’s executive director. “Crucial to that effort is bringing together all those working towards positive outcomes, including those in our communities whose voice may have been overlooked in the past. This partnership will help California seize the current momentum for system reform, build upon the work of the past decade and push it to an entirely new level.”

“This is a great opportunity for broad-scale collaboration — from meaningful community partnerships to productive relationships with schools and law enforcement and more — on how young people can thrive in their own communities with stable connections to positive adults and activities,” said Steve Bishop, a senior associate at the Foundation.

Why juvenile probation?

Probation is the most common disposition in juvenile justice in California, just as it is across the country. Given that fact, it is critical to examine probation practices to ensure they are aligned with the current understanding of youth development and eliminate any practices that perpetuate the overrepresentation of Black, Latino and other youth of color in the justice system.  Based on strategies that explicitly focus on race, research on adolescent behavior and brain development and evidence about interventions that consistently reduce delinquency, Casey has previously articulated a vision for juvenile probation. While California has significantly lowered the number of youth placed on probation, Probation Chiefs in California have expressed readiness to continue to pursue the evolution of community supervision to include culturally relevant, community-centered approaches that will ensure the well-being of young people in their communities.  

Training at the Core of Probation’s Mission

Broader system reform requires probation agencies to have productive relationships with an array of partners, including community partners that bring connections, insight, and credibility that public systems typically are unable to access when acting alone. With relationship-building in mind, the engagement will start with training in four areas that reflect the two organization’s shared goals and values:

  • family- and youth-centered engagement in probation practice;
  • case planning and practices aligned with positive youth development and adolescent brain research;
  • race equity and inclusion and the elimination of racial disparities; and
  • supporting the professional development of probation officers in collaboration with community partners and with input from youth, families and communities of color most affected by the youth justice system.

A broader collaboration with various stakeholders will identify other areas of technical assistance and additional priorities.

The Right Time

in July 2021, the state is implementing legislation that completely realigns responsibilities from the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice to local counties, decentralizing the juvenile justice system within California. This follows years of advocacy and system improvements in California that have significantly reduced youth confinement and the number of youth on probation. A recognition that best practices requires keeping young people connected to their families and communities underlies these moves and is foundational to continue to move juvenile justice in California forward. The massive shift of these functions to counties, as well as other new and proposed legislation in the state, makes this undertaking well-timed to heighten the focus on probation services in the community at the county level.

CPOC’s contribution

CPOC will focus on continuing to enhance the organizational culture within probation departments to further embrace and increase the kinds of developmentally appropriate support and guidance that put youth on the right path and reduce their likelihood of rearrest.

CPOC also will promote productive relationships with its public and community partners — including the courts, schools, behavioral health, law enforcement as well as youth leaders and community and family advocates — to support youth to build skills and develop capacities they need to make better decisions and succeed as adults.

“The best outcomes are achieved when we work in the best interest of youth and in tandem with a broad network,” Pank said. “Probation in California continues to be a willing partner for effective reforms within our system and we are eager to engage in inclusive conversations to build on positive pathways for youth and work to continue to help young people establish positive ties to their communities.”

The Foundation’s contribution

The Casey Foundation will develop a training series for county-level probation agency leadership and frontline staff and will assist CPOC in identifying other partners to participate in the design, implementation and delivery of trainings and other consulting. The Foundation also will support data collection efforts so counties can establish baselines and measure changes in their community supervision outcomes and results.

Casey’s objective is that probation becomes a relationship-based, time-limited intervention focused on brokering community connections for young people that will outlast their probation terms and support their behavior change and long-term success.

Community supervision should be used for young people with serious and repeat arrest histories — youth who would pose a significant risk for reoffending without support and guidance — and help them develop self-awareness and other critical life skills on the pathway to success in adulthood. For probation officers to develop this type of relationship with the youths on their caseloads, their caseloads need to be smaller. To get there, jurisdictions should significantly expand their use of diversion programs.

“The goals are ambitious and will require a sustained effort on CPOC’s part to implement and deepen reforms,” Bishop said. “We anticipate that the strategies, methods and resources applied to this engagement will need to evolve as planning and implementation develops in phases.”

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private philanthropy that creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. Learn more at aecf.org.